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Talking pictures: Bad movies haunt good actors

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Paul Giamatti's latest film is the fantasy dud "Lady in the Water."

Paul Giamatti’s latest film is the fantasy dud “Lady in the Water.”

Tina Fineberg, Associated Press

Bad movies happen to good actors all the time. Unfortunately, it seems to happen to some of them way more often than it should. Especially some of my favorites.

Take Paul Giamatti. The decidedly unglamorous actor got great reviews for his role as Howard Stern's boss in 1997's "Private Parts" and had scene-stealing supporting roles in both "Man in the Moon" and Tim Burton's "Planet of the Apes" remake.

Things looked even better for him after leading roles in the much better films "American Splendor" and "Sideways," and another scene-stealing supporting turn in "Cinderella Man."

But Academy Award voters failed to nominate him for his work in "Sideways" (though his co-stars Thomas Haden Church and Virginia Madsen were both nominated).

And even when he was nominated for an Oscar — for "Cinderella Man" — he lost, to "Syriana's" supposed supporting performer, George Clooney.

Adding insult to injury are the films he's done since. Giamatti stars in M. Night Shyamalan's fantasy dud "Lady in the Water" and is a voice in "The Ant Bully," the worst of a recent spate of uninspired animated features. Not exactly how you want to follow up some Oscar-worthy fare.

Edward Norton seems to have taken a similar career path. He burst onto the scene with his Oscar-nominated role in 1996's "Primal Fear," then followed that up with similarly impressive performances in "Fight Club" and "American History X."

He has yet to find another project worthy of his talents. Most recently, he was woefully miscast in "Down in the Valley," and the best that can be said about his performance in the not-so-epic "Kingdom of Heaven" is that his face was covered by a mask.

I would like to be able to say that Norton and Giamatti's upcoming collaboration, "The Illusionist," is going to be the film that breaks both of them out of their recent career slumps. But I am waiting to review it until the local opening date (Sept. 1). Feel free to interpret that as you will.

TALK ABOUT SLITHERY. "Snakes on a Plane" is not being pre-screened for critics.

Well, sort of. The film opens on Friday, and it's being shown in most markets on Thursday at 10 p.m., thus preventing any advance reviews.

The film's distributor, New Line Cinema, has been offering all sorts of excuses. The most amusing is that the studio is trying to reward fans who have already made the film an Internet phenomenon. So New Line is showing it to them first.

But if that were really the case, the studio could have offered paid sneak previews this weekend, as a show of faith in its product.

Besides, there have already been a few test screenings around the country, which allowed such Web sites as Ain't It Cool News to post reviews from amateur, would-be Eberts who were in attendance.

Personally, I hope the film is dumb fun, much like the original "Anaconda." But the too-serious trailers and the no-screening policy cause me to have doubts.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com