Inching towards mediocrity.

Droppin’ in. (Now with 36% more…”is that who I think it was?”)

It’s always fun when a familiar face shows up in a movie you’re watching. Sometimes it adds to the madness; sometimes it’s distracting. Other times, it can be a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stale film.

Here we look at ten of the best cameos in recent film memory:

Ten: Mark Hamill. (Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back)

This movie, Kevin Smith’s more or less effective conclusion to the “View Askiewniverse” (until it was unceremoniously reopened for “Clerks II”) is rife with celebrity cameos – ranging from such bizarre folks as Carrie Fisher and Gus Van Sant, to the Kevin Smith regulars like George Carlin and Ben Affleck.

The real surprise shows up towards the end of the movie, when Jay and Silent Bob, as their alter-egos Bluntman and Chronic, must face off with their arch-nemesis Cock-Knocker, during filming of the Bluntman and Chronic movie. Cock-Knocker is of course played by Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill. (The movie even makes a point of flashing a cheesy graphic onscreen during his entrance, cheerfully informing us that that is, in fact, Mark Hamill).

Hamill, who somehow evolved into a pretty decent actor at some point after filming “Return of the Jedi” proves a good sport, spoofing his previous work and generally being over-the-top – playing a dude in a bizarre costume with an enlarged fist and a knock-off lightsaber. Nerds and geeks around the world rejoiced when said fist was chopped off, causing Hamill to look at the camera and deadpan “not again” referring to “The Empire Strikes Back” and ensuring that no woman in the audience would get the joke.

Nine: Flea. (Back to the Future II, III)

I don’t know why Flea, the bassist from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, was in “Back to the Future” and I don’t care. He appears as Marty McFly’s nemesis, and eventual boss, Douglas J. Needles. Needles to say (*snicker*) his role exists only to act insanely, yelling and screaming at McFly – whether it’s egging him on to drag race, or screaming at him on a giant telephone screen in the future.

I suppose I could have used Huey Lewis’ cameo from the first one here, but c’mon. Flea or Huey Lewis? No contest.

Eight: William Fichtner. (The Dark Knight)

I think I may have included Fichtner here because the dude simply does not get enough love. He’s always great no matter what he’s in, and he always makes a nice impact. His short but sweet appearance at the beginning of this film as a mob banker who’s held up by the Joker and his thugs is chock full of awesomeness. More William Fichtner, I say!

Seven: Kurt Vonnegut. (Back To School)

Vonnegut doesn’t have much to do in this cameo. In fact, I’m not sure if he even speaks. But it’s ALWAYS awesome to see Kurt Vonnegut, and lord knows the dude didn’t get out much.

The plot of the film is your run-of-the-mill rich dad who didn’t finish college returns to get his degree to impress his disenchanted son, and ends up rooming with him on campus – you know, that old chestnut. Rodney Dangerfield plays the (what else) loud, obnoxious, party-lovin’ father, who uses his vast wealth and dearth of connections to ensure good grades in all his classes. He (naturally) clashes with the crusty old dean (actually, I think he may have been his English teacher) who calls him out on his report on Vonnegut – claiming that whoever wrote this clearly doesn’t know a thing about dear old Kurt. Cue the laughter! Dangerfield hired Vonnegut himself to write the report! Oh, sweet irony!

Long story short, while it’s an enjoyable little movie, it’s pretty crude and by-the-books Dangerfield-esque comedy. So I’m really not sure what the hell Vonnegut’s doing here. But I LIKE IT.

(Sam Kinison also makes a cameo as a – wait for it – ridiculously over-the-top screaming teacher. Also a highlight, though less surprising).

Six: Martin Sheen. (Hot Shots: Part Deux!).

Dueling voiceovers, a father-son reunion, and a mutual love of the film “Wallstreet” (in which both Sheens star) highlight this cameo, a brief but funny bit in an otherwise pretty ridiculous (but, funny) action/spoof extravaganza.

Five: David Bowie. (Zoolander)

Let’s get one thing straight. “Zoolander” is not a very good movie. Sure it has its moments, and sure Will Ferrell’s pretty damn funny in it (side note: this was back when Ferrell was doing supporting roles. Y’know…the kind of thing he SHOULD be doing) but otherwise, it’s pretty lifeless. And, like “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back” (which was also rather lifeless) it features a slew of celebrity cameos. While admittedly some of these ended up being the highlights of the movie (David Duchovny, Billy Zane and Garry Shandling immediately spring to mind) I think the best of them all was the out-of-nowhere and all to brief bit with the Thin White Duke Himself.

After all, who’s better than Bowie to judge a male-model walk-off? And with his own title graphic, no less!

Four: Billy Crystal and Carol Kane. (The Princess Bride.)

I think this one needs no explanation, really. Though I would never consider myself a fan of movies with the word “princess” in the title, I can’t ignore how awesome this movie really is. The acting, directing and storytelling are all excellent…it’s a live action fairy tale for grown-ups. 

And if you needed anymore convincing about just how amazing this movie is, look no further than Billy Crystal’s Miracle Max. I’m not 100% where Billy Crystal is these days, but he was at the top of his game here – bickering with Carol Kane and taking over the movie for a scene or two. Good fun.

Three: Neil Patrick Harris. (Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.)

I’m not sure if this is would be considered a cameo, or a supporting role, or what. But it doesn’t matter. Neil Patrick Harris showed up out of nowhere in this movie, and absolutely rocked the fucking thing. And that’s ALL that matters.

Listen. I had pretty low expectations going into this movie when it first came out. I’m not into stoner humor. In fact, I hate stoner humor. Maybe it’s because I don’t smoke drugs. Or, maybe it’s because it’s usually horribly juvenile and relies too much on inside jokes about stoner culture. (I shudder to even refer to stoner anything as “culture.”)

Regardless, this movie turned out to be a lot more clever than I ever would have considered. The two leads, Kal Penn and John Cho had great chemistry, and while the humor was at times juvenile and weed obsessed, it had just enough irreverence, ridiculousness, and god help me – heart – to keep me not only occupied, but pretty damn delighted as well.

And than Doogie Howser shows up outta nowhere, coked up and searching for prostitutes – all while playing himself, which is key here – steals the boys car and goes joy-riding for more drugs and more prostitutes.

It’s a side of Neil Patrick Harris none of us had ever seen…but would absolutely love to see again!

For those of you who thought that he simply disappeared after Doogie Howser, check him out here, on the critically acclaimed How I Met Your Mother, on Joss Whedon’s “Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog,” and his recent hosting duties of both they Emmys and “Saturday Night Live.”

Kid’s got talent, I tells ya. And moxie. Gotta have moxie!

Two: Bob Barker. (Happy Gilmore.)

I’m sure if my future-self watched “Happy Gilmore” for the first time, future-me would think it’s pretty fucking retarded. Present-me thinks it’s pretty retarded as it is. But past-me? Absolutely LOVED IT.

I have no idea where I’m going with this.

The point is, “Happy Gilmore” is one of those you-had-to-be-there movies. If you didn’t see it as a kid, you’re not gonna get into it now. But, regardless of how you feel about the film – then or now – there’s no denying that watching Adam Sandler get his ass kicked by a foul-mouthed Bob Barker is comedy gold. 

Not even a good game of “Plinko” is as satisfying as that. And “Plinko” is pretty damn satisfying.

One: Gene Hackman. (Young Frankenstein.)

Long before the Apatow and “Frat-Pack” days of the comedy film, cameos were few and far between – and were usually used with more impact. These days comedies are chock full of “surprise” appearances, occasionally by left field choices, but mostly dominated by friends and colleagues of the director/star/writer of whatever vehicle they appear in.

So to have Gene Hackman pop up out of nowhere in Mel Brooks 1974 classic spoof, and playing it for laughs no less, was pretty surprising. Hackman shows great comedic timing and instincts here, portraying a lonely blind man who briefly (albeit chaotically) befriends the Monster, played by Peter Boyle. It’s a far cry from Hackman’s usual gruff, dramatic roles, and one of the high points of the (already hilarious) movie.

I touched upon “Young Frankenstein” in my horror-comedy post, but it needs reiterating – this is a must-see comedy classic. And Hackman is a small, though integral, part of that.


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