When Cedric the Entertainer makes a lousy movie, he's delivering no less than we expect of him. But how long must we keep praising promising actors who consistently run on autopilot in mediocre crap, though we've seen that they're capable of much more? Following are the top three sandbaggers of 2005:
Dakota Fanning: She wowed the world by holding the screen opposite a showboating Sean Penn in I Am Sam and showed natural intelligence opposite Denzel Washington in Man on Fire. Now producers seem to consider her for every little girl role that comes along, and critics have been effusive in their praise. But then there's The Cat in the Hat, and this past year, the Robert De Niro stinker Hide and Seek and the God-awful Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story. (She was fine in War of the Worlds, a film that required her merely to scream and cry.) Let's assume that since she's only 11, someone else is choosing her scripts.
Jamie Bell: The endearing star of Billy Elliot made interesting choices this year, but they were mostly interestingly bad. Exactly what the hell was he doing as a would-be 19th-century dandy with a gun fetish in Dear Wendy? And what exactly was the point of The Chumscrubber, in which he plays a disaffected teen in a suburbia wracked by pill-popping? Both films were made by foreign directors who seem not to understand America at all. Maybe Bell doesn't, either, but he was on the right track with 2004's Undertow, and he needs to get back on it.
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Peter Sarsgaard: The intensely focused eyes that look like they might cry any second. The mildly effeminate, laid-back delivery with which he utters each line. It was all quite novel for a while. But something has gone way wrong in Sarsgaard's turn toward hammy villain roles in The Skeleton Key and Flightplan; when he tries to play over-the-top, he just seems dead inside. (Ditto the troubled Marine he portrayed in Jarhead.) Playing gay wasn't a bad idea; unfortunately, the project he chose to do that in was The Dying Gaul, a misguided play turned movie that tried to get viewers excited with tense scenes of . . . people typing on computers.