CATEGORIES Features, Cinematical


Today is a bad day to be Googling "Lindsay Lohan Inferno" for information about her (potentially) upcoming Linda Lovelace biopic, and an even worse day to actually be Lindsay Lohan.

That's because the troubled actress -- who delivered two truly great performances in 'The Parent Trap' before sublimating her career into a notorious post-adolescent fame-ball, which saw her making poor life choices, such as doing meth (allegedly) and working with Jared Leto (factually) -- is probably on her way to jail for another six hours or so, and her professional life is once again on hold.

While this may seem like particularly unfortunate timing for Ms. Lohan, given that her comeback film is (was?) scheduled to begin production in November, it's quite possible that 'Inferno: A Linda Lovelace Story' isn't the kind of film with which she should be attempting her return as a leading lady anyhow.

For worse or for worse, a film about a porn star by a relatively unaccomplished director (Matthew Wilder) is simply not going to command the type of respect that Lohan needs in order to escape the tabloid trenches -- and Wilder's description of the film as "a shock-and-awe movie..." and "a no-holds-barred blitz on the audience," should be enough to smite whatever optimism you might have for the project.

But Lohan is just one of many formerly viable actors looking for redemption. As we've seen, comebacks are a tricky thing to accomplish in Hollywood -- an actor can leave the spotlight for any number of benign reasons and quickly find themselves mocked as irrelevant.

But such career rebounds are also the blueprints for one of Hollywood's favorite narratives, and every time someone pulls it off, that arc comes to the fore. Failed comebacks of the embarrassingly maligned variety tend not to capture the zeitgeist in quite the same way, but just because none have lead to Oscar glory since Mickey Rourke's triumph in 'The Wrestler' doesn't mean that the last two years haven't been over-stuffed with resurgent actors of all kinds.

So, as we witness a new chapter of Lindsay Lohan's high-profile rally, let's take a look at five actors who have recently returned to the silver screen with grace, and five who weren't quite so fortunate.

THE GOOD:

5.
Ben Affleck

Ben AffleckLet's just get this out of the way: We love Ben Affleck. We don't mean that in a homoerotic way or anything, but yeah, we probably wouldn't kick him out of bed. And what's not to love? There's the self-depricating wit. There's the fact that he appeared in the holy film trifecta of 'School Ties,' 'Shakespeare in Love,' and 'Phantoms.' And he co-wrote what is one of the best American films of the 1990s ('Good Will Hunting' -- ever heard of it?).

And now that 'The Town' has gifted us with further proof that he's a solid director, it's more clear than ever that this devilishly handsome man American hero should never have been something of a laughingstock. The days of 'Daredevil' are behind us, we've almost fully repressed 'He's Just Not That Into You' from the collective unconscious, and 'The Town' sits atop the box office, effectively re-establishing Affleck's draw as a leading man and opening Jon Favreau-sized doors for his directing career.

4. Mickey Rourke

Mickey Rourke as The WrestlerThe John Travolta of the 2000s (in the way that he had a particularly dramatic career resurgence, and in no other way whatsoever), Mickey Rourke seemed to be slumming it in the early years of this young millennium, but maybe not quite as hard as you might imagine. For one thing, he was already in good with Robert Rodriguez, popping up for unflattering roles in both 'Once Upon a Time in Mexico' and 'Sin City.' But his last credit before his defining performance in 'The Wrestler' was in a little movie called 'Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker.'

This is the part where we'd like to slag Alex Ride to mildly amusing effect, but the flick was never on our radar and features a rather ridiculously star-studded cast -- so congrats to everyone involved. But Rourke was coming back not from the worst roles of his career, but from a storied and entrenched irrelevance. Darren Aronofsky proved to be his unlikely fairy godmother, finding Rourke a role that played on his public troubles, while also establishing a deep pathos all his own. Opportunity knocked, and Rourke beat it senseless with a metal folding chair.

3. Robert Downey Jr

Robert Downey Jr. Iron ManIn retrospect, Robert Downey Jr. never really went away. His fame and cool resulting from 'Iron Man' just so eclipsed his image as an effed-up '90s icon that it seems as if he'd been on sabbatical since '2 Girls and a Guy.'

It was 'Good Night and Good Luck' that re-established Downey's foothold on the critical radar, and between selecting good roles and absolutely killing each and every one of them, Downey has been riding a high that reaches far beyond the Marvel universe, delivering memorable turns in equally memorable films like 'Zodiac,' 'Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,' and 'Charlie Bartlett' 'Tropic Thunder.' As a result, Downey is now one of the most famous actors alive, and I don't think Hollywood has any interest in it being any other way.

2. Totoro

Totoro is huge in Japan. He's so huge in Japan he makes Godzilla look like Mecha-Godzilla. From government signs in Tokyo to the rural fishing villages of the Noto Peninsula, the toothy, rotund, rabbit-like spirit is simply ubiquitous, and statistically remains the only thing that the Japanese love more than the vocal stylings of Jennifer Love Hewitt.

But since his breakthrough in 1988's 'My Neighbor Totoro,' Miyazaki's most beloved creation has struggled for further roles, and with only tiny cameos in subsequent Studio Ghibli films to pad his reel, he's been more likely to appear on a lunchbox than a cast list. Roles are tough to come by for a furry, relentlessly grinning beast of indeterminate species (unless Robin Williams needs a stand-in -- ZING!), but early this summer, the geniuses over at Pixar gave Totoro a chance to reinvigorate his international appeal, offering the furry creature the part he was born to play: himself.

Totoro's silent but pivotal performance in 'Toy Story 3' incited a global wave of renewed Totoro fervor, and was solely responsible for the film becoming Pixar's biggest hit to date. And even if that last sentence was a ball of lies, Totoro was was once again on movie screens the world over, and a new generation of kids -- even American kids -- became vaguely familiar with his image. And that's pretty cool.

1. Michelle Williams

This clip is hugely pertinent to this article:



Michelle Williams has been enjoying much-deserved success since 'Brokeback Mountain' in 2005, but after Heath Ledger's sudden death she had to claw her way out of the tabloids and re-establish her talents as an actress all over again, something she's done with tremendous economy and aplomb since the end of 2008.

Williams is a reminder to never underestimate the comeback-facilitating talents of indie auteurs, as her modest but riveting performance in Kelly Reichardt's 'Wendy and Lucy' silenced the haters in a scant 80 minutes. Since then she's worked with Charlie Kaufman and Martin Scorsese, and will have two shots at an Oscar this fall as she re-teams with Reichardt for 'Meek's Cutoff,' and co-stars in Derek Cianfrance's Sundance darling, 'Blue Valentine.'

THE BAD:

5. Katie Holmes


Katie Holmes Batman BeginsNot all of Dawson's former flames have it so good. Being a female lead in a Christopher Nolan movie might not always mean a chance to shine, but it does always mean that you're the female lead in Christopher Nolan movie, and that ain't nothing (especially when your previous starring role was in 'First Daughter'). But then Tom Cruise started digging her a little bit, and the next thing you know she's a modern-day Mrs. Bluebeard, cloistered away only to reappear in 'Mad Money' and be greeted with a cocktail of public pity and indifference. Two years later and she's back with 'The Romantics' and 'The Extra Man,' neither of which is making waves. But Holmes' problem is less her role-selection than it is the fact that her presence just feels a bit off whenever she shows up, like there's too much known and unspoken between the performer and her audience for the illusion to hold.

4. Mike Myers



He made a movie about hockey, and it looked so putrid that I didn't see it. Now, something you should know about me is that I love hockey. A lot. Right now I'm wearing New York Rangers sneakers that I designed myself (really). So me not seeing a movie about hockey is like Paul W.S. Anderson not seeing a movie about nu-metal. When an immaculately rarefied demographic is avoiding the film that seems tailor-made for them, trouble's afoot. 'The Love Guru' so boisterously bore the stench of failure that only a complete re-invention might help him to escape it (Myers will play Keith Moon in 2012, so who knows). The enormously successful comedian was wise to snag a small dose of Tarantino's resuscitative magic with a cameo in 'Inglourious Basterds,' but at a certain point that flick became too good for anyone to care.

P.S. 'Shrek' doesn't count.

3. The Kraken



The year was 2006, and The Kraken was on top of the world. The mythological sea creature had just upstaged Johnny Depp and Bill Nighy in the biggest movie of the year, had a sequel in the can, and was photographed canoodling with Courtney Love at Tengu or one of those Hollywood bistros I didn't just invent. But then 'Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest's' neatest character was casually killed off-screen. It was like showing up to see the new James Bond film and 30 minutes in Marc Forster suddenly cuts to Felix Leiter's corpse. The Kraken was understandably a bit dispirited once Gore Verbinski so criminally underutilized him, and after being cut entirely from 'Nights in Rodanthe' he jumped at the chance to appear in 'Clash of the Titans,' but promises of being prominently featured in the ad blitz rendered him indifferent to the film's second-rate feel, and he ignored red flags such as an original tagline that read: "Titans Will Clash" (seriously. Real human money was spent on a teaser trailer bearing those words). The movie was widely panned and The Kraken was last seen dejectedly signing autographs for $20 a pop at Comic-Con.

2. Joaquin Phoenix



This isn't a fire to which I wish to contribute any fuel, but it has to be acknowledged. 'I'm Still Here' was simultaneously both Phoenix's absence and his comeback, and instead of resolving itself into a meaningful comment on modern celebrity, Casey Affleck's film unspooled like the work of two brats who had more time and resources than they knew what to do with. I have a full-length mirror in my room, if I want to see a human catastrophe I don't need to pay these two guys - who are both much better than this - to do so. I resent the film not because it's an unpleasant ruse, but because it's a shallowly unpleasant ruse that made me distrust David Letterman, and for that there is no atonement.

1. Mel Gibson



'Edge of Darkness' just wasn't very good. What's he been up to since?