The 10 Lamest Sports Movie performances of all time
10. Adrian Grenier
Harvard Man (2002)
It’s tough, but I might be able to buy Entourage’s skinny pretty boy Adrian Grenier as Aquaman or even Joey Ramone. As a college-basketball point guard, however, he is more miscast than he would be as Pablo Escobar. No handle. No stroke. No hops. C’mon, you say, it’s Ivy League basketball—how good would he have to be? Well, in the name of Bill Bradley (Princeton) and Jim McMillian (Columbia) and Corky Calhoun (Penn), the wispy Grenier would need to be a lot, lot better than this.
9. Michael O’Keefe
The Slugger’s Wife (1985)
Though O’Keefe’s much maligned swing isn’t as bad as the rest of this disaster (sometimes called Neil Simon’s The Slugger’s Wife), the kid from Caddyshack should have stuck to golf. His stance is awful and his back leg way too stiff on the follow-through. In one unfortunate late-night scene, a drunken O’Keefe is supposed to be swinging wildly—only it looks a bit too much like his sober swing. And the throwing? Well, considering the conviction with which director Hal Ashby hid it from the viewer, we can only guess it was sad. This movie is hard to find, but if you get a chance, you have to check it out. Listen to Rebecca De Mornay’s atrocious renditions of Bruce Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” and Prince’s “Little Red Corvette.” Then think about Hal Ashby and Neil Simon and what the ’80s could do to even the most brilliant people.
8. Michael Caine
Michael Caine’s performance as a footballer in Victory is something of a national disgrace in England. Caine plays Captain John Colby, a British POW who looks like he’s actually gained a few pounds on the stalag grub. Colby is a soccer star who insists his career at West Ham United has not ended but rather been merely interrupted by World War II. Though director John Huston kindly tries to hide Caine’s physical limitations by keeping the camera on soccer greats Pelé, Bobby Moore, John Wark, Russell Osman, and Osvaldo Ardiles during the big game, the knock-kneed Cockney fails to provide even a hint of athleticism in any shot where his limbs are moving.
7. Kathy Ireland
Necessary Roughness (1991)
The swimsuit model plays a field-goal kicker slightly less convincingly than the mule in Gus. Watching her dainty trot up to the ball, her slow deceleration upon approach, and her skinny-legged follow-through, I doubt Kathy Ireland could convert an extra point given 10,000 tries, never mind the forty-yard field goal she supposedly buries in her tryout.
6. Ryan O’Neal
The Main Event (1979)
This performance would be a lot less embarrassing if O’Neal’s bio didn’t say he was a Golden Gloves boxer as a teenager in the ’50s. I guess the twenty-year layoff before this boxing “comedy” made him a little rusty. There’s a story that hairdresser turned producer Jon Peters sparred three rounds with O’Neal during production. It’s probably a Hollywood myth, but if it happened, I’m guessing Peters won by decision. It’s rough when your adolescent daughter turned in a more convincing athletic performance in the ’70s than you did.
5. Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Match Point (2005)
Despite the title, this isn’t a sports movie. In fact, it’s not essential to the story that Jonathan Rhys Meyers’s character is a former pro tennis player, except that Woody Allen makes a big deal about the ball teetering on the net as a metaphor for the all-too-large role of luck in life. What Woody did not make a big deal about was casting someone as a former pro who could even remotely play tennis. To his credit, Rhys Meyers admitted, “I really had to concentrate on not looking like a total fool on the tennis court. I’m a terrible tennis player.” Uh, when the goal is to make something look second nature, concentrating on not looking like a total fool is an almost ironclad guarantee of looking like a total fool.
4. Gary Cooper
The Pride of the Yankees (1942)
William Bendix and John Goodman are routinely pummeled for their brutal portrayals of Babe Ruth (and shall be again momentarily), but Gary Cooper largely gets a pass for his weak athletic effort as Lou Gehrig. As Bosley Crowther wrote in The New York Times in 1942, lamenting the movie’s lack of baseball scenes: “This underemphasis of Gehrig’s profession is partially excused by the fact that Gary Cooper, who plays the great hero, doesn’t look too good slamming or scooping ’em up.” Indeed. Unable to capture Gehrig’s left-handed swing, Cooper would bat right-handed and run to third base, and the filmmakers would then flip the negative. His swing is still so incredibly lame you can’t help but wonder what his lefty attempts must have looked like.
3. Tim Robbins
Bull Durham (1988)
Yeah, I know Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh is supposed to be nuttily wild, but he’s also supposed to be able to throw ninety-five miles an hour, even when he’s hitting the mascot. Those ridiculous mechanics may be good for laughs—okay, a smile—but they sure wouldn’t produce a baseball-groupie-moistening radar reading. Robbins is a serious lefty when it comes to politics, and from the way he threw a baseball right-handed in this flick, he might just be one physiologically, too. The labored windup, the tortured delivery… Come to think of it, the guy really did look like he was throwing with his opposite hand. If the key to athletic grace is effortlessness, Robbins’s all-moving-parts windup—more Rube Goldberg than Rube Waddell—is a study in straining.
2. Anthony Perkins
Fear Strikes Out (1957)
As the son of a Red Sox fan, I learned the basic Jimmy Piersall thumbnail growing up: He was batshit crazy, and he had an incredible arm (which he hurt in a throwing contest against Willie Mays). With Anthony Perkins as Piersall in 1957’s Fear Strikes Out, the loopiness was captured perfectly. The outfielder with a rocket arm? Not so much. Stories cropped up that Perkins was a natural lefty who was throwing with his opposite hand to more accurately capture the right-handed Piersall. Throwing with your opposite hand so as to accurately portray a guy with a cannon? Sounds like studio propaganda.
1. TIE: William Bendix
The Babe Ruth Story (1948)…
A kid emerges from an orphanage to become the biggest sports legend of all time. In his brief career as a pitcher, he sets a World Series record for consecutive scoreless innings and throws as many complete-game shutouts as a guy named Pedro Martinez would amass in his first fifteen seasons. As a hitter, he mashes a record 714 home runs and changes the game forever.
To the makers of The Babe Ruth Story, all that was incidental to the real heart and soul of their narrative: the Bambino’s cheerful retardation. The Babe is depicted as a happy-go-lucky dimwit, a simpleton, a man-child. And then it gets really insulting. Bendix establishes the gold standard of sports-bio-pic miscasting that shall remain unchallenged until Jude Law takes up Chris Rock on his snarky Oscar joke and plays Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Poor Bendix. He never had a chance. From his very first scene, as a 42-year-old with a noodle arm playing a teenager with big-league velocity, the lumpy actor was sunk. The real Babe Ruth made his last—and I’m guessing most depressing—public appearance at the New York premiere of the movie on July 26, 1948. He died three weeks later.
…and John Goodman
The Babe (1992)
The travesty that is The Babe put Goodman’s awful swing on display right away but held off so long on unveiling his ridiculous pitching delivery, you wondered if they were going to skip that part of the Babe’s story altogether. When Goodman finally takes the hill, you wish they had. He’s got the zip of a presidential first pitch. But Goodman’s Babe is unconcerned with irrelevant minutiae like throwing and hitting. Director Arthur Hiller distills the Babe Ruth saga down to its essence and concludes, “Damn, this guy was fat!” And in this, Goodman is perfectly cast. Dom DeLuise would have been perfect, too.
The Babe Ruth Story sent the Bambino to his grave. The Babe pissed on it.