When bad movies happen to good actresses

Over the weekend, while lazily flipping the channels, I stopped on some dragon movie and before I could click away, a familiar face caught my eye. Is that? Could that? Hey, that’s Piper Perabo. Yes, indeed, it was Piper and she was starring in George and the Dragon, a 2004 movie loosely based on the Crusades-era legend of a knight who slew a dragon to save a princess.

I ended up watching the last third of the film, not because it was any good but because I kept being astonished by who popped up next. Not only was Piper in the film but so was Patrick Swayze, James Purefoy, Michael Clarke Duncan and Tony and Golden Globe-winning actress Joan Plowright. Geez, did they all lose a bet to the director?

Which, of course, got me thinking. How many other good actresses have bad films lurking on their resumes? And by bad, I’m not just talking bombs or flops, and I’m not talking early work when they were desperate to be in anything. Instead I’m talking the "I’m pretty famous, but I’ve still got to pay the rent" kind of bad. These are the movies they clearly made for the paycheck. These are the movies they hope no one will notice. So let’s point them out and laugh … in a nice way.

On another insomniac evening a while ago, yet another medieval fantasy stopped my channel surfing with a familiar face. There was Amber Benson, my beloved Tara Maclay, battling it out in the 2007 film Gryphon. Despite how great as she looked in her knight duds, this movie was just awful. Truly, truly awful. The CGI alone would make any sci-fi geek weep bitter, angry tears.

Even more recently, there was Jenna Malone in The Ruins, released earlier this month. When looking at promotional material, I was surprised to see Jenna. She was in Saved! She was in Donnie Darko. She was in Contact. Now she is in a horror film that could easily be subtitled, My Friends All Went on a Fabulous Mexican Vacation and All I Got Were These Stupid Vines Growing Under My Skin. OK, fine, that’s a little long to fit on the poster.

Then there is milky pure Anne Hathaway. While most people remember her shedding her good-girl image (and more) in Brokeback Mountain, it was actually the direct-to-DVD release Havoc earlier that year that first saw the Princess Diaries star get her naughty on. Haven’t heard of Havoc? Well, it has the distinction of earning Anne the 2006 Mr. Skin’s Anatomy Awards "best nude scene" honor. Which, as everyone knows, is so much better than an Oscar.

But here I go saving the best for last. Seems our beloved Jennifer Beals had a bit of a rough patch between being a manic welder/dancer and the alpha Bette of our dreams. Back in the fall of 2000, four years before the letter after K and before M came calling, she starred in a little direct-to-video gem called Militia. She played an ATF agent helping to stop — you guessed it — a militia from taking over the United States government.

While I approve, on principle, of any film that has Jennifer packing heat, I have to disapprove of her co-stars/perennial B-movie stars Dean Cain (The Perfect Husband: The Laci Peterson Story) and Stacy Keach (Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America).

Ironically, if the movie had been released just one year later in the fall of 2001, it would have been timely, what with its terrorist threats, anthrax missiles and megalomaniac dictator with a penchant for berets. I mean, it still would have been bad, but it least it would have been topical.

So, have you unearthed your own "I can’t believe she is in this movie" moments? Do tell. This will make me feel a whole lot better about my kindergarten appearance as a bicuspid in our school play. I had to wear a papier-mâché tooth hat. I’ve never lived down the embarrassment.

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