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10 Great Performances by Terrible Actors

Forgive the perhaps unwarranted level of enthusiasm, but Joy Ride is out on Blu-ray today, and YIPEE. It’s a crackerjack little thriller from eternally underrated director John Dahl (The Last Seduction, Rounders, Red Rock West), co-written by a young J.J. Abrams (for my money, the best movie he’s been involved in), starring Steve Zahn, Leelee Sobieski, and, yes, Paul Walker. Though second-billed behind Zahn (ah, for the more innocent year of 2001), this is indisputably a vehicle for the handsome and unaccountably dull future star of the Fast and Furious franchise — and believe it or not, he’s not distractingly terrible in it. Make whatever stopped-clock, blind-squirrel analogies you’d like, but occasionally even the worst of actors stumbles into a decent performance. Here’s a few examples.

The Gift (Keanu Reeves)

It’s easy to laugh at Keanu Reeves. His “British accented” performances in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Much Ado About Nothing are utterly preposterous; even his enjoyable action vehicles (like Speed and The Matrix) have to overcome the considerable handicap of his wooden line readings and middle-school theatrics. And while he’s enjoyable in Bill & Ted and Parenthood, it’s awfully easy to think he’s playing himself. But he turns in an honest-to-goodness performance in Sam Raimi’s 2000 paranormal thriller The Gift, playing Donnie Barksdale, a wife-beating, Southern-drawling, trucker-hat-wearing piece of pond scum who may or may not be a murderer. It’s a complicated character, and Reeves proves surprisingly equal to the task — making Barksdale a loathsome bastard, but never quite showing all of his cards.

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