The Towering Inferno was entertaining crap when it opened 35 years ago, and the exact same deal applies now that it’s on Blu-ray. But Paul Newman and Steve McQueen are honorable and oak-solid in their starring roles. This is impressive given the fact that neither actor has a real part to play — they were just paid to show up and go through the Irwin Allen paces. They knew it then and we know it now, but they deliver the goods anyway. That’s professionalism and star power.
There are four ways that brand-name actors deliver straight-paycheck performances in mediocre big-studio films. One, they do it straight and plain and cruise by on chops and charisma, like McQueen and Newman. Two, they do it straight and plain and don’t cruise by on chops and charisma — they sink into the movie like quicksand and slowly suffocate. Three, they behave in an extremely mannered and very actorish way as a way of telegraphing to the audience that they are totally aware that they’re in a crap film, and that they want everyone to know that they know this. And four, they go beyond mannered and go waay over the top (like Jon Voight in Anaconda) and turn their performances into inspired farce.
Examples of any of the above?