Friday, September 4, 2009

Seven Great Hollywood Comebacks

Not the seven greatest necessarily, but seven that I'm partial to.

He's Doogie Howser. He'll always be Doogie Howser. We have, however, made room in our hearts for Barney Stinson, the most quotable character on TV today. Neil Patrick Harris has shown a great attitude about his child star past, even lampooning himself in "Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle" and its sequel. In the time between his hit TV shows, Neil Patrick Harris built himself a nice theater resume, starring in "Rent" and "Sweeney Todd," and developed a singing voice well displayed in the instant classic "Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-Long Blog." In short, he's become the coolest, best-dressed, funniest guy on TV. Not bad, Doogie monster. Not bad.

Actually, I loved her as a drunken slag, but it's pretty amazing that Drew Barrymore has gone from pre-teen cokewhore to a movie star and producer in her own right. Her lows were very low (CBS After school special? Oh, Drew!) but she made a fabulous comeback with the trashy delight "Poison Ivy." Drew smartly used the exposure to snag better parts, and her sordid teenage shenanigans were a distant memory before long.

Child actor Jackie Earle Haley hit it big with "The Bad News Bears" in 1976, peaked with "Breaking Away" in 1979, and then spent the next twenty years doing B-movies, a failed TV version of the Bears, and odd jobs in the real world. Jackie Earle Haley was the absolute last person you'd expect to return to fame, but he pulled it off in 2006 with "All The King's Men" and "Little Children," for which he was Oscar nominated. Stealing the show as Rorschach in "Watchmen" sealed his return. With starring roles in "Shutter Island," the "Nightmare on Elm Street" reboot, and the new TV show "Human Target," Haley is sticking around for good this time.

Sofia Coppola recovered from possibly the most lambasted acting performance ever (her dull turn as Mary Corleone in her father's film "The Godfather Part Three") to become a wonderfully personal and fresh filmmaker a decade later. She also writes and produces her films, showing that Coppola is relying on her own gifts and making movies on her terms from here on out.

Jason Bateman WAS the eighties teen- smarter than Kirk Cameron, and less smarmy than Ricky Schroeder. Every year of the decade, he was on a television series, jumping from "Little House on the Prairie" to "Silver Spoons" to "It's Your Move" and finally to "The Hogan Family" (aka Valerie). Bonus credit for finding the time to appear in "Teen Wolf Too." Bateman was amazingly consistent, but after "The Hogan Family" ended in 1991, Jason Bateman faded into TV Movie-Land and one-shot-episode hell until 2001. The short-lived show "Some of My Best Friends" and the "The Sweetest Thing" reintroduced us to Bateman, still snarky but a little darker and wiser. Since then, he's starred in the funniest sitcom of the new millenium ("Arrested Development," of course) and built a decent movie resume of small but hilarious roles.

Leading lady of the late-twenties and thirties, Joan Crawford was considered box-office poison in Hollywood by 1940. And this was BEFORE they knew about the child-beating and wire hanger issues. In 1945, Crawford took on the role of Mildred Pierce, winning an Academy Award and developing the mouthy, independent broad image we associate with her now. I almost pity the studio execs for the ass-whippings Joan must've handed out after her triumphant return.

The poster boy for comebacks. John Travolta may be a Scientology weirdo but he's a charming bastard. After his heyday on "Welcome Back Kotter" and in "Grease" and "Saturday Night Fever," Travolta faded into the background and grew up as an actor. No longer just a 70's relic with a pretty face and great voice, Travolta learned to use those dimples wickedly in "Pulp Fiction," "Michael," "Face/Off," "Get Shorty," "Primary Colors," "Be Cool," and most bravely in "Hairspray." He's in a downturn at the moment and I don't think "Wild Hogs 2" will fix that, but I have no doubt that Travolta will find eventually roles again that will display all of his charms.

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