It's the age-old question: Genetics or environment?
Are certain actors by some defect of birth destined to appear in ungodly strings of awful films, or do they plummet to the depths of career degradation once they find themselves firmly entrenched in Hollywood?
It's a pertinent question, as this summer is shaping up as one of the worst, aesthetically speaking, in recent memory. Films have opened big, but audiences all but disappear after a couple of weekends.
Way too many actors seem to be making careers out of churning out assembly-line-processed, sorry movies. Consider this -- if Boeing marketed airplanes without wings or McDonald's came out with the McBotulism burger, there would be a tremendous uproar, yet nothing is done about horrible movies.
And so they continue. Scientists doggedly and devotedly continue to investigate the problem of why, and have come up with the following list of a few of the phenomena that account for the perpetual presence of the celluloid equivalent of wingless airplanes.
The "Saturday Night Live"/"SCTV" curse. In which once-brilliant comedians are relegated to loping hopelessly through the same sort of junk they once mocked.
The a-hit-or-two-long-ago wonder. In which studio executives with selective memories allow stars whose appeal has dissipated to continue to churn out embarrassing variations on long-tired themes.
The ego-out-of-control. If you weren't surrounded by sycophants, you'd know who you are.
The oddball force that Hollywood simply cannot harness. Bankers, businessmen and attorneys -- that is, the guys who run the studios -- just don't get these people, so they shoehorn them into projects they likewise don't understand. No one wins.
The I'm-trying-to-extend-my-scope-even-if-nobody-cares star. Bruce Willis and "In Country." Goldie Hawn with "Deceived" and "Crisscross." Patrick Swayze in "City of Joy." Sylvester Stallone and comedy.
The just-give-me-the-money cynic. OK. Hack. We said it.
And here is a short list of those stars whose very name on a theater marquee spells almost-imminent disaster. In most cases, those named below fit in a number of the above categories.
Remember -- we're not saying these people aren't good actors (though we're not denying that, either). We're just suggesting that maybe these folks could be just a smidgen more discerning in their choice of material in the future. If, in fact, they have a future. Or a choice.
* Chevy Chase. He turned a smirking stumblebum into a cottage industry and then learned to sleepwalk through bad movies. He's sired enough dogs to open a kennel. Examples: "Modern Problems," "Fletch Lives," "Three Amigos," "Under the Rainbow" -- gee, the list goes on and on, let's just get to his latest dud -- "Memoirs of an Invisible Man." For the sake of moviegoers, here's hoping his Fox network late-night talk show comes through.
* Dan Aykroyd. The most versatile performer on the original "Saturday Night Live" has become the most dreaded name on a movie marquee. Has he carried an even moderately acceptable movie in the past decade? His list of duds is even longer than Mr. Chase's, culminating with his disastrous "Nothing but Trouble," which he wrote and directed and which was nothing but interminable. His self-absorbed and insight-free column in Premiere magazine disappeared after three months.
* John Candy. The anti-Midas: Everything he touches turns into a leaden bore. Every character he plays is the same -- the pathetic, dopey fat guy longing for a beauty -- which just isn't that appealing anymore.
* Jim Belushi. His films ("Curly Sue," "Taking Care of Business," "Mr. Destiny," "Once Upon a Crime") makes brother John's duds ("1941," "Continental Divide") look like sage career moves.
* Julia Roberts. The biggest star who has never made a really good movie -- "Pretty Woman," "Sleeping With the Enemy," "Dying Young" and "Hook" are competent at best and usually far worse. Ms. Roberts is a Republican pinup girl -- she always plays women desperately dependent on their men, and when she gives an interview, she's denying everything and blaming the media. This is our actress of the '90s?
* Goldie Hawn. Ditsy ("Protocol," "Wildcats" "Overboard," "Bird on a Wire") or serious ("Deceived," "Crisscross"), Ms. Hawn's projects tend to be star-driven vehicles with plot lines that don't come close to meeting the recommended daily amounts of intelligence.
* Bruce Willis. Somewhere along the line, his smirk began reeking of insufferable smugness, and he began to think any piece of junk he wink-winked through would be a charmer. "Blind Date," "Sunset," "Hudson Hawk" and "The Last Boy Scout" have proved him wrong. Beware, Meryl Streep: Your co-stars in your upcoming "Death Becomes Her" are Mr. Willis and Ms. Hawn. It doesn't stand a chance.