Thursday, July 22, 2004

To paraphrase Brini Maxwell, from the "Why Didn't I Think of That?" file, Cintra Wilson at is doing a series of tributes to underrated actors. The first one is about Chris Penn, and I have to say, she did a great job evaluating the hideously underrated younger Penn and his long, hideously underappreciated career. And anyone who makes reference to Dan Pelzer's "A Child Called It" in a discussion of the Penn family dynamics is all right in MY book.

My only beef is that she left out one of my favorite 1980s teen movies called "The Wild Life," in which Chris Penn utters the line that the producers were obviously hoping would become a ubiquitous catchphrase, "It's casual," like 5 million times. But since no one actually saw this movie, "It's casual" didn't really take hold in the national lexicon. Except at my house. "The Wild Life" also starred Nicholas Cage's ex-wife Jenny Wright (so cute! the only other movie I remember her in was "St. Elmo's Fire," as Rob Lowe's baby mama), Hart Bochner (love him!), Lea "Howard the Duck" Thompson (ex-fiance of Dennis Quaid), Rick Moranis (sporting the best '80s hairdo EVER), Ilan Mitchell-Smith (so cute! only other movie I remember him in was "Weird Science"), the always great Randy Quaid in a brilliant turn as a heroin-addicted Vietnam vet, and Eric Stoltz (yawn). Leo Penn, the patriarch of the Penn dynasty, even has a little cameo as Chris' dad! Now that I think about it, there's about a zillion cameos, including Nancy Wilson (Cameron Crowe's wife, the thin Wilson sister from Heart), Lee Ving from Fear as the cable guy, Ben "Buehller, Bueller" Stein as an army-navy surplus store-owner, Dick "I'm In Every Alex Cox Movie Ever Made" Rude, and Russ Meyer's muse Kitten Natividad as, of course, a stipper! She frolics in a bubbly champagne glass!

Poor Chris Penn. They were kind of marketing "The Wild Life" as a follow-up to "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," since it was written by Cameron Crowe, but it didn't pan out. They even had a Bananarama theme song! How could they go wrong? I think I can pinpoint the failure of this movie as the pivotal juncture in Chris Penn's career, when he decided "Fuck it. I'm never going to be a movie star so I will just get fat and become a character actor who only plays cops and/or mobsters." Looking back, he seemed like one of those guys who have to a)snort a ton of cocaina, or b)speed, or c) both, to stay thin; like he was unusally thin for him and he had to work really, really hard to stay that way. That's just a theory, though. (I always think it's funny that people see Chris Penn, Linda Rondstadt, Sharon Gless, the fatter Wilson sister in Heart, or whoever and think, Wow, they got so fat! They really let themselves go! When the truly amazing thing is the time when they were THIN. Most of these people were chubby/fat when they were kids or teens and then went on las drugas some time in the 1970s or '80s and got ABNORMALLY thin, then cleaned up and got off las drugas and went back to their natural, fat state of being. And were then ridiculed mercilessly by the press, like poor Kirstie Alley is now. God, I am going to be so sad when she has the gastric bipass surgery and is thin again. But I digress.)

Even though she is guilty of leaving out "The Wild Life" in her critique, Cintra Wilson has given the (online) world a funny, well-written, and long-overdue look at the great Chris Penn, whom I often call the (darker, fatter) Aldo Ray of my generation. I do! I sit around and think, Who is the new Charles Bronson? (Still no answer to THAT one). Who is the new Warren Oates (ditto). But who is the new (darker, fatter) Aldo Ray? Why, Chris Penn, of course. Wilson compares Penn to J.T. Walsh, and believe me, I LOVED J.T. Walsh, but I disagree with her assessment. It's Aldo Ray all the way. (I had high hopes for Aldo's actual, real-life son, Eric de Re, who was "Leo" on Twin Peaks, but I haven't seen enough of his work to really make an informed evaluation). Too bad no one reads Salon now that you have to sit through ads or (gasp!) pay for reading it. I wonder who the next Underrated Actor will be? My vote: Aldo Ray, naturally. Somehow I doubt that's going to happen. Maybe I'll do it.

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