Poor Scarlett Johansson. The Guardian's Joe Queenan has a piece up slamming the actress with gems such as, "Basically, her acting repertory consists of staring intently at the person she is speaking to, keeping her lips spread apart, and hoping no one will notice that she is no threat to Meryl Streep, and not all that much of a threat to Hilary Duff ." When you're being compared unfavorably to Hilary Duff -- that's gotta hurt.

Queenan goes on to enumerate Johansson's string of box office (and acting) failures, including in that list her BAFTA and Golden Globe-nommed performance in The Girl With the Pearl Earring ("listless and vacant"), The Island ("hopelessly miscast"), Match Point ("passive and useless"), Scoop ("thoroughly implausible"), The Black Dahlia ("ridiculously out of her league"), and The Prestige ("entirely extraneous"). Harsh words, but does Queenan have a point?
I liked Johansson well-enough in Ghost World, and I happen to fall on the "liked it" side of the Lost in Translation fence. I'll grant Queenan on some of his points, but her performance in Match Point was one of her strongest, especially toward the end, where she captured well the utter desperation of the "other woman" who finds that her illicit lover doesn't care quite as much for her once she evolves from sexy little vamp who exists to serve his sexual needs to real woman with a real problem.

Queenan moves on from eviscerating Johansson to bring up other stars with the stench of box office bomb hovering about them like an invisible, omnipresent cloud: Robert Downey, Jr., Val Kilmer, Sharon Stone, Ben Affleck (with or without former love Jennifer Lopez), John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, and Jude Law. Of these, as Queenan notes, a fair number are actually quite talented. Yet, inexplicably, they fail to bring home the box office bacon. Is it a case of bad box office mojo, or bad scripts, or some other secret combination of ingredients that add up to a formula for Hollywood failure?

It's interesting that many of the stars Queenan makes mention of continue to get regular work in Hollywood, in spite of not having carried a major hit recently; Johansson is one of these, as are Law and Cage. What other stars can you think of who bring the "kiss of death" to whatever film they work on? And what do you think of Queenan's take on Johansson? Someone in Hollywood surely likes her -- the actress has no less fewer ** than six projects currently in the works. Is she really as talentless as Queenan seems to think? Or is she a brilliant actress who's taken on some bad roles that don't fully showcase her talents?

** Thanks to eagle eye reader Keith for coming down on me with grammar-police guns blazing for the grammatical error. Of course, as any good grade school teacher knows (and I used to teach grade school, so I should and do know), "less" is for things you cannot count, whilst "fewer" is for things you can count -- like Ms. Johansson's film projects. Thanks, Keith. Even professional writers like we here at Cinematical occasionally need the grammar police to keep us in line. I henceforth assign myself to stay after school and write on the chalkboard 100 times, "Fewer, not less! Fewer, not less!"