Why I Hate... Robert De Niro


13th July 2005

I've been told it's always good to start with a joke:

Q. What's fat, old, rich and rubbish?
A. Robert De Niro.

Fair enough, it's not funny. But then neither is Robert De Niro. Over the last decade, the once great actor's career has been reduced to a joke, a fluffed punchline that's fallen flat and left only a ringing silence and a plethora of confused faces. And to think he showed such promise in the early days - this is the man that played Vito Corleone, Jake La Motta, Jimmy Conway and Travis Bickle. However, since the mid nineties, we've had to make do with comedy mob bosses with emotional issues, uptight father-in-laws and CGI sharks. It's not clear exactly when De Niro stopped caring about artistic integrity and started worrying about how big his paycheque was going to be (although The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle probably wouldn't be too wide of the mark) but it's clear that Bobby's top priority is now no longer acting plaudits, but further improvements on his solid gold mansion and rocket car.

Perhaps I'm being a little harsh. After all, every actor makes bad decisions at some point in their career, and you can't really lambaste the guy for making a movie that his kids can watch (the 'head in vice' scene in Casino being presumably a little OTT for the little 'uns). But try as I might, I simply can't find an excuse for some of the abominations on his CV. For example, how many people would really list reality TV-based buddy-cop 'comedy' Showtime as one of their favourite De Niro movies? Does The Score really get your motor running? Can you remember a single thing about his character in Men of Honor? Chances are you haven't even seen it. Because it reeks. Even Marty Scorcese seems to have given up on his former muse, who now seems to prefer squeezing acting talent out of man-child Leo DiCaprio instead. Most recently, De Niro was completely upstaged by a ten year old girl in the risible Hide and Seek, a movie so bad, four endings had to be filmed (although it's hard to fathom how the others could be any worse than the one they used). When it comes to his career, Bobby is lounging way back in business class, supping on a cocktail and sucking a stogie while he nosedives into amateurville on autopilot.

Why does De Niro's apparent apathy towards his roles bother me so much? Let's be honest, pretty much every actor who has ever lived reaches the zenith of their career before slowly sliding down the slippery slope marked 'straight to video'. Perhaps it's because every person on the planet knows that De Niro can ooze talent out of his eyeballs if he can be bothered to get his chunky ass out of bed. Perhaps it's because the sheer menace that used to lie behind those piercing eyes of his has been dulled by lame comedic performances - not just any old comedy, but roles that actually send up what he does best, like his turn as an emotionally stunted mafia don in Analyse This/That. Playing a gangster that cries a lot isn't funny or clever or ironic. It's a faded actor reduced to dancing for pennies in front of strangers while pissing on Francis Ford Coppola's doorstep.

And no, before you even open your stupid, De Niro-felating mouth, Meet the Parents was not funny. Every time a scene threatens to actually become vaguely amusing, big Bobby lumbers on screen and scientifically cancels out any potential laughs with his wacky 'raised eyebrow' comedy shtick. He's the father-in-law from hell! Ho ho! He's an ex-CIA agent and he's giving his daughter's boyfriend some serious grief! Hee hee! See the former hard man profess his love for his cute little kitty cat! Ha ha ha! My sides have just erupted and I'm gushing blood and pus everywhere, but I don't care because I'm still laughing at that Circle of Trust thing. That, and the fact that 'Focker' sounds a lot like 'Fucker'. Forget those intensely deep, emotionally-layered, powerhouse performances you used to give Robert, here's a guy who's son-in-law's surname sounds like a swear! Sign right here! In your own BLOOD.

Please don't go all Brando on us Bobby; we know you're better than that. The only thing that's saving you from the hell of the bottom shelf of Blockbuster at the moment is the fact that your name still means something to this generation. Continue at this rate and you can look forward to sharing shelf-space with Steve Guttenberg and Dolph Lundgren. Stop picking the roles that have the most zeroes on the cover sheets, start taking your career seriously again and who knows, string a few decent movies together and I might even learn to love you again. For now, all I can think of is perhaps De Niro's last memorable performance, in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown, all the way back in 1997. The character? A low down, out of shape, useless bum. Draw your own conclusions. Ali

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