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A Cavalcade of Movie Cameos

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A well-executed movie cameo is a beautiful thing. It jump-starts an ordinary film and propels a good film to greatness. These are some of my favorites.

TOM CRUISE IN “TROPIC THUNDER” (2008)

Cruise is stunning in this cameo – and totally unrecognizable as studio mogul Les Grossman. His end-of-the-movie dance scene? Crazily hypnotic. I’m not kidding.

WILL FERRELL IN “WEDDING CRASHERS” (2005)

There’s a high degree of difficulty to Ferrell’s cameo in “Wedding Crashers.” His character is mentioned several times in larger-than-life terms, and you don’t really expect to see him. When we do see him at the end of the film, Ferrell makes him one notch wilder than anyone else. He’s the right guy for the job.

ALEC BALDWIN IN “GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS” (1992)

So here’s the Cameo King. Baldwin delivers an electrifying motivational speech from Hell in “Glengarry Glen Ross.” It’s the kind of performance that elevates an entire career. It’s also a performance I’ve quoted from for years. Just hope that Mitch & Murray from Downtown never send this guy to your office.

ALFRED HITCHCOCK IN “NORTH BY NORTHWEST” (1959)

As many fans are aware, Hitchcock loved to make a cameo appearance in films he directed. My favorite was in the title sequence of “North by Northwest,” where he is trying to catch a bus. Rather than just being funny or odd, these cameos added a sinister sense that things are not what they seem to be.

DREW BARRYMORE IN “SCREAM” (1996)

Barrymore sets a terrific tone for the movie. She’s having fun with the role AND she’s taking it seriously, by screaming her little heart out.

TIM ROBBINS, BEN STILLER, LUKE WILSON IN “ANCHORMAN” (2004)

I absolutely love this scene. A bunch of TV people from rival San Diego stations go all “Gangs of New York” on Will Ferrell in “Anchorman.” Watch out for Tim Robbins as a hoodlum from PBS.

THE THREE STOOGES IN “IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD” (1963)

This cameo is perfect because it understands you don’t even have to have the Three Stooges say anything. Just give the audience a chance to see them full-on and pause the camera a couple of seconds.

BILL MURRAY IN “ZOMBIELAND” (2009)

Murray is sheer heaven playing himself – playing a zombie. Like all great cameos, it comes straight out of the blue, like finding money in the street. And get this: Bill makes comments on his actual movie career, while playing a version of himself pretending to be a zombie.

GENE HACKMAN IN “YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN” (1974)

With his long gray beard, it’s hard to tell this is Hackman playing a blind man opposite Peter Boyle’s monster. Hackman handles the scene’s simple shtick with superb comic timing.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER IN “TERMINATOR: SALVATION” (2009)

Just when you think a “Terminator” movie can’t offer any more surprises, along comes a digital effect that places a young Arnold back into the futuristic saga. Truly amazing.

CLINT EASTWOOD IN “CASPER” (1995)

You mean you didn’t see the 1995 movie version of Casper the Friendly Ghost? Don’t worry – it’ll be on cable several times this month for Halloween. Look for Clint to pop up in a wonderfully silly scene in a mirror.

TOM CRUISE, GWYNETH PALTROW, DANNY DEVITO, JOHN TRAVOLTA IN “AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER” (2002)

Mike Myers cast his movie-within-a-movie brilliantly. It seems as if Cruise, Paltrow & company enjoyed themselves as much as the audience.

RICHARD BURTON IN “WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT?” (1965)

Burton’s cameo is so fleeting I couldn’t even find a picture of it. This was a 60s hipster cameo in a hipster movie from a hipster era. Burton is on the screen only a moment, rubbing elbows with pal Peter O’Toole in a strip club. O’Toole yells out, “Say hello to what’s her name!” It’s a reference to Burton’s wife, Elizabeth Taylor.

MIKE TYSON IN “THE HANGOVER” (2009)

Casting Tyson was inspired. I think it works particularly well because Iron Mike isn’t even the second or third strangest twist in the plot. Events are so far out of control that Tyson is able to play it low-key, making it ever so cool.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN IN “HIGH FIDELITY” (2000)

Springsteen’s appearance here is a classic, fantasy cameo. He shows up to offer John Cusack some soulful, sage advice.

BRUCE WILLIS IN “OCEANS TWELVE” (2004)

Willis has a tricky job to do in this cameo. He’s playing himself, while pretending the movie stars all around him are ordinary crooks. Some viewers found it too forced; I thought it worked.

SEAN CONNERY IN “ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES” (1991)

Some cameos, like this one, are intended to add a bit of pedigree to a movie. Connery rides in as King Richard to Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood here. The chemistry between them isn’t great (unlike “The Untouchables”), but I’m always happy to see Connery. He’s movie royalty.

BILLY CRYSTAL AND CAROL KANE IN “THE PRINCESS BRIDE” (1987)

My favorite cameo ever. Crystal and Kane played an old wizard and his wife, bickering their way into film greatness in “The Princess Bride.” They are hilarious. Puts me in the mood for a mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich – with the mutton nice and lean.

So many cameos, so little time. Please tell me your own favorites!

Great Cast, Terrible Movie

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Sometimes, a movie’s casting math just doesn’t add up. You get a couple of terrific leads, surround them with dynamite supporting players and you end up with – a great big mess. It’s quite amazing, actually. Here are some of my favorite, star-studded disasters.

MIXED NUTS (1994)

Get a load of this cast: Steve Martin, Adam Sandler, Jon Stewart, Madeline Kahn, Garry Shandling, Robert Klein and Rob Reiner, plus Liev Schreiber, Rita Wilson, Juliette Lewis and Anthony LaPaglia. Its a comedy juggernaut, except it’s really, really not. This royal stinker, about a suicide hotline at Christmas, is stunningly bad.

AIRPORT ’77

I could have chosen just about any disaster flick of the 1970s, such as “Earthquake,” or “The Towering Inferno,” but this is the one I always found particularly annoying. You had heavyweights such as Jack Lemmon, Jimmy Stewart, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotten, M. Emmet Walsh, Christopher Lee and, of course, George Kennedy, all pretending they were in a better movie.

AMERICA’S SWEETHEARTS (2001)

This one is inexplicable. The cast included John Cusack, Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Christopher Walken, Stanley Tucci, Alan Arkin, Seth Green and Rainn Wilson. To say this romantic comedy didn’t gel is a vast understatement.

LOVE AFFAIR (1994)

Speaking of bad romantic comedies, this Warren Beatty-Annette Bening picture is one of the worst ever. It’s stultifyingly bad. The thing is, it also dragged down the great Katharine Hepburn, Garry Shandling, Pierce Brosnan, Harold Ramis and Lisa Edelstein with it. This was no way to treat Hollywood royalty.

SHADOWS AND FOG (1991)

I’m using one example here to represent the many, later-period Woody Allen films that wasted great casts. “Shadows and Fog,” an ode to German expressionist films, was a boring movie that seemed to taunt audiences with all the talent going underutilized: Woody, Mia Farrow, John Malkovich, John Cusack, Jodie Foster, Lily Tomlin, Kathy Bates, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Wallace Shawn and Madonna. And that’s just a partial list.

EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY (1988)

Underneath all that colorful fur are Jim Carrey, Damon Wayans and Jeff Goldblum. It’s a shame, really. The movie makes a great effort to be fun and funky – but that fur!? Come on. Also along for the ride are Geena Davis and Michael McKean.

DEATH TO SMOOCHY (2002)

Dark, dark comedy here that might have been too caustic for its own good. It’s a story about egos gone amok in the children’s entertainment industry, with valiant efforts by Robin Williams, Edward Norton, Catherine Keener, Jon Stewart and Danny DeVito. No sale.

SPHERE (1998)

Sorry, but Dustin Hoffman in space does not work for me. When I see Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharon Stone and Liev Schreiber on a cast list together, I want a feisty, gritty urban drama – not a cold, slow-moving space thriller.

THE AVENGERS (1998)

This update on the stylish Brit TV series is a bit of a steaming pile, wot wot. It’s like some horrible hallucination in which Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman, Sean Connery, Jim Broadbent and Eddie Izzard recite gibberish and run around in odd clothing. As I mentioned in a previous list, Connery actually dons a teddy bear costume in this one. Yikes.

BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES (1990)

Tom Wolfe’s famous novel about class collisions in New York City made for a glorious train wreck of a film. There was absolutely no chemistry, and often the actors seemed to be taking wild stabs at how to play the material. We may never see Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and Kirsten Dunst in another movie together.

That should get us started. Add to The List!