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COMEDY FILM CHARACTERS WHO TAKE THEMSELVES SERIOUSLY

Only one of these two USED CAR actors made the cut
This List, originally conceived as THEY DIDN'T KNOW IT WAS A COMEDY, involves ten actors who didn't have to "hit the right comedic marks" to fit neatly inside a comedy vehicle...

Which doesn't mean the actors or actresses were somehow misdirected or misguided into being overly headstrong, determined, melodramatic and, while in a project where laughs are estimated before the production even begins, the ultimate goal of audience-reaction pretty much counts for everything, and yet, these (sometimes Method) Actors stick to their guns, loaded with a natural style, either hot or cold, laid-back or edgy, and are never throwing a proverbial wink to the audience that says, "It's all for fun" — separating an actor playing for a laugh (which is an art-form in itself) to those simply playing the role outright, and just happening to be in a comedy film: An extremely fine line...

Vic Morrow as Roy Turner, 1976
1) VIC MORROW IN THE BAD NEWS BEARS: With the director of the intense yet darkly humorous and completely offbeat exploitation crime flick PRIME CUT behind the plate, THE BAD NEWS BEARS, with grainy exterior and intentionally rough edges, never quite felt like a contrived sort of comedy, but it's one of the funniest movies ever made, and the always-edgy COMBAT veteran VIC MORROW, as the grouchy coach of the Bear's main rival team, wins the first prize trophy — perhaps he foresaw his son, played by Brandon Cruz from THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE'S FATHER, screaming short-lived lead vocals for a punk band named after two slain beloved politicians, but when he backhands the kid after not following strategic orders, it brings shivers to the spine and is a very intense moment, which was most likely followed by a messy suburban divorce...

Christopher Guest as Nigel Tufnel, 1984
2) CHRISTOPHER GUEST IN THIS IS SPINAL TAP: Maybe he should get the number one spot, or more befitting, number 11, even though this list only goes to 10, but Christopher Guest, the "modern day" Peter Sellers, remains the most serious-minded member of the has-been heavy metal outfit, SPINAL TAP, on tour with a new miss single, and he doesn't let director Marty DiBergi (played by TAP co-writer and director Rob Reiner) shake him up with semi-loaded questions — in fact, poor Nigel Tufnel doesn't know much of anything short of playing the guitar, and eventually, banging heads with the film's true antagonist...

June Chadwick as Jeanine, 1984
3) JUNE CHADWICK IN THIS IS SPINAL TAP: When it comes to stealing scenes, perhaps this spot should go to band manager Ian Faith, played brilliantly by Tony Hendra, but as far as being deadpan and nasty, June Chadwick's Yoko Ono to Michael McKean's David St. Hubbins's John Lennon takes the cake, and eats it too — other than a tiny Stonehenge replica and some other misjudgments on Ian's part, she's why the band splits apart in the first, second and third place: Nigel can no longer stand her terrible input and uppity nitpicking and, in that, June's performance, keeping firm and steady as an intentional buzzkill bulwark while going against the grain in one of the funniest movies ever, is absolutely brilliant — she helps (along with Hendra) turn this Mockumentary into what ultimately feels like a bonafide Documentary...

Harry Northup's Carmine, 1980
4) HARRY NORTHUP IN USED CARS: Harry's a great guy, in real life, and on-screen he's a fantastic actor whose resume, which includes being in every single Martin Scorsese film from 1968 to 1977, proves he was beyond-trusted by directors since Jonathan Demme and Jonathan Kaplan also put him in several of their own vehicles: And while Harry is mostly remembered as the formidable buzzkill cop in OVER THE EDGE or the money-loving 'Doughboy,' who tries selling Errol Flynn's bathroom tile to Robert DeNiro in TAXI DRIVER, he probably got more laughs there than in the genuine comedy, USED CARS, in which, as one of Jack Warden's crooked underlings, he takes his job very seriously, hardly cracking a smile even when hilarity, intentional or otherwise, ensues around him — after all, there's a job to do, and Harry's intense Carmine is gonna make sure, on his end, it's damn well taken care of (despite Michael Talbott having all the rip-roaring fun)...

Joe Pesci as Nicky Carbone with Rodney D. in 1983
5) JOE PESCI IN EASY MONEY: Now this one might take some explaining right up front, as you're probably thinking, "What the hell? Joe was hilarious in this movie!" But this isn't a list about who's funny or not funny: The thing is, Joe never seems to be playing for the camera like comedy genius Rodney Dangerfield — after almost every single Rodney one-liner, Joe cracks up (in modern terms, LOL's), which, in any comedy venture, tends to snatch laughs away from the audience — but when you hire a real actor, he's gonna do what a real person would... And within most of Dangerfield's movies, the people around him, from Wang ("Don't tell them you're Jewish") in CADDYSHACK to son Keith Gordon in BACK TO SCHOOL, let the jokes fly only for the unseen audience... But still, for the story's sake, Joe makes a perfect tough guy sidekick, joining in on, and often instigating, the drinking and pot-smoking shenanigans... Which just may explain all the laughter... Keeping a straight face while getting drunk-stoned with Rodney Dangerfield might be extremely difficult, which was the part that the Oscar-Nominated and future Oscar-Winning Joe was playing... as realistically as possible...

Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau with Capucine, 1963
6) PETER SELLERS IN THE PINK PANTHER: The first PINK PANTHER, named after the famously snatched diamond, was supposedly the second vehicle filmed, as the theatrical followup, A SHOT IN THE DARK, was shot first, intended to break ground, but director Blake Edwards was (for some reason) told to put PANTHER in the lead, and, had things gone as planned, the bumbling, accidentally-effective Inspector Jacques Cousteau, after being properly introduced in his own vehicle, would be a kind of Special Guest Star, thus giving David Niven (for whom the lanky PANTHER cartoon seems aesthetically based), Capucine, Claudia Cardinale and even Robert Wagner more screen-time... Instead, THE PINK PANTHER is a movie where Sellers, as the likable antagonist out to stop the trio of charming diamond thieves (not realizing he's married to one), uses his signature ultra-serious expressions to the deepest level since, unlike all the other PANTHER flicks following A SHOT IN THE DARK, RETURN, STRIKES BACK, REVENGE and the posthumous TRAIL OF THE PINK PANTHER, he's the centerpiece instead of a straight-faced party pooper, who still winds up stealing the movie, outright... At which point, audiences probably anticipated what many felt was the problem with this "first movie" — Inspector Clouseau as not a target or victim of circumstance, but the leading role... Then again, like John Belushi in ANIMAL HOUSE, Sean Penn in FAST TIMES and Michael Keaton in BEETLEJUICE, using the best asset sparingly does work: that, though, is another list entirely: One that Sellers is also part of...

Dillon as Jeffrey, 1984
7) MATT DILLON IN THE FLAMINGO KID: In this, the first motion picture to be given a PG-13 rating... despite RED DAWN beating it to the punch, which blasted into theaters a few months beforehand after acquiring the rating after KID... Matt Dillon plays a character that wasn't originally intended for the usually tough guy teen who, beginning with OVER THE EDGE (his character killed by our number four, Harry Northup) as a heavy metal rebel followed by a much more charismatic bully role in MY BODYGUARD, gained household-heartthrob fame in Francis Ford Coppola's two S.E. Hinton adaptations, THE OUTSIDERS and RUMBLE FISH: And director Garry Marshall, in directing what would remain his personal favorite vehicle, THE FLAMINGO KID, loosely based on his own experiences, had Matthew Broderick all lined up for the part as Jeffrey Willis — most likely because Broderick was a trained comedic actor who could hit the right marks, and knew exactly how and when to hit them...

Janet Jones with Matt Dillon
So, while making this second motion picture (following YOUNG DOCTORS IN LOVE and after being a highly successful Executive Producer for television), Garry Marshall had to, during filming, teach Dillon — on the spot — how to act and/or react in a comedic fashion... And thankfully, Dillon never really got it down to where the role seemed contrived, or begging for laughs — instead, the highly underrated early-1960's-set comedy plays out like the tale of a KID seeming like a genuine product of Brooklyn, who grew up playing cards and, working as a summertime cabana boy at a posh private club, smoothly (and even vulnerably) out-sharks the young and old members, and in doing so, he takes his skills very seriously: Which doesn't mean Jeffrey's not a happy camper, especially after landing Janet Jones as the Perfect California Girlfriend... But during the scenes that matter most, when everything's on the line, it's as if THE FLAMINGO KID were another one of Matt's street-savvy roles — only this one's bathed in a soft, pinkish hue instead of the usual gritty black and brown...

Jerry Reed as Jack Locke holds Kristin Vigard in 1983
8) JERRY REED IN THE SURVIVORS: Walter Matthau has something, or rather, someone to truly fear in this underrated buddy team-up that, co-starring Robin Williams, involves a stickup at a diner (years before PULP FICTION) where only Matthau sees the gunman's face and, after Robin frantically names names on national television, the robber, who's really a hitman played by Jerry Reed, is looking for blood, causing Walter and his daughter to eventually skip town — and so, with an actor like the real-life, hard-living musician with a face like granite, resembling another tough guy actor, Bo Hopkins, and not grinning like he did in SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, you can cut poor Watler's fear with a knife, bringing an element of genuinely palpable suspense — in the second feature on this list directed by Michael Ritchie...

An already weathered JM Vincent as McCalister, 1987
9) ART METRANO IN POLICE ACADEMY 2: Arguably the best episode of the franchise even though G.W. Bailey — who played the strict villain in the first, fourth, and the rest thereafter — was funnier (and had better chemistry with dopey sidekick Lance Kinsey) as the in-charge butt of all practical jokes than character-actor Art Metrano, who took the role of Lt. Mauser as if it weren't even a comedy, desperately wanting the rookie cops to fail at all and any costs, and hardly cracking a smile — not even a nefarious one...

Art Metrano, 1985
10)  JAN-MICHAEL VINCENT IN BORN IN EAST LA: Cheech Marin, during a time when the CHEECH & CHONG movies had been skipping rock-upon-rock-bottom with atrocious duds like THINGS ARE TOUGH ALL OVER, STILL SMOKIN' and especially the abysmal CORSICAN BROTHERS, was persuaded by the studio to venture on his own, especially since their Bruce Springsteen parody smash (originally derived from a pseudo-documentary, GET OUT OF MY ROOM, which would be their last collaboration for a while), "Born in East L.A.," is about a Mexican, and that's what Cheech, not Chong, is... And so, despite providing the speaking voice on the track, Chong wouldn't have visually fit an evil white man immigration officer, incessantly barking for a Green Card — so tough guy Jan-Michael Vincent played the role as if it were one of his many 1970's exploitation action/crime flicks instead of a 1980's comedy, giving Cheech something palpable to dread — other than living in Mexico — along the way.
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