We know. Real shocker, right? But you have to look at an actor or actress’s entire filmography before passing judgment on them as a whole, Brendan Fraser included. Granted, the man has made some real horrors in his career. Most of them involve him screaming his head off at something just off camera.
In fact, to look at Fraser’s career (as well as the fluctuation the actor’s appearance has taken between many of them), one can’t help but begin to wonder if there are two people in Hollywood, both of whom are named Brendan Fraser. One seems to be made of hardened bubble gum, and this one takes roles in films like Dudley Do-Right, Monkeybone, Looney Tunes: Back in Action, and Journey to the Center of the Earth. This Brendan Fraser can’t seem to pick a decent film if his life depended on it. The other guy, not so bad.
I can’t promise the films on this list are at the very top of the cinematic food chain, but, at the very least, they aren’t atrocious. These six films range from damn fine to just above making us reach for a barf bag. However, as is the case with all six, they don’t suck. When you can say that for a film that includes the opening credit of “Starring Brendan Fraser,” it’s a small victory, but it’s a victory nonetheless. Unless, of course, there are two Brendan Frasers. The investigation continues.
Here we go:
1. School Ties (1992)
A poignant and well-meaning film with a cast list of future stars, School Ties is one of Fraser’s earliest and best performances. Coming out at the end of the Summer that also brought us Encino Man, it proved to many that the guy who played the caveman in that Pauly Shore movie could also pull in a decent performance.
As a Jewish student at an elite university who hides his religion from those who might persecute him, Fraser was absolutely convincing, and it is no surprise he quickly grew into a notable star. The rest of the cast includes Chris O’Donnell, Matt Damon, Cole Hauser, and Matt Damon. Though it isn’t astonishing from beginning to end (there’s a valid reason the film’s director, Robert Mandel, went onto the land of video and TV director obscurity), School Ties still serves its purpose well and includes some very fine performances from its would-be famous lineup.
2. Airheads (1994)
Airheads. Again, not a triumph in the way of filmmaking. But, seriously, how can you not laugh at a film about a three-man metal group (Fraser, Adam Sandler, and Steve Buscemi, no less) that holds a radio station hostage to get their demo played over the air? I ask again. How can you not laugh at that? Okay, maybe even a chuckle? Well, it makes me laugh, dammit. Every time radio DJ Joe Mantegna (a laugh in and of itself) questions the bands name, The Lone Rangers, I get a smile on my face as big as I got the first time I saw the film 16 years ago.
Airheads also boasts a massive cast that includes Chris Farley, Michael McKean, Ernie Hudson, Michael Richards, David Arquette, and Judd Nelson, in one of his last theatrical roles before setting up shop over at SyFy. Yes, I think this film may have had a hand in that, too. Too broad to even be considered an acquired taste, Airheads is simply a film that you either do or do not find funny. I, for one, and, probably, only one, do. And, yes, Lemmy is God.
3. Gods and Monsters (1998)
Leave it to Fraser to turn in his best work alongside an actor like Ian McKellan. From premise to execution, Gods and Monsters is an exquisite portrayal of a man’s final days, and the demons that haunt him even to the end. This man being James Whale, the man who made 1931’s Frankenstein and the follow-up, The Bride of Frankenstein, four years later. These demons are all too familiar even now, nearly 80 years after the first film’s release. Written and directed by Bill Condon, this is a film about loneliness, weakness stemming from obsession, and the things that make us lose our innocence, but, most of all, it is a film about connections.
Told with sporadic cut backs to his days as a filmmaker, Condon adapts Christopher Bram’s pseudo-fictional novel “Father of Frankenstein,” with a honed simplicity, never allowing the film to become preachy or overbearing in the messages it conveys. The story told here is a tragic one, more so in that it is, speculative or not, somewhat true and gives us a haunting look at the travails of men who were once thought as geniuses but have long since slipped into aged and sorrowful seclusion.
4. The Mummy (1999)
Okay, enough about loneliness and human flaws. Let’s talk about hordes of CGI scarabs. Let’s talk about the film that made Brendan Fraser an A-list star for about four years. Let’s talk about Stephen Sommers’s acceptance into the land of $100-million films. Let’s talk about The Mummy. The 1999 remake people love to hate did generate sequels, prequels, and Saturday morning cartoons that are worthwhile of all the hatred. There’s a special place in Hell for the person who decided the Scorpion King needed his own couple of films. However, for all of its stupidity and mildly atrocious CG antics, The Mummy is a whole lot of Hollywood Summer tent-pole fun.
Taking very little from the original 1932 film, Sommers succeeded in creating exactly what he set out to make, a grand-scale adventure much in the vein of Indiana Jones (I know, bite my tongue) with just enough horror elements thrown in to satisfy even the most passive fan of the genre. Of course, you have to sit back and gauge whether the unpretentious and diverting nature of the film wins out over a lack of intelligence and hokey plot structure at best. If you can look past that, and the fact that this is pretty much where Fraser began screaming at things off camera, then you will find a lot less enjoyable experiences than The Mummy.
5. The Quiet American (2002)
If you thought Fraser had a tough time coexisting with Ian McKellan on camera, you should check out how he favors against Michael Caine. The Quiet American, based on the 1955 novel by Graham Greene and a remake of the 1958 film, is quite possibly the most forgotten film on this list. It’s also the best, with Caine playing a reporter for the London Times who is in love with a young, Vietnamese girl in 1952 Saigon. Enter Fraser as a young doctor who also falls in love with the girl. Twists and turns abound as the story progresses from a dramatic love triangle to an intriguing and intense political thriller.
Phillip Noyce’s direction on The Quiet American is superb, both in the way he captures Greene’s original tone and in the staggering performances he pulls out of both Caine and Fraser. Caine is understandable. The guy is unequaled both in terms of dark gazes and troubled characteristics, but for Fraser to give such a resonating performance says something both for Noyce’s handling of the actor and for the actor himself. The Quiet American tells of flawed men in an equally flawed time and place, but the film itself is so damned flawless.
6. Inkheart (2009)
Inkheart is undoubtedly a film starring that other Brendan Fraser. You know, the guy that looks like a lump of silly putty with eyes. However, it’s possibly the best film that guy’s made. It doesn’t break new ground. It doesn’t tell us a story (or a dozen or so of them) we haven’t seen countless times before. But, much like The Mummy, it succeeds despite its flaws. An entertaining film for both young and old moviegoers, the film, directed by Iain Softley and adapted from the hugely popular book series by Cornelia Funke, is filled with engaging special effects and rousing moments of adventure. Fraser aside, (Softley is no Phillip Noyce, sadly enough) the cast is fairly competent with Paul Bettany, Helen Mirren, Jim Broadbent and Andy Serkis all delivering convincing performances.
Gusto and ambitious fervor in conveying its somewhat dizzying story seem to be enough for this little, adventure film. Though Inkheart doesn’t work through and through with its abrupt pitch changes and Fraser oftentimes acting like…well, Brendan Fraser, it still comes across as better than most of the “based on the series of books” films in the onslaught of them after Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. And, though the thought of a second film to continue the trilogy (the next books were “Inkspell” and “Inkdeath”) hasn’t been broached yet, this first film didn’t work towards leaving its ending completely open and without resolution. That alone puts it head and shoulders above similar adventure tales like Eragon and The Golden Compass. That’s not really saying much for it, but, nonetheless, Inkheart is a lovely film to behold.
And, there they are. Six films starring Brendan Fraser that don’t completely suck. Hardly any of them are cause for a parade, but the next time you’re watching a Fraser film and he decides to scream at something or fall off a rooftop or get sprayed by a dozen skunks not one but two times (no, I don’t think Furry Vengeance will make this list in the future), you can always close your eyes and think back on these films, the ones that didn’t suck.