Comics who took a dramatic turn

Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:20 PM ET

And the message from moviegoers to Tyler Perry: put the dress back on.

At least that's one way to look at the tepid box office receipts for Alex Cross, the thriller that Perry hoped would show he can do more than star in Madea movies. Cross, based on the James Patterson-penned character, grossed $11.8 million its opening weekend - the lowest for any Perry film so far.

Perry is, of course, far from the only comic actor to harbour dreams of doing serious drama. Some actually succeed; a few do it brilliantly.

YES:

ROBIN WILLIAMS:

After hitting with broad comedy on TV's Mork & Mindy, Williams has careened between extremes for decades. When he's good, he is very, very good. And, when he is bad, he is awful. But he can play pathos with depth, or menace with savage intensity. A selection of his serious work: The World According to Garp, Moscow on the Hudson, Dead Poets Society, Awakenings, Good Will Hunting, Insomnia, One Hour Photo.

BILL MURRAY:

For a ghostbuster who cut his comedy teeth on Saturday Night Live, Murray is surprisingly serious in person. That often informs his choice of film roles, for better and for worse. A selection of his serious work: Where the Buffalo Roam, The Razor's Edge, What About Bob?, Cradle Will Rock, Lost in Translation, Broken Flowers, Hyde Park on Hudson.

JIM CARREY:

Canada's fading superstar is complicated. He can be totally manic, as in Mask. Yet his angst, self-doubt and keen interest in dark places of the human mind can result in a work of genius such as Eternal Sunshine. A selection of his serious work: The Truman Show, Man on the Moon, The Majestic, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Number 23, I Love You Phillip Morris.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS:

Charlie Chaplin (The Great Dictator), Mo'Nique (Precious), Ben Stiller (Reality Bites, Permanent Midnight, Greenberg), Will Smith (Six Degrees of Separation, The Pursuit of Happyness, I am Legend, Seven Pounds), Steve Martin (Roxanne, The Spanish Prisoner, Shopgirl, The Big Year), Peter Sellers (Lolita, Dr. Strangelove, Being There), Jonah Hill (Moneyball).

NO:

ADAM SANDLER:

P.T. Anderson shocked me when he cast Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love (2002). Sandler shocked me with a stunning performance. But, because it stands alone in his credits -- and because even Sandler's comedies are so increasingly odious -- you start thinking it was all a dream.

WILL FERRELL:

Our favourite TV anchorman went straight for his achingly good performance in Stranger Than Fiction (2006). But it was a one-off. Oddly, like Sandler, even Ferrell's comedies have suffered since.

JERRY LEWIS:

Formerly one of Hollywood biggest comedy stars, Lewis did a serious drama, The King of Comedy (1982) with Robert De Niro (who told me prior to filming how excited he was about working with one of his heroes). That film worked but Lewis is such a miserable cuss that he could not shuck off his slapstick and sustain the transition to serious.

DISHONOURABLE MENTIONS:

Eddie Murphy (Dreamgirls made an Oscar nom possible for 2006, but Norbit derailed his train to glory), Bill Cosby (Leonard Part 6), Sandra Bernhard (The King of Comedy, See You in September).

bruce.kirkland@sunmedia.ca

 

 


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