Maggie is a new film whose basic premise simultaneously intrigued and worried me. It's about a dad (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) whose life is turned upside down after his beloved daughter Maggie is bitten by a zombie. On the one hand I tend not to like zombie films because zombies are mostly one dimensional characters who are incapable of complex emotions... But on the other hand I knew that the movie takes place in the time period after Maggie was infected but before she has become completely undead, and since she was going to be more or less human the whole time it was possible that she could have an interesting character arc as she came to terms with her imminent demise. I knew that as a film Maggie could really go either way, either turning out to be a cheap and predictable horror film or a compelling drama about a family under stress.
The opening scenes were reasonably compelling. Maggie establishes it's bleak world fairly quickly, and although I generally don't like bleakness I could at least appreciate that it was taking a fairly original approach to the zombie apocalypse, one that was more or less grounded in reality. (Their outbreak of zombie-ism was apparently caused by a virus, and there's apparently an entire medical / police infrastructure in place to keep society as stable as possible.) Furthermore, I liked that it had a relateable emotional core – I can get into the father/daughter stuff a lot more easily than I can get into the generic "a bunch of strangers have to learn to trust each other" stuff that you normally get from this type of movie.
Slowly, however, I found my mind drifting. I started noticing just how old Arnold looks. Then I started thinking about how Schwarzenegger used to play the titular character in his movies, but now that his star power has faded a bit he's become more of a background player. Once upon a time he was Conan in the Conan films, and he was the Terminator in the Terminator films, but he isn't playing the lead character in Maggie. No, now he's relegated to playing Maggie's dad.
And that got me to thinking about how almost every A-list actor has played the title role in a movie. I decided to turn it into a game to see how many movie stars / title role pairings I could come up with. I started with the Oceans series since that's the franchise with the most A-list actors in it, and that immediately gets George Clooney out of the way, since he was Danny Ocean. (Also: he was Michael Clayton.) Danny Ocean's sidekick was played by Brad Pitt who was Joe Black in Meet Joe Black, and Ocean's third wheel was played by Matt Damon who was Jason Bourne in the Bourne movies. Mrs. Danny Ocean was Julia Roberts, who also played Erin Brockovich.
Once I was done with the Ocean series I went into more free form waters – Stallone was both Rocky and Rambo; Will Smith was Hitch; Tom Cruise was Jerry Maguire. Then I went even farther: Spider-Man isn't technically the characters name (that would be Peter Parker) but "Spider-Man" and "Peter Parker" are basically synonymous with each other and that has to count for something, right? Congrats Tobey Maguire, you're on the A-List! (I suppose that congrats are also in order for Andrew Garfield, who technically also played Spider-Man even if he will never be Spider-Man in my heart.) Actually, come to think of it, the alter-ego rule I just arbitrarily created knocks out a lot of actors who played comic book heroes. (Good job Halle Berry!) But does Dustin Hoffman as Rain Man count? His character was “the rain man” but he wouldn't have answered to that name... (For the record: I don't think the Godfather counts; that's a title, not a name.)
...Wait a minute, is Maggie about to give another infected teenager a hand job? Is there about to be a zombie on zombie tug session? Hmmm.... Looks like the answer is no.
So back to the name game. Now I'm wondering if this title role thing actually is an exclusive perk of being an A-list star. After all, there are a lot of movies that are named after a side character who plays a smaller (but still metaphorically important) role. For example: Private Ryan was barely in Saving Private Ryan. (Oh, goddamnit, I just realized that I've already covered Matt Damon, so that's a bad example.) A better example would be the Wizard in the Wizard of Oz, or Bill in Kill Bill, both of whom dominate their respective films even though they have very little screen time. Oh yeah, and there's also Kristen Bell as Sarah Marshall in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. (Actually now that I think about it Bell can do double duty, since she was Veronica Mars in the Veronica Mars movie.) Oh, and I know that people like to debate whether or not Channing Tatum is on the A-list or not (he was on track until White House Down derailed him) but he did star as Magic Mike. That has to put him over his 22 Jump Street co-star Jonah Hill, who didn't play either Super or bad in Superbad.
Suddenly I realized I had been off in a dream world for about half an hour. Since the movie was still playing right in front of my very eyes I had to admit that I am officially uninterested. It suddenly occurred to me why I tuned out: Maggie is another zombie movie with no emotional arc to it. We are told at the beginning of the film that she has been bitten and that bites are always fatal, then the rest of the movie is just us passively watching as she continues to get closer and closer to death. It's the sort of predictable uphill climb that can work manipulative wonders when it is used well, but this is not a classic cancer drama, it's a crazy make-em-up about fictional monsters. Why would I get emotionally invested in something like this? Why should I try to care about a movie that's just trying to drag me through unpleasant emotional territory when its fictional people dealing with fictional problems that could never actually impact me?
Meanwhile, there's more and more actor/role pairings to unearth. Johnny Depp was eaten when he was Gilbert Grape; Daniel Day Lewis was Lincoln; and oh my god, how could I forget Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones? And then there's Angelina Jolie as Maleficent. Yeah, I know the credits are rolling, but I'm busy here, leave me alone, usher! Tom Hanks was Forrest Gump, Captain Phillips, and he was the Joe that fought a volcano...
Winner: The Cat