An Amber Heard fan phones in a wake-up call to the talented actress sleepwalking through mediocrity.
Amber Heard has it all. Her movie star presence. Those calendar-girl looks. The charisma and dramatic range to handle a film's leading role, evidenced in the otherwise forgettable 2010 horror flick The Ward. In on-camera interviews, she's a natural, fielding late-night talk show hosts' questions with enjoyment and never awkwardly phoning it in like Kristen Stewart has done numerous times. Yet Heard is nowhere near as big of a star as Stewart, despite being similarly attractive to gossip bloggers, thanks to her relationship with Johnny Depp. Amber Heard doesn't, and, at this point, probably never will have, a character anywhere near as iconic or eternal as Stewart's Twilight persona, Bella Swan.
How is it that one of Hollywood's best and most stunningly beautiful twenty-something actresses keeps getting usurped by peers like Amanda Seyfried, Kristen Bell, and Mila Kunis?
The answer lies right there in Heard's latest movie, 3 Days to Kill.
What the film's selling is yawn material: Following the Liam Neeson Model for Career Reinvention, 2014's wannabe comeback kid Kevin Costner tries to become the next unlikely older-man action star. As Ethan Renner, Costner plays a Secret Service agent who's terminally ill and hoping to lock down a sweet retirement package by taking one final assignment—which just so happens to coincide with his young daughter's (Hailee Steinfeld) attempts to final establish a father/kid connection with him. Heard hovers around the scenery as a femme fatale.
Starring alongside a silver screen legend like Kevin Costner isn't a bad career move, but doing so in what's obviously a perfunctory Taken-by-way-of-RED is clearly the wrong look for Heard.
It does, however, fall in line with her underwhelming resumé as a whole. Since playing Seth Rogen's love interest in the 2008 stoner action-comedy Pineapple Express, Heard has done little to capitalize on that plum, attention-catching role. Except for a memorable cameo early into the excellent horror-comedy Zombieland, her track record's been one of disappointment and struggle. Case in point: NBC's The Playboy Club, the network's 2011 attempt to introduce a sexually driven, Mad Men-esque period drama that was savaged by critics and cancelled after three aired episodes. What in Heard's mind must have felt like that ever-elusive big break fizzled into one of TV's biggest duds of the new millennium.
Retreating from TV land into the movies hasn't worked either. As a sort of "scream queen," Heard's decisions have appealed to the genre enthusiast in theory but not in practice. Take the lead in The Ward, legendary horror master John Carpenter's first feature film after a nine-year hiatus. That's one surefire way to make horror fanatics adore you. Unfortunately, the lifeless and unimaginative The Ward only proved that Carpenter, like fellow fallen-off genre directors Dario Argento and George A. Romero, had totally lost everything that once made him a nightmare generator. That same year, in 2010, Heard went so far as to both produce and star in the horror remake And Soon the Darkness, a modernization of the 1970 British cult classic that abandons all of the original's subtleties and disastrously emulates Hostel.
The misstep with John Carpenter is key here, though, as it is represents Heard's largest problem: she—or her agent, or her manager, or all of them—choose projects with the worst kind of nostalgic beer goggles. At one time, playing second fiddle to Nicolas Cage would've been a credibility move, but not 2011, and certainly not in a schlocky "My name's Nicolas Cage, so give me my paycheck?" job like Drive Angry 3D. Especially when all you're required to do is show some leg and exhibit some spunk.
By that time, Cage's name had already become a punchline, with the dreadful Season of the Witch preceding Drive Angry. Heard's knack for poor timing was exacerbated in The Rum Diary, the film through which she met her current fiancé, J-Depp, but also solidified the fact that today's audiences only want to see Johnny Boy wearing ratty pirate's garb and botching the English language like a drunken stooge. The Rum Diary, an unnecessary Hunter S. Thompson adaptation, left critics peeved and ticket-buyers distantly apathetic.
The same double-sided feeling of fail cloaked Heard's next feature, Paranoia, her chance to share screen time with elder heavyweights like Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford, only neither of them are box office draws. What good is collaborating with titans like Ford and Oldman if it's at the cost of being the "protagonist's vapid girlfriend," a part that, by now, Amber Heard should be well beyond? Just as, what's the purpose of being just another hottie amidst a plethora of famous knockouts in Robert Rodriguez's blandly tongue-in-cheek exploitation sequel Machete Kills?
Instead of realizing that Drive Angry, her previous unsuccessful throwback to genre sleaze, was a sign for her to drop the whole "gorgeous but disposable bit player in a silly genre film" approach, Heard hammed it up. Perhaps, after so many misdirected role selections, parts like "hot blonde with Danny Trejo" are all that she's being offered. And since she's in cruise control, Heard continues to accept underdeveloped characters in pulpy but destined-to-fail genre fare. 3 Days to Kill's box office returns, when publicized Sunday evening, will keep the struggle alive.
What's Amber Heard to do? There is hope, and it comes in three words: Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Once a regular in Hollywood's lowest-common-denominator genre films (Final Destination 3, remakes of Black Christmas and The Thing), Winstead made the brave and wise call to leave the big checks behind in 2012 and go indie. The result: Smashed, an intimate, raw, and powerful look at alcoholism that earned Winstead the kind of prestige her previous roles never could have generated, namely an Independent Spirit Award nomination.
It's time for Amber Heard to finally do the same. Sooner or later, some major studio is going to lure Michael Keaton or Kurt Russell in with an eight-figure contract to top-line a rote action movie that Liam Neeson's turned down twice. They'll need a sexy, capable young actress to play his sassy, take-no-bullshit partner in beatdowns and shootouts. It's up to Amber Heard to ignore that phone call and defy the industry's expectations with her very own Smashed. Simply say, "Burn, Hollywood, burn—I'm looking elsewhere."
She has it all—now, she needs the hunger for more.
Written by Matt Barone (@MBarone)