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Thursday, October 9, 2008

10 Underrated Bill Murray Roles

Chismillionaire really likes the list, but there are a couple of glaring omissions:

1.) Who could forget Big Earn in the Farrelly Brothers Kingpin

2.) The Hilarious yet slippery Kenneth Bowden in Wild Things

3.) And finally the super glib and aloof Herman Blume in Rushmore

10 Underrated Bill Murray Roles

Everyone loves Bill Murray, but only the die hard fans recognize the majority of his work. The rest, unfortunately, concentrate too much on his greatest films, such as Stripes, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, Lost in Translation and all of his collaborations with Wes Anderson. Yet while each of these films, and Murray’s roles and performances in them, are certainly deserving of their preferred and predominant praises, Murray is the kind of actor who is so talented and entertaining that he can be enjoyed in even the worst movies on his resume. In fact, he’s probably the only A-lister who could lend his voice to a bastardized CG version of a beloved cartoon character and get away with barely any contempt from his devotees.

This week, Bill Murray makes an appearance in the new kiddie sci-fi flick City of Ember as the selfish mayor of a doomed underground metropolis. And it’s sure to be one of his less-appreciated roles, whether because it’s in a children’s movie, because it’s a supporting part in an ensemble filled with many talented actors, or because it’s not Ghostbusters 3. But those who really love Murray will likely flock to the movie primarily to see him, just as they did and do for the rest of these movies with underrated Murray roles:

“Frank Cross” in Scrooged (1988)

He would later perfect the asshole-turns-saint thing in Groundhog Day, experience an even worse cabbie than David Johansen in Quick Change and find an even more despicable character to play in Kingpin, but there are plenty of reasons why we shouldn’t dismiss Murray’s first real venture into unlikable territory. For one, look at the emotion he shows after visiting his childhood home. Yes, Murray can cry on cue! (see the clip above.) As the evil TV exec Frank Cross, the actor shows great range with some of his best displays of mania, pathos and slurberts (aka stomach raspberries).

“Grimm” in Quick Change (1990)

The character must be forgiven for hating New York City so much, but otherwise the curmudgeonly bank robbing clown from Quick Change is one of Murray’s best roles ever. As cranky and cynical as he is, he’s never too mean, miserable or unreasonable that you stop rooting for him throughout his long, oft-interrupted getaway scheme. If anything, you like his selfish antihero more and more thanks to quick-witted and big-balled maneuvers such as his accidental yet profitable encounter with a criminal organization (see the clip above). Murray also deserves props for never allowing himself to be upstaged, despite working opposite the most hilarious performances from scene stealers like Randy Quaid, Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci.

“Polonius” in Hamlet (2000)

Bill Murray performing Shakespeare! Just because Michael Almereyda’s adaptation is modernized and not so well-appreciated doesn’t make the part any less respectable. In fact, Murray’s performance as the wise father of Ophelia and Laertes (respectively played by Julia Stiles and Liev Schrieber, both of whom we more expect to see doing Shakespeare) is one of the things many critics praised about the film. Unfortunately, this version of Hamlet is slipping through the cracks of cinematic memory, probably thanks to people’s discomfort with Ethan Hawke in the lead. But Murray’s part at least deserves some viral recognition on YouTube or something. And if Geoffrey Rush is unable to take his offered part in Julie Taymor’s new film of The Tempest, wouldn’t it be amazing if Murray could be next on the wish list to play Gonzalo?

“The Writer” from The Lost City (2005)

Another movie that’s not very good and that not a lot of people have seen is Andy Garcia’s labor of love set in Havana during the Cuban revolution. And like most movies featuring a minor appearance from Murray, The Lost City is at least worth watching just for him. In fact, you could easily just fast-forward to each of his scenes and not miss anything since his role and performance is so out of place anyway.

“Nick Kessler” in Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976)

Even when Murray doesn’t speak he makes a movie worth watching simply to see him. Paul Mazursky’s semi-autobiographical film can be a little boring in the scenes lacking Shelley Winters (even the young Christopher Walken can be a little soporific here), but in an uncredited role, Murray gives life into a party scene in which he just hangs out in the background. Sure, the perk you’ll get is mostly from recognizing him, but it’s still a perk.

“Bob Wiley” in What About Bob? (1991)

Mazursky could have worked with Murray again by casting him as the bum in Down and Out in Beverly Hills, and then there’d have been no need for What About Bob?, a movie that completely recycles Richard Dreyfuss’ character from that earlier film. But Nick Nolte is perfect in Down and Out, and besides the world is better off for having a movie in which Murray plays an endearing multiphobic who also often seems to be an oblivious idiot.

“Wally Ritchie” in The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997)

Murray returned to the oblivious idiot shtick, only more intently and more underratedly, a few years later. This was one of the actor’s last movies before recieving his reinventive “comeback” role in Rushmore, and it’s probably his least popular performance. But as stupid as both the script and the character are, any true Murray fan will find a number of funny and appreciable moments here.

“Tommy Crickshaw” in Cradle Will Rock (1999)

The complete opposite of his role from two years earlier in The Man Who Knew Too Little, Murray’s devoutly anti-communist ventriloquist is one of the actor’s most understated performances and most underappreciated characters ever. There’s not even anything that can be said about the role that would provide more evidence of its worth than would a compilation of his scenes from the film. Fortunately one exists (see the above clip).

“John Bosley” from Charlie’s Angels (2000)

With David Doyle dead and therefore unavailable, Murray was the only actor who could do justice to the role of Bosley in the big screen version of TV’s Charlie’s Angels, and this was clear enough to Sony that they didn’t attempt to truly replace him in the sequel, instead going totally different with Bernie Mac.

“Hunter S. Thompson” in Where the Buffalo Roam (1980)

Now that we’ve seen Johnny Depp’s brilliant portrayal of the Gonzo journalist, it’s clear that Bill Murray wasn’t the only actor who could do justice to Thompson’s quirk, and he certainly isn’t the best man for the task. Yet aside from a number of scenes that now make Murray’s impersonation seem more SNL-worthy than it probably should (see this oft-shown bit), there are times when he’s truly got the real character down, such as in the moment when he speaks at a college (see the clip above). Between this role and his portrayal of actor Bunny Breckinridge in Ed Wood (in which he costars with his fellow Thompson portrayer), it’s clear that Murray should be playing more real people.