Ryan Reynolds in The Change-Up: Is He No Longer Sexy?

A career intervention for Hollywood’s new golden boy.

Matt Sayles / AP Photos

Background: Ryan Reynolds shot from the B-list to superstardom in 2009, when he appeared—flaunting his smile and abs—opposite Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, and he soon became a hot commodity in Hollywood.

Current Crisis: But this summer hasn’t been kind to him. His first star vehicle, DC Comics’ The Green Lantern, was ravaged by critics in June. It mustered $115 million at the box office. That might not sound bad—until you consider its reported $200 million budget. His film in theaters now is doing even worse. The Change-Up, an R-rated variation of Freaky Friday, has only made $18 million during its first week of release. “I don’t even know what I would recommend for him,” says a veteran film publicist. “I guess he should stop doing body-switching movies.”

Pros: Most people in Hollywood genuinely like Reynolds, and they say that he’s a hard worker devoted to his craft. “I think he should be headlining movies,” says Chris Sparling, who wrote the 2010 independent film Buried, another disappointment that grossed a mere $1.04 million (but great reviews for Reynolds as the lead). “He’s an everyman and a leading man, which is a tough thing to pull off, but it’s something that George Clooney can do. He looks like a movie star, but he also has the qualities of the best friend, which gives him an everyman appeal.” Then there’s his chiseled physique. Although it doesn’t always translate at the box office, it helps him land magazine covers, like Men’s Health, People’s Sexiest Man Alive and this Entertainment Weekly photo shoot that was so steamy, it could have been from the editors of Playgirl.

Cons: Reynolds started out in TV, and some insiders wonder if he’s yet to develop a movie-star persona to match his big salary. In interviews, he’s coy about his personal life—including his recent divorce from Scarlett Johansson. That’s not a problem per se; Johnny Depp says nothing about himself and still maintains a brooding and mysterious vibe. But Reynolds is so guarded, he sometimes comes across as bland. “I think I’m innately boring,” he told USA Today. When a reporter from the Guardian wondered about his tattoos, he covered his arm. And in 2009, when he was asked if his summer road trip would include his wife, he started to stutter. “Uh…I, I, I, I don’t know. We’ll see. I’m not sure. What’s your next question?”

Acting Advice: Our jury agrees that he took two steps back with his last film. “The Change-Up just seemed tired, like we had seen it before,” says the publicist. “The ads didn’t look funny. Nothing looked funny. When they opened the trailer with the baby shitting on somebody’s face, who wants to watch that? The reviews were terrible too.” According to a well-known producer, “He has this lovely quality to him, where you feel like you know what he’s going to do. That’s not good for an actor! That’s what Sean Connery struggled so hard against after Bond. In this case, it’s not the same role, but it’s the same persona in Ryan’s roles.”

Speed Bump: The other young Ryan in Hollywood—Ryan Gosling—is being hailed this summer as a brilliant actor in Crazy Stupid Love and has audiences and Hollywood salivating. And Gosling will grab the spotlight for the rest of 2011, thanks to his Oscar-caliber performances in the upcoming Drive and The Ides of March.

On the Horizon: For Reynolds, 2012 looks like the promised land. That’s when he appears in Safe House, an action movie about the CIA with Denzel Washington. It’s a good move, according to our panel, because Washington can still open movies and Reynolds can latch on to his success. In 2013, he’s supposed to voice two animated movies—The Croods and Turbo—and star in RIPD with Jeff Bridges, which has a questionable plot revolving around ghost cops. He’s also contractually attached to Deadpool, a spinoff based on his character from X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and possibly a second Green Lantern, neither of which will do him any favors with the critics.

Game Plan: He should stick to comedy and take a page from the biggest hits of the summer—Bridesmaids, Bad Teacher, Horrible Bosses. They all had unexpected premises and a darker edge. “He has that G.I. Joe personality of the good ol’ boy,” says our producer. “Ryan has to find his footing. He’s got to find his darker side. That’s how he can reinvent himself.”