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Superfluous Singers in Movies

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For some reason, a lot of movie folks believe a good way to bring people into the theater is to plop a famous singer into the proceedings. Sometimes this works out quite well, such as when Barbra Streisand stars in “Funny Girl,” or when Justin Timberlake appears in “The Social Network.” But often it stinks.

TAYLOR SWIFT IN “VALENTINE’S DAY”

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In a film overcrowded with actors trying to work out various romantic entanglements, Swift’s contribution is exactly nil. Her subplot involves another acting lightweight (who doesn’t have a singing and songwriting career to fall back on), Taylor Lautner.

TRINI LOPEZ IN “THE DIRTY DOZEN”

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This didn’t work on any level. Lopez, a nice, amiable guy, was cast as part of a rotten, violent crew of deranged soldiers on a suicide mission. And then, he didn’t really have anything to do during the movie. His acting wasn’t anything to write home about either. He made Clint Walker look like Olivier.

BEYONCE IN “AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER”

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The great singer Beyonce isn’t a particularly good actress, but in all honesty, she wasn’t given much help in this comedy by the ever-inventive Mike Myers. Her dialogue was wretched and there was absolutely no attempt to create chemistry with Myers. I suspect Dr. Evil had a hand in it.

JAMES TAYLOR IN “TWO LANE BLACKTOP”

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“Two Lane Blacktop” has a legion of fans, and I understand why. Its atmospherics and vibe are uniquely compelling. It suits its early 1970s era. But I would argue that it would have worked just as well or better without Taylor (or co-star Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys). The dialogue was minimal and the characters had a laconic, empty feel to them. I know, I know – that was the point. Still, you didn’t need pop stars to accomplish it.

SNOOP LION IN “STARSKY & HUTCH”

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Aside from having Snoop wear some truly hilarious 1970s clothing, “Starsky & Hutch” didn’t give the illustrious rapper a reason to shine. I thought his TV commercials with Lee Iacocca were a lot funnier – and more intelligent.

JESSICA SIMPSON IN “THE DUKES OF HAZZARD”

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Admittedly, you’re not going to get new insights into the human condition by playing sexy Daisy Dukes. But it’s possible to at least be funny or knowingly sarcastic. Poor Jessica Simpson didn’t really have the chops to do either.

BOB DYLAN IN “PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID”

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In a way, this was a perfect situation for Dylan to do some screen acting. Think about it. A 1970s, counter-culture take on the Old West almost requires a mumbling, awkward, self-conscious performance. Mission accomplished.

PHIL COLLINS IN “HOOK”

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Collins has had some stage training, so it’s not quite so unusual to see him in a movie. The odd thing is this particular role. It’s just a cameo, and a distracting one at that. Making it even worse is that “Hook” requires some attention to detail in order to follow the liberties taken with the Peter Pan story. The last thing viewers need is to be scratching their heads thinking, “What the hell is Phil Collins doing here?”

BOBBY VINTON IN “THE TRAIN ROBBERS”

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A person who watches “The Train Robbers” would be hard-pressed to say much about Bobby Vinton’s performance. It’s non-existent! Even worse, his scenes look as if an extra mistakenly walked onto the set after a smoke break.

TOM PETTY IN “THE POSTMAN”

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The cool thing about Petty here is he seems to understand how utterly weird it is to find him in a major motion picture. The bad thing is that we know it, too. If there’s a saving grace, it’s that “The Postman,” a post-apocalyptic fable starring Kevin Costner, is so downright goofy we sort of appreciate the nutty casting.

ASHANTI IN “JOHN TUCKER MUST DIE”

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Even a bitter, sarcastic teen movie needs a little acting to keep people interested. Ashanti tries her best, but it’s still painful to watch.

GLEN CAMPBELL IN “TRUE GRIT”

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Mr. Campbell, a singer whose voice I’ve always liked, remains the sentimental favorite in this category even after all these years. He often joked that his bad acting in “True Grit” was what enabled John Wayne to finally win an Oscar. He may have been right. Campbell’s line readings as a cocky Texas ranger have a certain William Shatner-like quality in their weirdness.

I’m sure there are plenty of good examples I’ve left out. Feel free to suggest more!

Memorable Moments in Lip Syncing

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Lip syncing gets a bad rap, but it’s not always deserved. Over the years, many directors, actors and comedians have used it as a device that amplifies the emotion of a particular character or scene. There’s no logical reason for it to work – but it does. Consider these examples of good (and bad) lip syncing, and see if you don’t agree.

ASHLEY SIMPSON ON “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”

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We’ll start with an infamous example from 2004. Simpson was the musical guest on SNL one night, and at the beginning of her second performance a vocal track of the previous song began to play loudly. Clearly flustered, Simpson did an odd little dance for a few seconds, then she fled the stage. She later said she used a vocal “guide” track to help her sing because she had severe acid reflux. That’s why I take Pepcid.

DEAN STOCKWELL IN “BLUE VELVET”

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Everything you need to know about “Blue Velvet” is right here in this scene, in which Dean Stockwell, cigarette holder and all, mouths the words to Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams.” It’s weird, mesmerizing, frightening and inviting.

JEAN HAGEN IN “SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN”

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Who can forget the climax of “Singin’ in the Rain,” where evil Lina Lamont (Hagen) forces Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) to sing for her from behind a curtain at the premiere of her new movie? It’s one of the great moments in movie history – especially when Lina gets caught.

THE CAST OF “THE COSBY SHOW”

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Everyone knows this scene and for good reason. It has an enduring sweetness that speaks volumes about those moments when family life is transcendent. The entire Huxtable clan gets together on a lip sync version of “Night Time is the Right Time,” by Ray Charles. Each person gets his or her moment in the spotlight and each one is happy to be part of the whole. And then, of course, you get Bill Cosby’s perfectly timed facial contortions. Well done!

MATTHEW BRODERICK IN “FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF”

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There is no better expression of self-aware, youthful cool, than this scene in which Ferris takes over a parade in downtown Chicago. Of course, a huge amount of credit also goes to the juxtaposition of the two songs, “Danke Schoen” and “Twist and Shout.”

BEYONCE AT THE INAUGURATION

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Let me just say I’m a big admirer of Beyonce as a performing artist. However, I’m also something of a purist when it comes to the presidential inauguration. I’d rather have heard a sour note or two of the national anthem in a live performance than a lip sync rendition. But that’s me.

ANDY KAUFMAN ON “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”

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Kaufman was sort of the King of Comedic Absurdity in the 1970s and 1980s. A key, early example was his lip syncing take on the theme to “Mighty Mouse.” It was too strange for words, but it was funny, as well. Definitely one of the best moments of the early years of SNL.

JON CRYER IN “PRETTY IN PINK”

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You have to give the young Jon Cryer a lot of credit for absolutely putting it all out there in “Pretty in Pink.” His character, Duckie, is just trying to be noticed – leading him to a heartfelt, over-the-top rendition of “Try A Little Tenderness.” Lip synced, of course.

ALLISON JANNEY IN “THE WEST WING”

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If you’re not familiar with Janney’s lip sync version of “The Jackal,” then I suggest you click over to Netflix and toggle down to Season One of “The West Wing.” It comes out of left field, but anyone who spends a lot of time with co-workers understands that it’s just the sort of nutty thing that people do when they unwind.

Any more lip syncing highlights? Add them to The List!

And one more thing…