Tuesday, September 14, 2010

By Scotty C.

There was a blink of an eye when Christian Slater could have been the next Jack Nicholson. He was a bad boy in a time when he was alone. This was after Judd Nelson, Rob Lowe and Charlie Sheen’s Brat Pack era and before Leo and Brad Pitt took over in the 90s. He was wild, charming and dangerous. Instead of Generation X’s James Dean, he was more the James Dean of 1989.

Christian Slater got typecast as Christian Slater. He was great at being Christian Slater. By the time he tried to show a little diversity with some dramatic roles, he didn’t remind anyone of Jack Nicholson. Was it too late? Was his moment over? Sure he’d get the occasional TV show and once in a while a leading role in a film, but it’s usually to be the essence of Christian Slater. Very few have gotten that mixture right. Slater started out great.

Slater was in “Tucker: The Man and His Dream” directed by Francis Ford Coppola. He was the big brother in “The Wizard” when people still cared about Fred Savage.

I always liked his vulnerability in parts mixing with his edge. He was always a razor’s edge a few steps away from falling apart. His character’s suicide is the only one in a movie splattered with it. Hard Harry was a great alter ego to shy Mark Hunter in “Pump Up The Volume” who takes it to the edge but reevaluates things after a listener kills himself. Mark’s breakdown gave the film a little bit of depth that it sorely needed. “Pump Up The Volume” was great. In fact it’s so good, I don’t know why they haven’t remade it as a podcast instead of a radio DJ. They would make it PG-13 and more tween friendly ala “Disturbia”. Maybe Shia Labeouf could be in it.

“Gleaming the Cube” was a fun skating movie that showed a sulking Slater over the death of his adopted brother. His brother was murdered but made to look like, suicide. Slater had made three films that hit upon suicide as a major or minor theme. Was this the issue in the early 90s? If an actor did this now he would be written off as the Emo Prince.

He was in the brat pack western sequel “Young Guns II.” That movie might be terrible now as it has not been revisited but in 1990, Young Guns were cool and so was Christian Slater. In 1991 he starred alongside Kevin Costner in “Robin Hood.”

Slater starred in “Mobsters” as Charlie Lucky Luciano. This would seem like a good move to be in a mobster film. He was a gangster, someone who probably never went to high school. He was with other regulars of Tiger Beat Magazine like Richard Grieco after his career peaked in “If Looks Could Kill” and between “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Grey’s Anatomy” McDreamy Patrick Dempsey. Obviously if you are making this film for any other reason besides the hope of pulling teenage girls into a gangster film, it makes no sense. It’s not like Scorsese directed it.

For a career in the early 90s, these looked like great moves. This was before Sundance and independent films could be used to flex acting street cred. Maybe if he had taken some bold independent films on, he would have cut his teeth with some great indie filmmakers.

In “Kuffs” Slater grows up sorta by playing a guy who never graduated high school and inherits a patrol special district from his brother. “Kuffs” had moved on from suicide to brother’s revenge. Just like “Gleaming The Cube”, it is about a brother’s justice with Benny from L.A. Law as the villain. This movie was fun and had Milla Jovovich pre-Fifth Element.
The legend of Christian Slater had far more reach than the man himself. It wasn’t him so much as his own mythology as dangerous teen heartthrob that elevated the mythology but not the man into pop culture.

“All I want to do is graduate from high school, go to Europe, marry Christian Slater, and die.”-Buffy The Vampire Slayer

The Kristy Swanson film starred Luke Perry. Was Luke Perry the new Christian Slater? Luke Perry had an even smaller film career than Slater. Buffy says she wants to marry Christian Slater before she becomes the vampire slayer. Her love for Christian Slater is when she is a self consumed cheerleader. Would the shallow Buffy like anything besides Slater’s looks? Would she find “Heathers” a downer? Would “Pump Up The Volume” had been a better fit for her? Maybe after she defeats Lothos, she would have seen “Kuffs.”

The problem with Slater began to show when he left B-List stars and high school scripts. His best film is probably “True Romance”, a Tony Scott directed film written by Quentin Tarantino. Unfortunately Slater is outshined by everyone else in the film: Val Kilmer as Elvis, Brad Pitt as stoner Floyd, Dennis Hopper, Gary Oldman, James Gandolfini prepping for Tony Soprano, Christopher Walken, Bronson Pinchot’s peak performance, Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Rapaport. In a script written by Quentin Tarantino, Slater’s character, Clarence, is outgunned by more interesting characters. Against real talent, was Slater showing he couldn’t keep up?

He co-starred with Joe Pesci in Barry Levinson directed “Joe Hollywood”, a film I saw but haven’t thought about since 1994. He was the interviewer in “Interview With The Vampire” overshadowed by still superstar Tom Cruise and an emerging Brad Pitt.

"Let's blow off seventh and eighth, go to the mall, have a calorie fest, and see the new Christian Slater.”-Cher, “Clueless”

In 1995, the year “Clueless” was released, the only Christian Slater film on tap was “Murder in the First.” Was this something Cher would have seen at any point in the film, especially a movie to pick her up? Maybe “Clueless” was released in 1995 but set in 1989. That can’t be because Beavis and Butthead, flannel shirts and “Ren and Stimpy” are referenced along with “Rolling with the Homies” which was released in 1995. Cher is also saving herself for Luke Perry. But Luke Perry wouldn’t gain notoriety until “Beverly Hills 90210” in 1990. In 1995 Luke Perry is 30 years old. None of this makes sense unless we add flashbacks and flashforwards in a weird time paradox. The solution lies in the peak of the mythology of Christian Slater. By this time Slater was aging and not playing high school parts anymore. When he wasn’t able to play the outsider new to school, his career eased up. No more Nicholson comparisons.

1996 would give us Christian Slater directed by John Woo and career resurrected John Travolta in “Broken Arrow” in an attempt to become an action star. This was fun at 15 years old but probably doesn’t hold up as a John Woo, John Travolta or Christian Slater film. He also did “Bed of Roses” with Mary Stuart Masterson. It grossed $19 million at the box office. I haven’t seen it nor have I heard anyone mention it ever.

In 1998 he played the Slatere edge to a tee in “Very Bad Things” a dark comedy with co-star Jon Favreau and Jeremy Piven. This seems like a movie that would’ve had Vince Vaughn in it. At this point Vaughn was remaking “Psycho” with Gus Van Sant so Christian Slater could just slip right in. “Very Bad Things” was Slater in overdrive. It didn’t work. What made his earlier roles so memorable was the volatility between danger and emotion. You felt there was a heart lurking there somewhere.

It’s unfair to act like he dropped off the map because he has worked steadily the last twenty-two years. He has been in films and television, but teenage girls are no longer waiting for his proposal.

According to Yahoo! Movies, Slater’s brushes with the law, guns, drugs and rehab were reasons why his star faded. Supposedly directors didn’t want to work wit him because of that. Did that stop Robert Downey Jr., Charlie Sheen or the countless other Hollywood stars who have succumbed to the seduction of an “E True Hollywood Story.” Is he the greatest actor of his generation? Should he have to be? I think given the right script and a director wanting to tap what we loved about Christian Slater or show us something new, Slater could prevail. In 2010 Christian Slater may not be Buffy or Cher worthy, but he probably has something left in the chamber for the rest of us.


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