There are a lot of athletes out there who aspire to act in films. Most of them shouldn’t give up their day jobs. Some of them parlay a successful playing career into a reasonably successful acting career (like ex-NFL players Jim Brown or Alex Karras, for instance), but most fail miserably and rarely grace the big screen more than once or twice.
What we’ve done here at Seattle Sportsnet is compile eleven of the most intriguing performances by an athlete in a feature film (note to the Academy: that should be a new award category) and rank them accordingly. We’re not looking for the best athletes-turned-actors, or even the worst. No, in the most basic of terms, these are quite simply the ATA’s who moved us. On to the list.
11. Darius Miles, NBA, The Perfect Score. D-Miles may no longer be the player he once was (he was, after all, the third overall pick by the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2000 NBA Draft), but with any luck he can turn a failing basketball career into a potential Oscar nomination somewhere down the road. Okay, that may be a stretch. Miles is no Denzel Washington. But he did co-star in the 2004 teenie-bopper dud The Perfect Score, a movie which featured the talents of a young Scarlett Johansson in one of her earlier roles.
Miles plays the part of Desmond Rhodes, the token black guy who doubles as a high school basketball star needing to pass the SAT’s in order to get into his dream college….either that or he’s going pro. He’s not sure yet. Sound familiar? In real life, the academically challenged Miles failed to earn a qualifying SAT score, thus spoiling his attempt to get into St. John’s University, and instead sending him straight to the NBA. If only he had followed the plot line from Perfect Score, maybe then he would have ended up as a member of the Red Storm.
The plot of the movie is simple and stupid and befitting the services of a first-round NBA bust. Rhodes and his friends plan to steal the results of the SAT exam in order to cheat their way into college. That’s it. As dumb as it sounds, Miles does a pretty decent job convincing us he’s not as smart as he looks, and at the same time plays a pretty mean brand of dramatized basketball. It’s definitely worth a few minutes of your time if you happen to catch it on TBS.
10. Malik Sealy, NBA, Eddie. The late Malik Sealy was a pretty decent role player during his time in The League, averaging 10.1 PPG over the course of eight seasons. Tragically, Sealy was killed in an automobile accident in May, 2000, cutting short his life at the age of 30. Before he passed, Sealy had professed a love for acting, and even had aspirations of becoming a full-time movie star once his playing career was through. In 1996, the 26-year-old swingman found his way to the big screen with a major role in the basketball film Eddie.
As prima donna superstar Stacy Patton, Sealy perfected a role unfamiliar to his real-life persona. The egomaniacal Patton, who refers to himself in the third person, is the highly-paid main attraction on a struggling New York Knicks squad. He clashes with everyone he meets before being benched (in favor of a character played by fellow NBA player John Salley) by new head coach Eddie Franklin (played by Whoopi Goldberg), a Knicks fan who lucks her way into the head coaching job.
Patton can’t seem to put his attitude aside until Eddie sends him off to play street ball with the likes of Gary Payton and Anthony Mason (doing some acting of their own), at which point he finally realizes that he needs to shape up and appreciate the life he’s been blessed with. In a cast riddled with athletes (Salley, Payton, Mason, Mark Jackson, Rick Fox, Greg Ostertag, Dwayne Schintzius, Walt Frazier, and even more NBA players in cameos), Sealy stands out as the only believable actor in the entire bunch, making his one big screen performance a noteworthy accomplishment.
9. Dan Marino, NFL, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Most people hail this movie as Jim Carrey’s breakout role. True, Carrey seemingly came out of nowhere to turn this lightly-heralded film into a mega-hit, but you have to give some credit to the Miami Dolphins quarterback for making this an even more interesting affair than it otherwise would have been.
Marino, playing himself, is oft-referenced throughout the duration of the movie as the holder on a missed field goal that ruins the life of fictional kicker Ray Finkel. After blowing the big kick, the mentally unstable Finkel goes into hiding before emerging years later as the prime suspect in the kidnapping of a dolphin that happens to be Miami’s mascot. With Ace Ventura on the search for both the dolphin and Finkel, Marino emerges as the one true target for the source of Finkel’s criminal behavior. Eventually, Marino himself appears in the film and is kidnapped by the crazed ex-kicker (now having undergone a sex change to become Lois Einhorn) right before the Superbowl.
While Marino’s role is primarily relegated to a few scenes towards the back end of the flick, the Hall of Fame quarterback provides a memorable quote when he finds out that the character of Einhorn, who he was forced to kiss, is actually a man. Ventura, who also kissed Finkel/Einhorn at one point, has been madly chomping on gum as a sort of therapy for the bad experience. “Hey Ace, got any more of that gum?” Marino asks. Replies Ace, “That’s none of your damn business, and I’ll thank you to stay out of my personal affairs.” Nice.
8. Gheorghe Muresan, NBA, My Giant. When thinking about My Giant, one question always seems to come to mind: What the hell was an established, veteran actor like Billy Crystal doing in this movie? The only real intriguing thing about this film is that Gheorghe Muresan is such a horribly bad actor (think a linguistically-challenged Andre the Giant on sedatives) that it becomes entertaining to watch. This movie is so awfully bad, that even the likes of TBS, ABC Family, and USA won’t put it on television. Which, of course, only makes it all the more awesome.
Muresan stars as Max, a giant (no kidding) who rescues struggling Hollywood agent Sammy Kamin (Crystal) from drowning in a Romanian lake. After recovering from his ordeal, Kamin convinces Max that he could star in films. Max, on the other hand, is only interested in visiting his childhood girlfriend that lives in a faraway village (is this even a plot?). So to please Max, Kamin lets the giant stumble around Romania doing boring stuff before taking him to the U.S. The movie mercifully concludes with Kamin landing Max a role in an upcoming action film starring Steven Seagal, who they meet in Las Vegas. There’s a beginning, almost a middle, and sort of an end. This barely qualifies as a story.
Regardless of the tragic plot line, Muresan entertains us with his comedic wit, garbled by a limited knowledge of English, and further discombobulated by his inability to speak, period. If nothing else, he’s got one up on the other giants of the NBA; let’s see Shawn Bradley, Manute Bol, or Yao Ming make a movie.
7. O.J. Simpson, NFL, The Naked Gun. After a Hall of Fame-worthy playing career, and before the criminal transgressions that eventually sent him to the slammer in 2008, O.J. Simpson was just another athlete-turned-actor looking to find the perfect role. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your viewpoint), the only major big screen role he could land was that of Detective Nordberg, a bumbling member of Police Squad, in The Naked Gun trilogy.
Starring slapstick comedian Leslie Nielsen as dimwitted Detective Frank Drebin, The Naked Gun and its sequels, The Smell of Fear and The Final Insult, center around a simple plot with hilarious mishaps interrupting the completion of the task at hand.
In the first Naked Gun, Drebin, Nordberg, and others must prevent the Queen of England from being murdered by an unknown assailant, who ultimately turns out to be California Angels outfielder Reggie Jackson, under the manipulation of an evil Ricardo Montalban.
In the immediate sequel, Naked Gun 2 1/2, the Police Squad group is out to foil the malicious intent of a group of corporate energy bigwigs, led by Robert Goulet.
Finally, in the third installment, Naked Gun 33 1/3, the gang must stop a group of terrorists plotting to blow up the Academy Awards.
While Nielsen provides most of the laughs as a likable screw-up, O.J. takes the stupidity to a whole new level with the accident-prone antics of Nordberg. Despite being shot multiple times, falling down a flight of stairs in a wheelchair, being dragged for what seems like miles underneath a moving van, and other injury-inducing episodes, Nordberg always returns alive and healthy by the end of each film. Somewhere in there is an ominous parallel to the invincibility O.J. displayed from 1995 through last year. It’s there, we just need to find it.
Numbers 6-2 will be appearing on Sunday, and number 1 will be revealed Monday.