Charlie Sheen, Actor: A Retrospective

Charlie Sheen, on a Today interview on Monday:

“Come Wednesday morning they’re gonna name it Charlie Brothers and not Warner Brothers….duh, winning”

“Guys, IMDB, right there—62 movies…and a ton of success…”

“I mean, come on, bro, I won Best Picture at twenty, and I wasn’t even trying…”

 Well, I will admit I’ve never considered Charlie Sheen’s acting career a particularly dazzling one. But maybe I’m wrong. Let’s look back:

 1984- Red DawnA hell of a way to start an acting career, in my book. Sheen was 19 when he played a Colorado jock-turned-guerilla fighter in this ultra-violent fantasy, which imagined Communist forces invading and conquering the western half of the United States, only to face their worst nightmare in a band of teenage resistance fighters.

1986- LucasThis is an underrated movie, largely because the three teenage leads—Sheen, Corey Haim, and Kerri Green—are all really good. Sheen begins to demonstrate his ability to draw empathy by always playing it cool—when he stands up against his fellow jocks for the awkward and much-maligned Haim, it seems believable, and you like him for it. His flat, unaffected demeanor suggests a basic decency beneath.

1986- Ferris Bueller’s Day OffSheen never actually won an Oscar (in his interview he was referring to the Oliver Stone film Platoon winning Best Picture, I think), but if he ever deserved one it was for the priceless two-minute scene he shares with Jennifer Gray in the police station in Bueller. He demonstrates that he can adapt his flat delivery to laugh-out-loud comedy. Who knows, in retrospect, what kind of personal experience he was drawing on when his strung-out druggie questions, angers, then seduces Gray?

1986- PlatoonQuite a year for Charlie, ’86. What he does in Platoon is rather similar to what he does in Lucas. It’s interesting casting, because the part seems to demand someone who comes off as a complete innocent, which is not really in Sheen’s wheelhouse. But again, his flatness and aura of decency serves him well. Willem Defoe and Tom Berenger get the chance to imprint their personalities on their young charge, but you’re never really afraid he’ll go over to the dark side.

1987- Wall StreetMuch of what I wrote about Platoon applies here too. Sheen never commands the screen like a genuine leading man should—e.g., he would never have been able to play the Michael Douglas role here, no matter his age. But he always seems to be doing exactly what is required to get the story clicking along—here, his young Wall Street broker may never convince us his quest for material wealth is as deep and stirring as Jay Gatsby’s, but still–the desire is absolutely believable.

1988- Young GunsThis is not really a good movie, but many people of a certain age have very fond, albeit fuzzy, memories of it.

1988- Eight Men Out—Never seen it. It’s supposed to be pretty good, although it maybe hasn’t aged well.

1989- Major League—a very big, and surprise, hit, seen multiple times by every male born between the mid 70s-and mid 80s. Sheen doesn’t really do much here besides wear, then take off, some goofy glasses, but seriously—even when you’re not trying that hard, being in this many memorable, if not necessarily classic, movies means you and your agent were making some good decisions at some point in your life.

1990—Navy Seals, Men at Work, Cadence, The RookieFour dumb but watchable movies in one year. And he gets to play Clint Eastwood’s rookie sidekick.

1991-1994—Hot Shots!, Hot Shots! Part Deux, The Three Musketeers, Major League II—At this point, Sheen seems to have decided to focus solely on movies aimed at pleasing 12-year old boys—which, honestly, is not the worst idea a Hollywood actor has ever had.

 I think it’s around here that Sheen’s reputation for womanizing and alcohol and drug abuse starts to overtake his public persona. He still makes some movies, but the only one I remember getting a wide open was 1996’s The Arrival. He does some television appearances, voice-over for All Dogs Go to Heaven 2, but basically for three or four years he’s off the radar.  I’m gonna guess this is when he did some of his hardest partying.

 In 1999, he has a hilarious cameo as himself in Being John Malkovich, poking fun at his libidinous public image.

 2000-2002, he replaces Michael J. Fox on Spin City.

In 2003, he signs to star in CBS’ Two and a Half Men, which has run for nine years and has become TV’s most-watched sitcom. The show is absolutely filthy and unoriginal, consistently amusing, occasionally actually funny, and Sheen is the best thing in it.

 So….that’s actually a heck of a career. The guy’s never said no to a paycheck, obviously (he averaged four movies a year between 1986 and 1993), but who among us has?

I think Sheen is genuinely a good actor—a professional who does his job, and never fails the requirements of the script. Maybe he’s limited in his range—I think he’d be even funnier doing Shakespeare or Austen than Keanu Reeves—but that hasn’t held back a bunch of other actors. I’d love for him to mine his comic talents in a new movie. So I say good riddance to that sitcom. Get better and start making movies again, Mr. Sheen.

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About hubzbubz

Currently residing in Brooklyn.
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