So far in this series of pieces that look at the straight-to-DVD or VOD movies of some of our favourite actors who have fallen on hard times, we’ve only looked at men (to date: Bruce Willis, Nicolas Cage, John Cusack and John Travolta). That’s because, mostly, actresses find themselves almost completely out of the game once they hit 30ish – an unnecessary full stop that a lot of us would like to see removed in the future.
Denise Richards, sadly, is no different. After marrying a man she found herself in an abusive relationship with, her career climb stumbled and she was forced back down into TV roles, where she’s currently still putting in the hours.
Richards had a sparkling, American Dream-like start in life. A beautiful cheerleader from Downers Grove, Illinois, she was the daughter of a humble coffee shop proprietor and phone engineer who moved to California and broke into the movie industry with perceived ease after making her way around the network TV circuit in small parts.
Her breakout role in 1997’s Starship Troopers was where I first clapped eyes on her and, like a lot of people, fell absolutely in love.
The film’s director, Paul Verhoeven, has been providing us with films full of complex, confident, female characters for decades. Sharon Stone’s psychopathically sexual Catherine Trammell would have absolutely broken the internet had it been in full swing at the time; badass Officer Anne Lewis fighting side-by-side with Robocop was a refreshing change – and the casting of Nancy Allen, who had come off a string of hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold movies, was inspired. Verhoeven also gave us Black Book’s Rachel Stein risking life and limb to infiltrate the Gestapo, and he even blew the Cannes Film Festival completely away with his ‘comedy’ Elle just a few months ago. The 77-year-old Dutchman has dished out plenty of subversive heroines and villains to keep me happy over the years, at least.
But Denise Richards’ Lt. Carmen Ibanez is probably one of Verhoeven’s more progressive heroines and I hear you laughing, but let me explain why.
Starship Troopers, whilst being a deftly satirical film about war and fascism that went over plenty of peoples’ heads at the time, refuses to bend to the usual tropes when dealing with main character Jonny Rico’s love interest Ibanez.
Ibanez is dating Jonny at the outset of the movie, but it’s quickly established that she’s not happy with him. He doesn’t challenge her mentally or emotionally and she later dumps him to concentrate on her career. Denise plays Ibanez well, and the film doesn’t stoop to inferring that she is a bad person for how she treats Jonny (although some people might project that onto her).
Later, when they reunite in the final act, your standard action film would have Ibanez realise the error of her ways and embrace Jonny with love hearts in her eyes after the muscly dreamboat rescues her from certain death, but she doesn’t. The two simply process their ability to take care of each other and stay friends before she steadfastly moves on with her career, getting a huge promotion and becoming a battleship captain.
I mean, holy shit. Thank you.
Subsequently seeing Richards take bad hits in her personal and professional life has maybe been a little harder for me to take than most, so I had a look at some of her forgotten, post-Bond girl straight-to-DVD flicks in search of a gem…
[WARNING: definitely contains spoilers for the film Fight Club]
Good Advice (2001)
IMDb – 6.2, Rotten Tomatoes – 29%
Good Advice is the film where Denise Richards met Charlie Sheen, so it comes with a lot of baggage. Their relationship has been well-documented as abusive and publicly harrowing, so it’s hard not to want to shout “DON’T DO IT!” at the screen from the opening scene.
Sheen stars in the lacklustre rom-com as a disingenuous playboy (a stretch for him, no doubt) who loses his job tinkering with the stock market on a single bad deal, pushing him to move in with his advice columnist girlfriend (Richards). She’s merely the device to get him taking over her role at the newspaper though, and he’s soon writing back to desperate people with the worst advice in the world after she ups and moves to Brazil. Through writing the column, Sheen slowly learns to be sensitive to the problems of others and falls in love with the paper’s editor, becoming fully reformed by the denouement.
The trouble is, Sheen as a reformed character is not something we’re able to buy on any level and he seems to be barely trying here. Richards does the job of playing a bubbly narcissist well enough, but there’s not much for her to do, and the film just sort of chugs along until the inevitable, quasi-uplifting conclusion.
There are a few laughs from Jon Lovitz as Sheen’s best friend, but overall I’d advise you give this one a miss.
The Third Wheel (2002)
IMDb – 5.5, Rotten Tomatoes – 33%
A forgotten Miramax romantic comedy from the early aughts era of nine billion forgotten Miramax romantic comedies, The Third Wheel comes to us via “one of the producers of American Pie”.
There was a time when countless films were marketed as having some vague connection to American Pie, but it’s not like we can be smug about that kind of thing being lost to the past – every other horror DVD these days flaunts a cover claiming to be “from the minds behind Paranormal Activity 4” or whatever.
The DVD cover for The Third Wheel also says things like “THE LAUGHS KEEP COMING!” and “IRRESISTABLE ALL-STAR CAST” – but, bafflingly, they’re not claims attributed to anyone. This makes me think we could get away with doing this in real life, like on a CV or just hyping up an evening out – “when you go out for a beer with me, THE LAUGHS KEEP COMING!”
The camerawork in the film is very much of that Miramax-era style, too – sort of plonking a camera down and having characters walk in and out of frame is a technique that is slowly fading into history and this film shows that it’s something we can probably be grateful for.
Perhaps fulfilling some backroom handshake deal with a desperate bod over at Miramax, both Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are in The Third Wheel. Not for long, you understand, but they both have enough lines to be considered part of the cast, despite Damon being uncredited for his part.
The plot is problematic as hell on a swathe of different levels. Luke Wilson (the other Wilson, but not the other other one) who struggles to put in an emotive performance at the best of times, plays a businessman who becomes infatuated with the new girl at work (Richards, natch). From the outset, despite being written as a smart, confident career woman, Richards is established as a prize to be won. Wilson fantasises about her telling him that he’s her reason for even living, and that’s before the rest of his office start a betting system designed to pay out whenever he reaches another base with her.
When Wilson finally asks her out on a date, Richards (confusingly) agrees, but their date is hampered by a homeless man who deliberately gets run over by cars to encourage the drivers to pay out quickly and be on their way. Due to a series of ham-fisted events, the couple are forced to spend the rest of their date with the homeless man, which turns out to be wholly cringeworthy, and culminates with a horrifying scene where the homeless guy forces himself on Richards to spur Wilson into becoming her white knight.
You Stupid Man (2002)
IMDb – 5.9, Rotten Tomatoes – N/A
Welp, that’s the worst title in the world innit? Closer examination of the UK DVD cover (not pictured) reveals Denise Richards being sold as “from Scary Movie 3”. Ouch.
David Krumholtz is the star of this romantic drama. I think he’s been pretty much fantastic in everything I’ve seen him in since I first clocked him in 1998’s Slums Of Beverly Hills, so to find he’s front and centre here makes me feel really positive going into this (despite the jarring visage of the World Trade Centre in the opening credits accidentally revealing that the film may have been sitting on the shelf for a few years prior to release).
Unfortunately, he’s completely miscast as the straight guy in You Stupid Man and is even more underwritten than the other characters.
Krumholtz plays Owen, who is head-over-heels with the vapid Chloe (Richards) until she cheats on him and he finds himself developing a platonic friendship with Nadine (Mila Jovovich), with whom he hopes to pass the time until Richards sees the error of her ways.
Richards has little to do here except be pretty and act as a plot device separating the main couple from ending up together. Like When Harry Met Sally with the guts ripped out, the film doesn’t have anything exceptional or original to offer and the dominating theme is simply that Krumholtz is too dumb to move on from an unfulfilling relationship, so if you’ve read the title you’ve pretty much seen the entire film.
IMDb – 6.3, Rotten Tomatoes – 46%
After checking out all the DVD covers, this was the one I was most excited about. Actually, it’s probably the one I was most excited about seeing from the long list of films I’ve had to sit through thus far for these pieces.
First of all, it’s a Tartan DVD. Tartan Films were very much the go-to distributor in my 20s when I wanted to see stuff from foreign markets or smaller, independent English language movies. In the days before widely-available broadband, Tartan brought us (extremely elderly) folk the likes of Battle Royale, Ringu, A Tale Of Two Sisters and Oldboy, as well as titles like Capturing The Friedmans and Dead Man’s Curve. When Tartan folded in 2008, it was as a sad a day for the industry as much as it was for countless movie fans.
Secondly, Edmond is helmed by one of my favourite directors, Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, From Beyond). I’ve not seen a Gordon film I didn’t enjoy on some level, so my expectations were way the hell up for this.
Thirdly, it’s based on a David Mamet play and if there are any Glengarry Glen Ross fans in the house, I don’t need to tell you that when Mamet’s words are done right, you’ve got pure magic on your hands.
With all that, in addition to some 4-star reviews on the DVD cover, Edmond had my interest fully piqued.
The film, as it turned out, was just ok. The music and direction were good, and the look of the film – with its pops of colour and delicate lighting – was especially nice, but this is one of those Mamet adaptations that suffers for its dialogue sounding too stilted, too stagey.
The story has William H. Macy realising that he is no longer happy in his current relationship and vowing to go out and make his life more interesting. This mostly involves frantically philosophising while desperately trying to get laid, so he ultimately flits from one incredibly brief encounter to the next with a series of women. A stripper (Richards, on screen for about 2 minutes total), a peep show girl (Bai Ling) and a hooker (Mena Suvari) all take it in turns to thwart his sexual advances, until the whole things starts to feel like one of those frustrating dreams you have where you’re almost about to get laid, but wake up just before getting down to it.
I can’t recommend Edmond in any real way, but if you’re a Mamet or Gordon completist, you’ll probably want to check it out.
Blonde And Blonder (2007)
IMDb – 2.9, Rotten Tomatoes – N/A
“HILARIOUS!” screams the review quote on the cover of Blonde And Blonder. I squint at the attribution underneath. “Empire Film Group” says this is hilarious, ok.
Curious, I Google Empire Film Group – turns out they’re a film distribution company. Guess what film is amongst the ones they distribute? Yep, it’s Blonde And Blonder. Jesus wept.
You can probably work out the plot of Blonde And Blonder for yourself, but Denise Richards and Pamela Anderson are very stupid woman that are also blonde, because blonde women are dumb and ginger people are the devil’s children and god knows what other myths we can only pray are lost to the sands of time when making snap judgments about someone’s appearance.
The two women are so dumb that they don’t even realise they’ve been living next door to each other for about a year when they run into each other during a flying lesson gone wrong. They dress the same, talk the same, drive the same and both are single. There was a moment about halfway into Blonde And Blonder when I hoped this was going to turn into some sort of Fight Club situation where both would be revealed as the same main protagonist, but sadly it was not to be.
Denise and Pam are drawn slowly into a comedy of errors when they’re mistaken for assassins and asked to “take out” a mob boss in exchange for a huge wad of cash. They jump at the chance, presuming that to ‘take out’ means ‘on a date’ and it’s screwballs at dawn all the way down to the final moments.
When the music isn’t bludgeoning you with cartoon nonsense like a military drum playing whenever someone in charge appears on screen or catfight noises when women have a punch-up, there are a stream of jokes you won’t laugh at, including a farting animatronic turtle and an audition for a stripper gig that has the two women tap-dancing because they think it’s Broadway. Woeful. I know many people don’t think these actresses deserve better than this, but my argument would be that everyone deserves better than this and we, as human beings, deserve better than this.
According to Wikipedia, Blonde And Blonder had an $8,000,000 budget, which seems insane because it looks so cheap. I can only imagine the weight of that went on Pamela Anderson’s fee for starring in this terrible Dumb And Dumber-wannabe comedy, because I don’t know how else to process it.
I still hope there’ll be another great role for Richards in the future. I think she’s earned it.
Until then? Everybody fights, no one quits. We’ll keep fighting… and we’ll win.
Next time: Val Kilmer…
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