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02.01.11

Hollywood's Dumbest Casting Choices

Tyler Perry to play James Patterson’s homicide detective, Alex Cross? What! We ponder other crazy miscasts, from Tom Hanks in The Da Vinci Code to Demi Moore as Hester Prynne.

When reports came that cross-dressing comedian Tyler Perry, best known for his Madea character and films, would be stepping into Morgan Freeman's ( Kiss the Girls, Along Came a Spider) shoes as author James Patterson's badass D.C. homicide detective Alex Cross in the film I, Alex Cross, people were left stunned. After all, it was thought to be a done-deal that Idris Elba, the hulking star of The Wire, would be playing Cross; and Perry, for all his comedic talents, is no Idris Elba. The news got us thinking of other actors who were miscast as famous literary characters in films. From Tom Hanks' mop-topped Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci Code to Demi Moore's Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter, check out our picks for the most miscast characters in movies.

1. Tom Hanks: Prof. Robert Langdon, The Da Vinci Code (2006)

Chief among the laundry list of problems plaguing director Ron Howard's adaptation of Dan Brown's bestselling novel, The Da Vinci Code—the long-winded speeches, sluggish direction, and that seemingly endless sequence at Ian McKellan's mansion, for starters—is the casting of Tom Hanks in the title role of Robert Langdon. A professor of religious iconology and symbology at Harvard University, Langdon (Hanks) is sent on an adventure across France in order to unlock the mystery behind Mary Magdalene and the Holy Grail. In the novel, Langdon is described as looking like "Harrison Ford in Harris tweed." And Hanks, with his doughy physique and a mop of hair reminiscent of Nicolas Cage's in Bangkok Dangerous, is a far cry from Harrison Ford here. On top of it all, his romantic chemistry with cutesy French love interest Sophie Neveu, played by Amelie herself—Audrey Tautou—is non-existent, in what Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips called Hanks' "first genuinely dull screen performance."

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2. Demi Moore: Hester Prynne, The Scarlet Letter (1995)

Widely regarded as one of the worst films ever made, director Roland Joffé's loose adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic novel won the Golden Raspberry award for "Worst Remake or Sequel," and bombed at the box office, earning just $10.3 million against a $50 million budget. With its soft-core porn atmosphere, the film not only manages to transform Rev. Dimmesdale (Gary Oldman) into a romantic instead of a fundamentalist scoundrel—thereby turning Hawthorne's 1850 tale into misguided faux feminist outcry as opposed to a commentary on religious hypocrisy—but it also features Demi Moore as the "fallen woman," painfully working her way through what sounds to be a British accent. Hawthorne's novel in part hinges on Hester's virtuousness—Moore's two roles prior to this one were as Michael Douglas' sexual harasser in Disclosure and a wife who sleeps with a rich older man for a million bucks in Indecent Proposal. It did not work.

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3. Keanu Reeves: Jonathan Harker, Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)

Already brutally miscast as the impressionable music teacher Le Chevalier Danceny in Stephen Frears' 1988 costume drama Dangerous Liaisons—based on the 18th-century French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos—Reeves went back for seconds in Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 film, Bram Stoker's Dracula. Reeves plays Jonathan Harker, an English solicitor sent to Count Dracula's (Gary Oldman) Transylvanian castle to provide legal counsel in a real estate deal. Soon, Harker becomes Dracula's prisoner, and the bloodthirsty vampire casts a spell over Harker's fiancée (Winona Ryder). Reeves wanders through Coppola's handsome-looking film like a deer in headlights, and, with his surfer dude persona and awful British accent, sticks out like a sore thumb, leading Empire magazine to write,  "Has a film ever promised so much yet delivered so little? There was so much potential, yet when it came down to it, Coppola made his Dracula too old to be menacing, gave Keanu Reeves a part and took out all the action. So all we're left with is an overly long bloated adaptation, instead of what might have been a gothic masterpiece."

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4. Mickey Rooney: Mr. Yunioshi, Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

Though best known for Audrey Hepburn's iconic portrayal of flighty, tiara-sporting socialite Holly Golightly, one ugly spot on this otherwise storybook romance is Mickey Rooney's horribly offensive "yellowface" turn as Golightly's Japanese neighbor, Mr. Yunioshi. In Truman Capote's novella, upon which the film is based, Mr. I.Y. Yunioshi is a straight character, and even a Californian of Japanese extraction. However, in Blake Edwards' film, he's been transformed into a howling, screeching, squinty-eyed Asian caricature: all the more troublesome when played by a Caucasian. One of cinema's most controversial characters, Yunioshi was called "a cringe-inducing stereotype" by The New York Times, and, in a "making-of" segment on the 45th anniversary edition DVD of Breakfast at Tiffany's, Edwards stated, "Looking back, I wish I had never done it... and I would give anything to be able to recast it, but it's there, and onward and upward." Oh well, at least we know The Office's Michael Scott—and David Brent— approve.

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5. Brian Cox: Agamemnon, Troy (2004)

Wolfgang Petersen's sword-and-sandals epic Troy boasts beautifully rendered CGI sets and battle sequences, but, as an adaptation of one of the greatest works in Western literature—Homer's The Iliad—the film is a complete dud. David Benioff's script plays fast and loose with Homer's legendary account of the Trojan War; transforming slave girl Briseis into Achilles' one true love as opposed to a mere spoil of war; omitting the role of Greek gods and goddesses in favor of vaguely British accents and general befuddlement: "Oh look, there's a beach full of dead horses... must have been a mysterious plague;" and making the whole war seem like it lasted a few weeks, as opposed to over a decade. That being said, all of the parts are relatively well-cast—Brad Pitt as the vain warrior Achilles, Orlando Bloom as the cowardly Paris, Eric Bana as Hector, the noble warrior—but Brian Cox's performance as Agamemnon, commander-in-chief of the Greek forces, is completely over-the-top. Cox's Agamemnon is all fire and brimstone—a colonialist conqueror hell-bent on toppling Troy—and Cox, a rotund 58-year-old (when the film came out in 2004), is no Greek warrior. When Paris kills Agamemnon in one of the film's final scenes, it's enough to make you spit out your soda. WHAT just happened?!? There goes the Oresteia.

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6. Robert De Niro: The Creature, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994)

Like Keanu, Robert De Niro is also a two-time offender when it comes to poorly adapted characters, butchering the role of Magwitch—or Lustig, as they call him—in Alfonso Cuarón's highly disappointing 1998 film adaptation of the classic Dickens novel, Great Expectations. But De Niro's comically bad performance as The Creature in director-star Kenneth Branagh's retelling of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is one for the ages. The Creature here is a talkative, sympathetic pariah—but a terribly whiny, insecure one; like Jake LaMotta, after one too many requested blows to the head from his little brother. "Even the Creature (Robert De Niro), an esthetically challenged loner with a father who rejected him, would make a dandy guest on any daytime television talk show," wrote film critic Janet Maslin of The New York Times. And when De Niro utters lines like, "What of my soul… do I have one?" in a faintly New York accent, you can't help letting out a chuckle, or two.

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7. Every Single Actor: Bonfire of the Vanities (1990)

Tom Wolfe's first novel, 1987's Bonfire of the Vanities, brilliantly captured the essence of 1980s New York City through the rise and fall of millionaire WASP bond trader Sherman McCoy. The comedy of errors touched on everything from greed and racism to politics and class warfare, and remains one of the greatest post-war American novels. However, Brian De Palma's ( Scarface) 1990 film adaptation, from a screenplay by Michael Cristofer, was a disaster of epic proportions. Instead of making McCoy an arrogant blue-blood, they cast Tom Hanks—then known as a comedic actor—as a more sympathetic version of the character, and then, when Jack Nicholson and John Cleese turned the role down, cast Bruce Willis in the role of alcoholic journalist Peter Fallow—even though the character is British in the novel, and largely thought to be based on Christopher Hitchens. Of the film's characters, critic Roger Ebert wrote Hanks' McCoy "is never really developed as a character we feel we know, and he seems to inhabit his lifestyle rather than possess it," while Willis' Fallow "doesn't have the moxie or the smarts to be the kind of reporter he's representing." Not only was the film a critical and commercial disaster, but it became the subject of Julie Salamon's 1991 book The Devil's Candy, now considered a Hollywood classic about filmmaking gone haywire.

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8. Anthony Hopkins & Nicole Kidman: Coleman Silk & Faunia Farley, The Human Stain (2003)

Set in late 1990s rural New England during the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, Philip Roth's bestselling 2000 novel The Human Stain is a fascinating examination of race relations and political correctness in America. It centers on Coleman Silk, a 71-year-old classics professor who's fired from his job for making a presumably racist comment, forcing him to come to terms with his life-long secret: He is an African-American man who has been passing as a Jewish white man. The usually reliable Hopkins is completely listless in the role of the tortured protagonist, and Nicole Kidman's fiery performance as Faunia Farley, a 34-year-old janitor and the object of Silk's Viagra-induced affections, is misguided and, for whatever reason, pushed to the fore. The Village Voice wrote Hopkins is "surreally miscast—and demonstrates appropriate contempt with the laziest performance of an increasingly tired (and tiresome) career," and "under the misapprehension that, as the biggest star, she must be playing the central character, Nicole Kidman uses the unhappy Faunia to relentlessly raise the decibel level." And seriously: Nicole Kidman as a school janitor?

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9. Mike Myers: The Cat in the Hat, The Cat in the Hat (2003)

When you expand a short children's story into a full-length feature film, there are usually going to be problems. However, nothing could have prepared the world for Mike Myers' downright bizarre interpretation of the anthropomorphic, magical cat in Dr. Seuss' classic 1957 novella. First, the accent. The Cat's Lawng Island accent sounds just like the Jewish lady he plays in the famous Saturday Night Live skit Coffee Talk with Linda Richman. Furthermore, his Cat in the Hat is a Machiavellian, mean-spirited creation who speaks almost entirely in double entendre—alluding to scatological humor, four-letter words, and even castration—which just has no place in a Dr. Seuss universe. Next to The Love Guru, this performance stands as Myers' most low-brow, unimaginative approach to comedy in a career riddled with just as many wide misses as big hits. "The audience spends the first 15 minutes praying for the arrival of Myers, then the next hour praying for an anvil to fall on his head," wrote film critic David Edelstein of Slate.

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10. Roberto Benigni: Pinocchio, Pinocchio (2002)

How the mighty have fallen. Just four years after climbing over nearly every chair in the auditorium to receive his Best Actor Oscar for his heartfelt portrayal of Guido Orefice in the WWII saga Life Is Beautiful, Italian actor Roberto Benigni wrote, directed, and starred in this deranged Italian-language adaptation of Carlo Collodi's The Adventures of Pinocchio. Though the poor dubbing job on the English version deserves some of the blame, most of it should be placed on Benigni's peculiar vision of Collodi's fairytale, which, chock-full-of simpleminded slapstick humor, is as if an insane Italian man escaped from a mental institution and wandered onto the set of Alice in Wonderland. The reviews were scathing (and hilarious). "Osama bin Laden could attend a showing in Times Square and be confident of remaining hidden," wrote The New York Times, and The Austin Chronicle confessed,  "By film's end I was fantasizing that Peter Stormare would drop by with his Fargo wood-chipper in tow, but it was not to be."

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Marlow Stern works for The Daily Beast and has a master's from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He has served in the editorial department of Blender magazine, as an editor at Amplifier magazine, and, since 2007, editor of Manhattan Movie Magazine.