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Please Explain: Will Smith
2007-02-08 09:59
by Scott Long

I admire versatility. Many actors want to be comedians, many comedians want to be musicians, many musicians want to be actors. Will Smtih is one of the few who has had success in all 3 fields. His clean-cut looks and having just enough "Gumbel" in him to be non-threatening to Cracker-ass-Crackers, has helped him sell-out to all audiences. It would seem like everybody loves Will Smith.

I can't stand him.

He initially came on the scene with partner Jazzy Jeff doing some parent-friendly rapping. Even the cartoon feline MC Skat Kat in Paula Abdul's "Opposites Attact" had more grit. When "Gettin' Jiggy with it" is the edgiest thing you have ever foisted on the World's ears, someone should take away your license to rap. (Little known fact that rappers have to pass a test and purchase a certificate allowing them to freestyle.)

Smith next went to TV starring in his own sitcom, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Acting like a D-grade version of Eddie Murphy, The Fresh Prince was on the air for 6 FREAKING YEARS. Pretty amazing when you break down the show and realize it made Blossom seem clever in comparison.

Finally we come to Smith's film career. He has been one of the Top 20 box office draws over the past 10 years. Starring in crapfests like Independence Day, Bad Boys, and Wild, Wild West, Will Smith has somehow brought in large audiences to see these lousy pictures. I appreciate that he looked a lot like Ali in that biopic, but he lacked the soul to play one of America's greatest figures. What about Men in Black? It was decent, but watch it again and I think you will realize that it was overhyped and doesn't hold up well, even though it came out less than 10 years ago.

His best acting performance was his first, playing a gay con man in the 1993 film, Six Degrees of Seperation. I'm not surprised that the only artistic endeavor I've ever liked Will Smith in was when he was playing a con man. I never feel he gives a genuine performance.

Please Explain why I'm wrong about Will Smith.

2007-02-08 10:22:57
1.   Jon Weisman
He can act.
2007-02-08 10:38:44
2.   Penarol1916
I'm not a big fan of his, but objectively speaking, he is charming.
2007-02-08 11:02:28
3.   Blaine
I am OK with Will Smith. He makes me smile every now and then. Looking forward to the Pursuit of Happyness. Heard it was good.

The only thing that bugs me about Will Smith is that he has to say "Oh, Hell no!" in every movie.

2007-02-08 11:13:19
4.   Knuckles
I defy any of you to not have this song stuck in your head for the rest of the day:

Now this is the story all about how
My life got flipped, turned upside down
And I'd like to take a minute just sit right there
I'll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel-Air
In West Philadelphia born and raised
On the playground where I spent most of my days
Chilling out, maxing, relaxing all cool
And all shooting some b-ball outside of the school
When a couple of guys said "we're up in no good"
Started making trouble in my neighbourhood
I got in one little fight and my mom got scared
And said "you're moving with your aunt and uncle in Bel-Air"

I whistled for a cab and when it came near the
License plate said "Fresh" and had a dice in the mirror
If anything I could say that this cab was rare
But I thought now forget it, yo home to Bel-Air
I pulled up to a house about seven or eight
And I yelled to the cabby "Yo, home smell you later"
Looked at my kingdom I was finally there
To settle my throne as the prince of Bel-Air

2007-02-08 11:18:03
5.   D4P
Yet another appropriate candidate for a "Please Explain" feature.

The bottom lines on "acting":

1. It's not as hard as it looks
2. That being said, some people are definitely better at it than others
3. The difference between those who are good at it and those who are not is not worth multiple millions of dollars

In my view, becoming a wealthy actor is not so different from winning the lottery. In either case, trying to attribute wealth and success to merit is mostly a fruitless exercise.

BTW: I listened to the "He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper" cassette about a million times in the late 80s.

2007-02-08 11:21:57
6.   JoeyP
Fresh Prince of Bel Air was alot more entertaining than Blossom.

Carlton, Uncle Phil, Ashley--the ensemble characters were what made the show work. I think Will Smith was pretty good in it, not great but ok.

I dont really watch action films so I dont care one way or another for Will Smith.

Bad Boys 1 was my favorite movie of his.

2007-02-08 11:23:39
7.   D4P
Come to think of it, I have not seen a single one of Smith's films.
2007-02-08 11:29:24
8.   JoeyP
If Britney Spears could once be considered the queen of pop music, Will Smith could be considered the king of pop acting.
2007-02-08 11:34:10
9.   capdodger
8 Though I don't think you'll ever see a photograph of Will Smith drunk and exiting a car while lacking underwear.

Just sayin'....

2007-02-08 11:37:31
10.   Scott Long
To be more specific, every action comedy that Will Smith does is a mix between Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hours Eddie Murphy. Smith's a little better in serious movies, but not possessing the talent that he should take roles away from real acting talents.

By the way, please don't take this as me knocking Eddie Murphy, because I think he's great when he has a good script.

2007-02-08 11:40:31
11.   D4P
This thread reminds me: I'm hoping "Please Explain: Drew Barrymore" is forthcoming
2007-02-08 11:40:45
12.   Scott Long
Considering that Britney had just pumped out a child from the crevass she was exposing getting out of above mentioned limo, I'm not sure I would be much more revolted by seeing will smith's package, instead.

I'm guessing the google search for will smith's package will be bringing some new readers to the juiceblog.

2007-02-08 11:45:13
13.   Scott Long
Looking back on comment 12, maybe I should have kept that offering to myself.

I guess it comes from a place inside me which is still bitter about the reality not living up to the dream. Specifically, I had wanted to see Miss Spears 3 years ago in this type of photo, but the actual beaver shot was a major disappointment. (By the way, those of you that don't think this has anything to do with baseball, let me mention that the greatest book on the game, Ball Four, discussed the beaver shooting concept in great detail.)

2007-02-08 11:45:25
14.   D4P
5 cont:

4. Writers do most of the work, while actors get most of the credit and money

2007-02-08 11:54:26
15.   Tom
To quote the Poet himself:

"I read in Rap Pages they refer to me as soft
Yeah, more like Microsoft
Will Gates of the rap game
Quintessential megalomaniac what's my rap name"

I realize other rappers have alluded to Microsoft, but when you're having credibility problems, maybe you shouldn't whip out how you're as cool as an incredibly uncool company.

If only this song came out a few years later, he could have called himself the Zune of the rap game.

2007-02-08 11:56:19
16.   dianagramr

not before "Please explain: American Idol"


2007-02-08 12:03:41
17.   D4P
Each in due time
2007-02-08 12:14:07
18.   Greg Brock
You nailed it...Will Smith is non-threatening to Whitey. He's a charming, unassuming guy, and he doesn't run around saying things that Whitey isn't ready to hear. He's Middle America safe. It's not a bad thing, and it's certainly nothing to fault him for, but that's what it is.

Also, if you've seen Six Degrees of Separation, the guy can act his tail off when he wants to.

2007-02-08 12:27:40
19.   Ken Arneson
It takes a certain kind of wholesome charm to pull off the Everyman vs. The System role, and Smith has it. He's the Jimmy Stewart of this generation. (Stewart:poetry::Smith:rap). It's too bad there's no Hitchcock around to take advantage of his gifts.
2007-02-08 12:41:11
20.   Sandus
See his new film and you might change your mind.
2007-02-08 12:45:15
21.   Derek J
This one's actually pretty simple. Will Smith is a movie star. By that, I don't just mean that he's been in movies that make a lot of money (although he has) but that he has the charisma to carry just about every movie he's in. There's really only a handful of people like that at any time--off the top of my head, right now you have Smith, Russel Crowe, Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Denzel Washington, and George Clooney (and Clooney's shaky). Back when she was active, Julia Roberts was in that group, as was Mel Gibson before he went insane.

Smith's not a great actor, but movie stars often aren't great actors (see Cruise, Roberts, Gibson, and Clooney, above, or if you want a historical example, Charlton Heston). But he's certainly above average, and he's seldom bad. Even in the horrible movies he's been in (Wild Wild West, Legend of Bagger Vance) he's never been the thing that's wrong with the movie. In some of the crapfests he's been in that were wildly popular (Independence Day, I, Robot, Bad Boys) he was the very best thing in the film. His performance in Ali (a movie ruined by the fact that it apparently didn't have an editor) was really good--better than Ali was when he played himself in a biopic (I think that one was called "The Greatest").

True, his comic persona isn't very original (you're right that he steals a bit from Murphy on screen, on TV it was JJ Walker) but very few of them are. Smith's music is probably the hardest part of him to explain, but I attribute his success to the same market forces that make G Rated movies, by and large, more profitable than the ones that are rated R.

2007-02-08 13:05:58
22.   Chyll Will
Has no one seen "The Pursuit of Happyness"? I am not loathe to say it; I cried through that movie because I could relate, and he made it easy to relate. I was his character in much of my short adult life, and he hit the right notes. I had trepidations approaching it at first because it was Will Smith (and the real-life person it was based on said the same thing) but I was blown away. He's made crowd-pleasers, but he's also made some real gems and this was one of them.

Plus, what's wrong with having someone present us as commanding respect, as opposed to Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, Eddie Griffin, Cedric the Entertainer, et al who far more often simply command dollars? And, if I had kids, I'd be less troubled to find Will Smith in their collection than a mixtape with Fitty or Lil' Kim. I can't hate Will's game.

One more thought: If I could see Will hold his own with Tyler Perry on stage and James Earl Jones on screen, I would consider him a made man.

2007-02-08 13:08:10
23.   misterjohnny
He's smart, talented, and good looking. I can see why you wouldn't like him.
2007-02-08 13:21:15
24.   Penarol1916
15. Oh come on, now you're just completely misinterpreting what is being said in that lyric. He's not saying that he is as cool as Microsoft, but that he is as dominant in his field (rapping) as Microsoft is in its (operating systems). It seems pretty straight forward and standard to me, it has nothing to do with coolness.
2007-02-08 13:40:34
25.   Ali Nagib
21 - "as was Mel Gibson before he went insane."

Went insane? Don't you mean, the rest of the public finally realized that he was batshit crazy all along?

2007-02-08 14:02:59
26.   JoeyP
Mel Gibson isnt insane.
I think he makes great movies and is still really marketable.

Tom Cruise..on the other hand.

I think I feel the same way about Cruise, as Scott Long feels about Will Smith. I loathe all Cruise movies except for Top Gun.

2007-02-08 14:05:07
27.   George Y
I'm not much of a Smith fan, myself, but a lot of that is due to his choices--I just don't care about the blockbuster films, so don't see him in films much.

That said, he does ooze charisma. He was just at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and when his limo pulled up to the red carpet he sprinted over to the fans and shook hands, had his picture taken, gave autographs. Then went to the press. Then went back to the fans. If it's calculated, he sure makes it seem natural.

By comparison a week later Heather Graham gets to the red carpet, looks at fans shouting her name, and turns to her publicist to ask, "Should I go over there?"

2007-02-08 14:16:10
28.   dianagramr
Speaking of "please explain" ....

R.I.P. Anna Nicole Smith

2007-02-08 14:26:18
29.   Scott Long
I will admit I haven't seen Smith in the latest Happyness flick, so my argument comes from everything I've seen on his before.

In regards to the other films, I don't think he has been very good. He is likable, which is a real gift, but he is not a very good actor. Every one of the names that were listed above as major draws have been great in a few films, even if they are playing off of their charisma as much as anything else.

Crowe is magnificent in every serious role he plays.

Cruise was great in Born of the 4th of July and Rainman, with a lot of other good performances.

Denzel has been good in a lot of things and was riveting in Training Day.

Clooney is not a big box office star and shouldn't be listed with these other names.

Hanks is the Jimmy Stewart of the past 15 years. I might be put on Toaster suspension for saying this, but Will Smith should never be mentioned in the same breath as Jimmy Stewart.

I acknowledged he was very good in 6 Degrees, but that was a small film. He's never been part of a really good box office film. All the other major box office stars can claim this. While someone could argue that it's not his fault that he was working with mediocre screenplays, I would argue that he has generally played to his strengths. High-energy, somewhat shallow characters that are made for pop-corny films.

I would think Will Smith would be a great guy to have a few beers with, but then our President was elected on much this same thought-process. Russell Crowe's a dick, but he's the best film actor of our generation.

I never feel any depth in a Will Smith performance (outside of 6 Degreees), which comedic actors like Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey, and Robin Williams have portrayed in their best work.

I'm not a fan of Jaime Foxx, the person, but he has an edge to him that makes his work seem real and not frivolous.

One other personal tic which bothers me about Smith. His laugh sounds too much like Eddie Murphy's. Kind of like how it has always bugged me that Kobe's voice and mannerisms seem to be like an impression of MJ.

I'm not someone who disses suburban life. Hey, I live in one. I'm not a fan, though, of suburban TV and Movies. Will Smith is the ultimate suburban act. Likeable, safe, but leaves me with an empty feeling.

2007-02-08 14:28:28
30.   Scott Long
To Mister Johnny,

I'm smart, talented, and good looking, as well. I also have a streak of self-hatred, so maybe you might have a point.

2007-02-08 14:39:02
31.   Hythloday
Will Smith is, "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy" ... well compared to NWA anyway.
2007-02-08 14:42:21
32.   D4P
I'm sure there are plenty of Whities who think "Why can't all black people be more like Will Smith?"
2007-02-08 14:46:43
33.   Raf
I still pump "Girls Ain't Nothing But Trouble" (Mr. Magic's Rap Attack) every so often.
2007-02-08 14:48:28
34.   Hythloday
32 - I'm sure most people thought Biden hit the nail on the head.
2007-02-08 15:07:50
35.   underdog
Speaking of Eddie Murphy, please explain... how NORBIT got made as a film (and why he agreed to do it), yet alone one that some people will actually pay to sit through? Say what you will about Will Smith, at least he's a little choosier than the just nominated for an Oscar Eddie Murphy (or Martin Lawrence for that matter)...
2007-02-08 15:43:17
36.   Greg Brock
Will Smith seems like a decent fellow. I wish more black people and white people could be more like Will Smith...

Except for Will Smith. I wish he was more like Dom DeLuise. And I wish that Orson Welles would have made the first Batman movie back in 1948, but that's not what we're talking bout right now so it's not important. Forget I even mentioned it.

2007-02-08 15:58:59
37.   Derek J
15 & 24. It's all about the Benjamins; in the rap world money = cool

25. You say potatoh, I say potahto

26. He's a skilled director, but Gibson hasn't starred in a film since Passion of the Christ came out. Prior to Passion, he had huge goodwill as an actor; two bloodfests and a DWI rant later, I think a lot of that goodwill has been poured down the drain. He probably has support for life from his Christian audience, but I don't know if people in general like him anymore.

Tom Cruise may be crazy, but it's a harmless kind of crazy. Plus, he was much more popular than Gibson, so even if he's lost 50% of his fans, he still has plenty left.

29. I didn't mention Will Smith in the same breath as James Stewart, Scott, you did (except now, to point that out, I just did--d'oh!). Maybe you find more depth in Murphy, Williams, and Carey's best work, but Will Smith has never done anything approaching their worst work (Pluto Nash and Harlem Nights; Patch Adams, Jakob the Liar, Bicentennial Man and What Dreams May Come; The Majestic), you gotta grade both ends of the curve.

(Off-topic side note: is What Dreams May Come to Bicentennial Man the worst stretch for an actor, after winning a long-deserved Oscar, ever? I'm sure someone can point to Marissa Tomei's career, but couldn't someone have told Williams "Is this really what you want to do after winning an Oscar?")

2007-02-08 16:37:06
38.   Scott Long

Don't be so self-absorbed. Look at post 19 done by man I have the utmost respect for. I responded to a few different commenters.

Good point on the worst work. My point was that Will Smith has never been in a great movie, unlike every other actor that was listed. I wouldn't rate anything he's ever been better than a B and most of them I would rate C or below. Will Smith dares to be AVERAGE!

2007-02-08 16:48:42
39.   Scott Long
For those of you that defend Will Smith the actor, I'm willing to accept the difference in opinion.

For those of you waxing r(h)apsodic over his music career, I just shake my head at the shame you should feel for publicly admitting it. Pick up some Kurtis Blow, DeLaSoul or Basehead, if you like sing-songy rap, as they made great music.

2007-02-08 18:02:01
40.   chris in illinois
I think Derek J nailed it in that Will Smith isn't really an actor as much as he's a star. The movies he chooses to appear in don't require an actor, they require a name---a star---that the greatest possible number of moviegoers won't object to. Dean Martin couldn't act, but he showed up in a hell of a lot of movies.

Basically as I see it, there are three levels of actors:

Level three: The Steve Buscemis and William Macys of the world. In other words, guys who can act, but can't really anchor a 200 million dollar blockbuster. Most of us probably have a fave actor in this category.

Level Two: Will Smith and Arnold fall into this category. These are guys that can at least deliver a 'clever' line in front of a blue screen----300 million dollars later, presto!!! A Blockbuster. These guys aren't actors so much as living set pieces. That isn't a value judgement, I'm 20 years older than the target audience for any Will Smith movie. They are what they are.


Level One: Guys like Russell Crowe. Crowe can star in a mega-movie and the writers and directors don't feel compelled to dumb the whole production down in order for a stupid 17-year old to 'get' it. Crowe and Hanks (at his best) can act and support a mega-movie.

As far as Mr. Smith's music career is concerned, I'm not sure how one determines 'good' rap from 'bad', but outside of Public Enemy has any rap 'artist(s)' ever done anything worthwhile??

Now that I've established my utter and complete whiteness, let me defend myself for a moment:

I don't really like rap music. I have any number of reasons for my opinion, but two stick out from the others. One, I'm a 37 year old white guy---needless to say, I am not who 50 cent is imagining when he 'pens' his new ode to ho's, bitches, thongs, guns, money and pimpin'.

Secondly and more importantly, in my experience the subject matter covered by the genre is so narrow, so limited it seems like every track is a version of another one.

Let me also say that I don't consider rap music to be a threat to my way of life or some giant threat to Western Civilization either. Rap Music is made for an audience that I'm clearly not a member of, that's all.

2007-02-08 20:20:32
41.   Scott Long
Interesting argument, Chris. In Dean Martin's defense, he was a great singer and a deft comedian, with magnificent timing as a straight man. Dino was the man on these categories.

I considered adding a comment about Arnold and Stallone as being more of a fit to Will Smith. Arnold was in a great movie, Terminator 2. Stallone starred in a classic, Rocky. I'm not about to say Will SMith isn't a better actor than Arnold and more versatile than Stallone, but I just don't think he will ever be in a great blockbuster movie. We will see.

On the subject of rap, I'm of the same generation, but I still think there is quality stuff out there. Harder to find, though, as I think the genre is pretty stale, overall. Check out P.O.S and Lupe Fiasco, as they are 2 records from 2006 that connected with me.

2007-02-08 20:24:38
42.   Raf
39 Rock the House wasn't that bad an album. Haven't listened to the others, and AFAIK, I'm not missing anything; Code Red? C'mon!
2007-02-08 20:27:12
43.   Raf
40 You'd be suprised at the number of white guys who bump rap. And this ain't nothing new; I knew a lot of white guys who had "Straight Outta Compton"
2007-02-09 08:43:47
44.   jgpyke
"Where the Day Takes You" was a great movie. And "Enemy of the State" was pretty cool--ahead of its time in many ways, lame in others.
2007-02-09 09:38:18
45.   Scott Long
Where the Day Takes You is a decent movie, but great? It also doesn't fit my argument, as it was a smaller movie and Will Smith had a smaller role in the film. From what I remember, Dermot Mulroney carried the film.

Now Enemy of the State is the best film that Smith has done, where he was the star of the film. Hackman and Voight are great actors who make everything better that they are in. If Denzel or Samuel Jackson would have played the Smith role, this would have been a grade higher. Instead, it was 3 star movie with a 2-star lead performance.

The missing ingredient Will Smith lacks is having a sense of danger in his personality that is needed in most dramatic roles. There is no darkness there.

His comedic style is similar to his rapping style. Paint by the numbers.

2007-02-09 13:22:54
46.   Derek J
38. My bad, Scott. I was being tongue-in-cheek, but I did miss SB's contribution of Stewart to the thread. I should have gotten it from the "Toaster suspension" remark.

40. Probably the guy that Smith is most like on your level two (and whose career started to wind down just as Smith's took off, IIRC) is Bruce Willis. Not a great actor, but someone with enough physicality and charisma to pull off the big-budget action flicks, and better acting chops than Arnold or Stallone.

2007-02-10 08:13:03
47.   Scott Long
The Bruce WIllis comparison is a good one and it also amplifies my point.

Will Smith has never been in an action movie close to as good as the first 2 Die Hard films. He will never be in a ensemble piece as good as Pulp Fiction. (hey, very few actors can say that, though.)

Wiilis' TV work on Moonlighting is the best romantic comedy performance in any series. He showed so many shades and talents in Moonlighting that it just magnifies how disappointing much of his movie career has been. Having said that, his movie career is still superior to Smtih.

Now, Willis' musical career was a near perfect equal to Smith's rap career. Respect Yourself, indeed.

2007-02-12 14:21:04
48.   BradS
41. RE: Stallone. I'm not a huge fan, but I've always been under the impression that Sly COULD act, it's more like he chooses not to do so. I mean he gives solid performances in Rocky, First Blood, and Copland.
2007-03-08 14:20:55
49.   johnnyactor
i personally think will smith is excellent he's the second biggest actor of our time right behind tom cruise everthing he do in the film industry is great thats why he's one of my inspirations to be an actor
2007-03-08 14:25:11
50.   johnnyactor
and about tom cruise i think a person must be crazy to think he's not a good actor it doesn't get n e better than tom cruise when it comes to whos the best in the industry

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