The stars who really should have stuck with the music
Ed Power says Christina Aguilera's attempt at acting is an embarrassing flop, but she has plenty of company
Published 31/12/2010 | 05:00
Watching Christina Aguilera waggle her stainless steel bottom at the camera on The X Factor final, it was difficult to muster much sympathy for Britney Spears' erstwhile rival. Gorgeous, talented and wealthy, Aguilera is one of those rare performers who appears not to have a chink in their armour.
Still, you'd have to be made of granite not to feel a quiver of compassion for the 'Genie in a Bottle' singer who, even by the heartless standards of the entertainment industry, has had a year from hell.
First, her much trumpeted comeback record, Bionic, was roundly derided as soggy Lady Gaga pastiche (worse than what the critics thought, it flopped commercially).
Then it was revealed that her marriage to record company executive Jordan Bratman -- with whom she has two-year-old son Max -- was over. Finally her X Factor spot was attacked by moral guardians in Britain, aghast as the explicit nature of the botty-tastic pre-watershed turn.
"The stage was awash with bras and bikini bottoms and what looked like a shredded bin-bag on Aguilera herself, as though a bomb had gone off in a branch of Ann Summers," gasped one British journalist, presumably whilst someone dashed off to fetch her smelling salts.
All of which pales, however, when set against the unfolding disaster that is her first foray into acting. Touted as a heart-warming rags-to-riches tale set in the world of risque Los Angeles dance clubs, her new movie Burlesque has been slammed as unintentionally hilarious, with Aguilera singled out for her vapid lead performance.
Clearly the cinema-going public agrees -- despite opening on Thanksgiving weekend in the US, Burlesque quickly tanked (in its defence, it was up against Harry Potter and the Unstoppable franchise). It belatedly debuts in Ireland today but already it is obvious Aguilera's cinematic ambitions are dead on arrival.
None of which can be regarded as a surprise. Inside every A-list pop star, it seems, a mediocre actor is trying to break out. From John Lennon to 50 Cent, Sting to Mariah Carey, no unit-shifting warbler is apparently immune to the lure of Hollywood.
Again and again musicians and singers who ought to know better have put a successful recording career on hold to chase the dream of cinematic stardom.
And again and again, they reveal just how plastic and unconvincing they are when someone takes away their microphone and unplugs their guitar amp.
Here, then, is our definitive list of the worst-singers-turned-actor in entertainment history (breathe easy, Christina, you've escaped the cut).
Gordon Sumner's epic feather-cut has long deserved an Oscar of its own but, otherwise, the lute-abusing Police leader's forays in front of the cameras have been crushingly forgettable. He was out-acted by his bionic cod-piece in David Lynch's Dune.
Strutting around with rock star confidence, he also got the tone wrong as Baron Frankenstein in The Bride, a 1985 re-telling of Mary Shelley's horror classic.
Wearing a twinkly smirk that seemed to proclaim "Look at me, I'm Sting!" in every frame, he cast far too confident a figure in a movie about ruinous ambition and great plans gone horribly awry (at this point, feel free to insert your on joke about The Police's recent comeback tour).
Pop's most acclaimed chameleon, Bowie might have been expected to disappear into his screen roles, much as he inhabited the personas of Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane and the Thin White Duke.
For sure, he was impressively odd as a mopey alien in Nicolas Roeg's The Man Who Fell To Earth.
Then again, he was in full-blown cocaine-madness meltdown at the time, so it is debatable how much of what ended up on screen counts as acting.
Subsequently, he persuaded Broadway critics to lower their sharpened knives when he starred as the Elephant Man in a 1981 stage adaptation.
However, much as the wheels came off his music career in the mid-1980s, so his acting started to suffer from the law of diminishing returns too.
He looked like a slumming rockstar in the World War II comedy-of manners Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence and appeared to have swapped places with a balsa wood simulacrum in Tony Scott's corn-ball vampire romp The Hunger.
Still, it's not all bad. He had a hilarious cameo in Zoolander and, playing a space-cadet version of himself, was the funniest thing by far in season two of Ricky Gervais' Extras.
In what has proved to be a tale of two Mariahs, the R'n'B siren stunk up the screen in her 2001 vehicle Glitter.
Playing a Hollywood version of herself, she zombie-walked through a Rocky-esque tale of struggle against impossible odds, her performance deemed so awful it actually damaged her stature as a pop star.
"For her part, Carey seems most concerned about keeping her lips tightly sealed like a kid with braces," scoffed the Village Voice. "When she tries for an emotion -- any emotion -- she looks as if she's lost her car keys."
Carey herself didn't try to pretend the movie was anything but a disaster.
"It (Glitter) started out as a concept with substance," she reflected after the dust had settled. "It ended up being geared to 10-year-olds."
Given the pummelling she suffered, Carey could have been forgiven for never venturing near a movie set again. And yet she clawed her way back to give an toweringly gritty performance as a social worker in the 2009 social realist movie Precious.
Indeed many critics singled her out as the best thing in the Oscar-nominated film, for which she summoned dramatic reserves which, let's be honest, nobody thought she had in her.
At the time Britney was the hottest pop star on the planet and a Lolita-esque sex symbol to boot.
But despite all that, she still couldn't convince as a leading lady in 2002's Crossroads (not even when, for reasons largely unrelated to the plot, she bounced around on a bed in her underwear).
For all the clunkiness of her performance, though, the movie did well enough to lead to rumours that Spears was being lined up for a series of juicy parts. Nothing ever came of the chatter, however, and, one ruinous marriage later, she was in full career-meltdown purgatory.
The ultimate cautionary tale for musicians contemplating a stab at cinema, Madge has notched up 25 years of listless, dead eyed performances.
She was wooden in Desperately Seeking Susan, personality-free in Dick Tracy, hilariously unconvincing in the steamy Body of Evidence and just plain wrong in Evita.
In her videos, Madonna likes to flirt with sado-masochistic imagery. On the evidence of her movie career, she is quite literally a glutton for punishment.