Jerry O'Connell has a habit of portraying the most obnoxious characters the film industry has to offer. It's something I've grown quite numb to over the year's, but thanks to Piranha 3D that numbness has warn off and I'm aware more than ever of O'Connell's seemingly natural ability to bug the heck out of me.
For those of you who missed out on the boobs and blood fest, in Piranha, O'Connell plays Derrick, an over-the-top dirty film director with two things on his mind, himself and getting his shot. Okay, I can understand the necessity to include an excessive amount of nudity in order to draw in a crowd, but that in no way give writers Pete Goldfinger and Josh Stolberg the right to include a character so damn annoying. Perhaps if O'Connell would have toned it down just a notch, Derrick could have been a little more than just a caricature and perhaps even the slightest bit likable. But no, we get a ranting and raving O'Connell making stinky faces and nearly causing those beautiful blues eye to pop right out of his head.
But as irritated as I am with his performance in Piranha, there's no denying that in his lengthy career, O'Connell has put on some very good shows; it's just too bad they're buried in outlandish garbage like Baby on Board, Obsessed, Kangaroo Jack, Tomcats and Joe's Apartment, just to name a few. In nearly all of those movies, he's really the same guy from Piranha, but with a different occupation and a non-fishy issue; he's loud and intolerable.
However, that's not the case with some of his work, it just happens to be primarily television work. I'm willing to bet there are a handful of Sliders fans out there who remember good old Quinn Mallory, the guy who invented "sliding." Sliders was canceled after its third season, but thanks to its diehard fan base, the show was picked up for two more season. Unfortunately Fox opted to cut it again, but Sci-Fi snatched it up and aired the show's final two seasons. There's a reason so many protested the show's cancellations; it was good and O'Connell was good in it. Quinn was smart, likable, sensible and most importantly, a normal guy. The same goes for O'Connell's performance in Crossing Jordan. His character, detective Woody Hoyt, was only on the show once in awhile during its first three seasons, but became a full timer in the fourth and his more regular inclusion made for a fantastic addition.
Clearly neither his work in Crossing Jordan nor Sliders qualifies for this film-based column, but that's of no concern considering O'Connell has a best role and it's in a feature film. In fact, it's his very first one, Stand By Me. Stand By Me has a very special place in my heart; I grew up with this film. I even named my dog Gordie after Gordie Lachance. But the reason I'm choosing this one for O'Connell's best role isn't because I'm a huge fan of the film overall, but because this is just flat out his best performance.
O'Connell stars as one of four main characters, Vern Tessio. Along with his buddies Gordie Lachance (Wil Wheaton), Chris Chambers (River Phoenix) and Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman), he heads out into the woods to check out a rumored dead body, that of a missing boy named Ray Brower. They tell a little white lie claiming to be spending the night at each other's houses, pack up their things and hit the trail. Along the way they run into a slew of problems including a vicious guard dog, leeches and Chris' big brother's tough friend Ace (Kiefer Sutherland), but have some good times, bond and even grow up a bit in the process.
All of the guys are good friends, but Vern's the chubby kid and let's face it, the chubby kid is always the butt of the jokes. Not only do we get some good laughs at Vern's expense, but he garners a few of his own, too. Yes, the character may be the work of Stephen King and the duo that adapted his novel for the big screen, Raynold Gideon and Bruce A. Evans, but if anyone but O'Connell snagged that role, Vern just wouldn't be the same. I can just hear O'Connell saying, "If I could only have one food for the rest of my life? That's easy-Pez. Cherry-flavored Pez," or even Vern's catchphrase, "Sincerely."
Vern is Stand By Me's primary comedic relief, just as Derrick is Piranha's, but in Stand By Me, O'Connell manages to be funny just by acting natural. In Piranha, he's practically begging for it. It's really a shame O'Connell is being pigeonholed as a more eccentric actor. Even though he's delivered a slew of shoddy films ever since Stand By Me, he's also showed us time and time again that he can be a great serious actor. Let's hope O'Connell is thinking the same thing.