The Red Notice and Deadpool actor has found the secret to be tolerable.

One of the biggest challenges in my professional life has been trying to convince people that Ryan Reynolds could be a good actor. The coming of age movie Land of adventure was one of the hottest titles at the Sundance Film Festival in 2009, and it turned out good enough to cause some critics to revisit their dismissive reviews of its young star, Kristen Stewart, after the previous year. dusk. But to sell hardened festival-goers the idea that Reynolds could be more than the infinitely arrogant hero of van Wilder seemed to be a bridge too far. But after a few failed attempts, I finally came to a framing they could believe in: Actually, he’s playing a bit of an asshole.

[Read: How Kristen Stewart Went From Object of Mockery to Best Actress Front-Runner]

Earlier this year, The Huffington Post called Reynolds “Hollywood’s friendliest star,” and a recent laudatory profile in the Wall Street Journal portrayed him as the nicest guy you could hope to meet, a father of three. hardworking, married and happy children. hard-earned success, and using what he calls his “position of unspeakable privilege” to help diversify the industry he has conquered. But playing nice guys on screen didn’t work out well for him. For a handsome white man with a chiseled body and a quick dirty mind, Reynolds’ path to stardom has been surprisingly bumpy – as well as a path with, frankly, more apple bites than someone who looks less at the idea of ​​Hollywood a star might have had. There were romantic comedies (Just friends, Proposal) and action movies (Ace smoking, RIPD), not to mention a series of uninspired comic book movies culminating in the franchise’s murder The Green Lantern. What they had in common was the smirk. No matter how hard Reynolds tried to pass himself off as a kindhearted hero, like the hapless assistant dragged into a green card marriage by Canadian book publisher Sandra Bullock in Proposal– Reynolds couldn’t help but exude a certain elegance. It was as if he had watched the movie before and knew that you end up having to like it whether you like it or not.

dead Pool changed all that. In X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Reynolds’ first take on the character literally wiped the smirk off his face, with a knotted mass of scar tissue where his mouth should be. But when Reynolds returned to character in 2016, the smirk and mouth was back, with vengeance. Reynolds’ “Merc with a Mouth” is incessantly, almost unbearably, ironic, bombarding audiences with jokes when there’s no one else around to hear them. He’s both attractive and exhausting, but he’s also deeply damaged, both psychologically and physically. The character wears a bodysuit and a mask for much of the movie, and when he takes off his body is seen to be covered in scars, a side effect of the treatment that gives the crass antihero his superpowers. The film was a huge success, grossing $ 782 million worldwide and shattering conventional wisdom about the commercial viability of R-rated films.

Reynolds couldn’t hide his pretty face in every movie, of course, but he made up for it by turning into a human punch. bag.

In the WSJ profile, Reynolds, who was approaching 40 when he made dead Pool, says he knew his cinematic stardom window was starting to close, and this movie was his last and best chance. He converted by grasping a crucial intuition. Rather than vainly attempting to suppress his inherent smarm, Reynolds leaned into it. He made it his thing. And because the chain of cheeky liners came from a masked, scarred monster, it was tolerable, even pleasurable, in a way that didn’t come from a guy who looked like he was about to fly. your prom date (or, more precisely, as if he had been married to Scarlett Johansson and is currently married to Blake Lively). Of course, Reynolds couldn’t hide his pretty face in every movie, although he had two other hits by staying offscreen in The Croods and Detective Pikachu– but he made up for it by turning into a human punching bag. In the Hitman bodyguard series – the hit of 2017 and the inflated sequel this summer – on Netflix Six underground and his new Red Notice, released on Friday, he is an international man of mystery, enjoying all the comforts offered by massive wealth and infinitely sure of his own skills. But it is also, as Samuel L. Jackson says The bodyguard of the hitman’s wife, “The most annoying motherfucker on planet Earth”. It’s barely 15 minutes later Red Notice when Dwayne Johnson says to Reynolds, “You know, I’m really starting to dislike you.”

The thing about Reynolds’ characters in these movies is that they’ve earned their arrogance, up to a point. Its personal security specialist in The bodyguard of the hitman is world famous, and in Red Notice, he has a plausible claim to be “the world’s second most wanted jewelry thief”. But this slight distance from the top eats away at them and allows us to look at them with affection instead of resentment. The underlying joke of free guy, the success of the summer in which Reynolds plays a video game character who achieves sensitivity, is that he’s so perfect that he could have been programmed instead of being born, but when that character gets punched in her pretty face, the slit in her nose looks terribly real. All in all, Reynold’s willingness to submit to these on-screen humiliations looks less like a lack of vanity than a deliberate strategy. He knows we want to see him remove an ankle, if only one.

In the 1930s, Katharine Hepburn’s career took a major hit when the strong, determined women she played on screen began to strike some audiences (or at least the theater owners who served them) with arrogance. . His return vehicle, first on Broadway and then on screen, was The history of Philadelphia, in which she again plays a strong, self-determined woman, but this time paired with an even stronger, more self-determined man, who at one point grabs her by the face and pushes her to the ground. The ritualistic humiliations that have become a part of his films after that may seem ugly, even cruel from a modern point of view, but in a way they’ve won everyone. For most of the film, viewers who wanted to see Hepburn be energetic and quick-witted got it, while those who wanted to see her put back in her place knew they just had to wait. But the real winner was Hepburn herself, who has achieved some of the biggest hits of her career.

[Read: The Remarkable Partnership of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn]

Although he was never officially declared a “box office poison,” as Hepburn was (in an ad released by the chairman of the Independent Theater Owners of America, no less), Reynolds shot roughly the same round. He took the heart of what never really clicked for him on screen, the puppy desperation that gets him to show up on set with a handful of alts for every joke, and did it. work for rather than against him. He can’t record a movie as bad as Red Notice, who has the stench of movie stars counting their $ 20 million paychecks and indulging in the charm. But you can see the wheels turning more clearly because of how little is going on. The character of Reynolds is a treacherous trickster, always trying to shoot a quick shot at Johnson’s government agent and Gal Gadot’s competing art thief (the one who keeps him as the second-the most wanted). But he’s never as smart as he thinks he is, and part of the fun of seeing him come out of a trap is knowing he’s about to get into an even bigger trap. He keeps dusting himself off and getting his ass banged, and you never get tired of seeing him fall.

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