Movie Stars: Butler, Gerard–Unmaking of Stardom?

Am I the only viewer who’s getting tired of watching Gerard Butler’s inept performances in a one silly romantic comedy after another? Who is managing the career of this potentially talented and actually handsome actor?   He certainly deserves better material to work with. And why does he continue to make romantic comedies, for which he may lack the necessary light touch, finesse, and effortless charisma? Wasn’t he born to be an action hero in big-budget, CGI-driven Hollywood movies?
Some of us were so excited three years ago, when “300” came out, predicting that the naturally masculine yet sensitive Scottish actor would become a bankable Hollywood star, replacing the icons of the genre: Sly Stallone, Bruce Willis, and, of course Schwarzenegger, who were getting too old and fat to play, let alone move, compellingly heroic parts.
Unlikely Romantic Star?
How long could he go on making movies, such as the mediocre and soupy “P.S. I Love You,” opposite Hilary Swank, the dreadful and offensive “The Ugly Truth,” with Katherine Heigl (TV’s “Grey Anatomy”), and most recently, the silly comedy of remarriage, “The Bounty Hunter,” opposite Jennifer Anniston.
I don’t mean to be offensive, but after three disappointing comedies in a row, it’s safe to say that Butler is not cut for the genre of romantic or screwball comedy, and not just because of his brutish physique and heavy accent, though he has made efforts to essay a more convincing and lighter American dialect.
Butler appeared in the romantic drama “P.S. I Love You,” directed by Richard LaGravenese and starring two-time Oscar-winner Hilary Swank (“Million Dollar Baby”) as a young widow whose late husband had left behind a series of letters to help her cope with his loss and get on with her life. 
This was followed by “The Ugly Truth,” Robert Luketic’s silly romantic comedy, which stretched the limits of what’s retro, fluff and enjoyable. The problem with the movie (named after a TV show) was not that it was calculated and utterly formulatic (most Hollywood’s romantic comedies are), but that it lacked wit and charm, and didn’t service well its two lead actors, Katherine Heigl and Gerard Butler. Moreover, considering the age of the characters (and that of the actors who play them), she in her early 30s and he in his early 40s, the movie was offensive to both male and female viewers of a certain age–and intelligence.
The Sacramento-set “Ugly Truth” introduces its protagonists in the work place, when Abby Richter (Heigl), a producer of a morning TV show whose ratings have been rapidly declining, is forced to supervise the rude, crude sex guru, Mike Chadwick, played by Gerard Butler, hailing from a minor public access TV, in a spot that offers ultra-candid takes on the current dismal state of the battle of the sexes. Superficially borrowing ideas from “Pygmalion” and “Cyrano de Bergerac,” the tale depicted how a confident male instructs a shrill, career-driven femme how to become more appealing, seducative, and desribale to men, in other words, how to get laid. He puts his theory to practice, when he urges an endlessly bickering couple of hosts to acknowledge their sexually barren marriage and make amends on the air.
The aforementioned romantic comedies were not blockbusters, but made some money. Which means they’ll continue to be produced.
Back to the Past: A Star Is Born in 300
“Gerard Butler has qualities that made him perfect for the role of the feared and revered Spartan king. His charisma as a person and leadership qualities set a tone of camaraderie among the actors. He brought this team of Spartan actors together,” thus said Hollywood producer Jeffrey Silver about the actioner “300.”
This is what I wrote after seeing the film” It’s a measure of Gerard Butler’s handsome looks, charismatic screen persona, and considerable acting chops, that he excels in Zack Snyder’s “300,” an historical recreation of the noted Spartan battle in which Butler plays King Leonidas. Inspired by the graphic novel of Frank Miller, the nearly surreal–and hype real—movie is action-oriented and driven by visual, sound, and other special effects. Yet Butler gives a commanding performance in what’s the central role of the movie, thus increasing viewers’ emotional engagement in the story.
How Butler Got the 300 Role
Butler became aware of the project during a meeting with Warner executives: “They said the word 300, and I knew that there was something fresh and different about it,” he recalls, adding, “When I met with director Zack Snyder, I knew this is a guy who understands the things you cant explain about this story and what it would require. I could write six volumes about him and his talent, his intelligence, his passion, and his goodness as a person.”
Butler relished the opportunity to dive into research on this formidable culture. Spartans are shown nothing but pain their whole lives to teach them endurance, to teach them fearlessness and to teach them to have no mercy against their opponents, he says. Everything about it requires steeliness and strength of character, from the way the men are trained to the way the women must surrender their children in the name of warfare.
Butler’s Impressive Beginnings
Over the past decade, Butler has distinguished himself as a leading man on the stage and screen in both the U.S. and Great Britain. But it may his role in “300” that would make him a Hollywood star and leading actor in the action-adventures, genres that have not been able to replace the previously dominant actors Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, all aging with a new and vibrant cohort of action stars. That may all change with actors of Butler’s caliber and charisma.
In 2004, Butler won the coveted title role in the film version of Andrew Lloyd Webbers “The Phantom of the Opera.” Butler was excellent in Schumacher’s version of the stage musical, but the movie failed (it was more popular abroad than stateside) and thus didn’t do much for Butler’s career.
Butler next starred in the dramatic thriller “Butterfly on a Wheel,” about a kidnapping that destroys a once-happy family. Released in summer 2007, the film also starred Pierce Brosnan and Maria Bello under the direction of Mike Barker.
He also earned critical acclaim for his work opposite Emily Mortimer in the independent feature Dear Frankie, which screened at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. Butlers other recent film credits include “Beowulf & Grendel,” “The Game of Their Lives,” “Timeline,” “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life and Reign of Fire.”
Child Actor Prodigy
A child actor prodigy, Butler was born in Scotland. He made his stage debut at the age of 12 in the musical “Oliver!” at Glasgows famous Kings Theatre. As a youngster, his dreams of acting were deterred and he went on to study law for seven years before returning to the stage in London.
In 1996, he landed the lead role in the acclaimed stage production of “Trainspotting.” He later starred on the London stage in such plays as Snatch and the Donmar Warehouse production of Tennessee Williams’ “Suddenly Last Summer,” opposite Rachel Weisz. In 1997, Butler made his feature film debut in John Maddens award-winning drama “Mrs. Brown,” starring Judi Dench in her first Oscar-nominated role. His early film work also includes “Fast Food,” “One More Kiss,” and the 1999 screen adaptation of Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard.”