Tuesday, June 17, 2014

In Character: Mike Starr

Whenever Mike Starr shows up in a film, I know I’m in for a good time. This guy is so priceless in everything, imposing and bruising his way through countless films over the past few decades. But much of Starr’s strength as an actor lies in his unique comedic skills. His humor, often laced with the mentality of a simpleton but the delivery of a seasoned pro, is something I never grow tired of. Below are my favorite Starr performances, but considering this guy has nearly 200 IMDb credits to his name, chances are I left some of yours out. As always, feel free to share them!

Five Essential Roles
The Bodyguard (1992)
Tony
One of the best scenes of Mike Starr’s career is a dialogue free confrontation between him and Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard. In the film, Costner’s Frank Farmer has taken over Tony’s job as the head bodyguard of superstar Rachel Marron (Whitney Houston). After a performance at a club turns into a full-on riot, Frank escapes with Rachel, leaving Tony behind. Later at Rachel’s house, Tony confronts Frank and, basically, gets his ass kicked. It’s a pretty nifty scene – wordless, brief and very telling to who Frank and Tony are as men. By the end of the fight, Tony has come to respect Frank in a way he didn’t think he could; an appreciation that is convincingly written all over Starr’s bruised and bloodied face.

Mad Dog and Glory (1993)
Harold
Harold is a loyal dog. He stands by dutifully, imposing his large figure on whoever is around him, waiting for his master (in this case, a sly mob boss played by Bill Murray) to order him to bite. But instead of Starr playing Harold as a generic, low-level hood, he is permitted to inject his affable humor into the role, making Harold a pleasingly memorable character. Whether he’s ordering milk at the bar, failing to spot celebrities in public, or attempting to pick a fight with David Caruso, most everything Starr does in Mad Dog and Glory earns a heartfelt laugh. His final brawl with Caruso, in which they hilariously attempt to kick the shit out of each other while not destroying their surroundings, is certainly a highlight of this very funny film.

Dumb & Dumber (1994)
Joe “Mental” Mentalino
Mike Starr is perhaps best known as the guy who tried to kill Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels in Dumb & Dumber. Mental, or “Gas Man” as he is otherwise known, is an excellent comedy performance. Broad, but honed in; menacing, but charismatic. It’s the kind of role in which the decapitation of a parakeet and the eating of a furious chili pepper carry equal comedic weight. It also helps that Starr’s chemistry with his on-screen cohort, Karen Duffy, is hilarious and authentic. Really, there are not enough words of praise I can throw at Starr’s work here. Like Dumb & Dumber itself, “Mental” probably shouldn’t have worked, but boy does he ever.

Summer of Sam (1999)
Eddie
Starr isn’t in Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam for very long, but there’s something about his performance that I absolutely love. He fits so seamlessly into the role of a washed-up lounge singer in ‘70s New York – playing poker in a pastel tuxedo, lazing about in his underwear, throwing his troubled stepson, Ritchie (Adrien Brody), out of the house. We never see Eddie on stage, but Starr’s old school charisma sells the character dutifully.

Eddie’s final scene is one of my favorite moments of the film. As a group of local hoods beat the ever loving hell out of Ritchie in the street, out comes big Eddie, firing shots into the air, pointing his luger at the thugs with intent to kill. It’s a powerful, fearful moment, made better by the fact that Eddie plays the whole scene out in his goddamn boxer shorts.

The Ice Harvest (2005)
Roy Gelles
Starr spends most of his time in The Ice Harvest locked in a small footlocker, so it’s a real testament to his abilities as an actor that Roy Gelles is one of his best performances. While en route to certain death, Roy bellows from within the footlocker, which is resting on the backseat of a Mercedes. Up front, Vic (Billy Bob Thornton) and Charlie (John Cusack) debate what to do with Roy’s body, and every few moments, we hear Roy chime in an effort to pit Vic and Charlie against one another. The final confrontation between Thornton and Starr in this film is one of the funniest moments either actor has ever been involved with. Gets me everytime.

The Best of the Best
Ed Wood (1994)
George Weiss
Here’s the thing about Mike Starr: the man fits in. Despite his impressive physicality and thick New Yawk accent, Starr effortlessly slips into whatever time and place the material dictates. He’s present, convincing, and wholly authentic. So it goes without saying that Starr has no problem whatsoever inhabiting shifty ‘50s Z-movie producer, George Weiss, in Ed Wood. As the financier of unbelievably shitty exploitation films, Weiss worked a system of make it for cheap, turn a small profit and benefited handsomely from it. The marvel of this performance is that Weiss is fully aware of how bad his films are. He doesn’t spend time defending them, he simply tries to outsell the market before anyone has a chance to see them. It’s a Hollywood hustle that’s been going on for ages, and Starr nails the sleazy vibe.

With that noted, nothing could prepare Weiss (or anyone else, for that matter), for the profound piece of garbage that is Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda. And it’s funny, because today, Weiss is best known for producing Glen or Glenda, surely one of the very worst films ever made, and one that he openly detested. You gotta love the way Hollywood comes back around. I would love to know if Weiss ever embraced Glen or Glenda, or if he spent the rest of his days barking profane orders from his silly little office. Maybe we’ll never know, but we’ll always have Starr’s hilarious performance to appreciate.

Other Notable Roles
A cool bit of trivia: Mike’s older brother, Beau Starr, is an actor as well. Here’s a shot of Mike in Goodfellas, as the man who sets up the Air France heist:

And here’s a shot of Beau in Goodfellas, as young Henry’s father:

The Natural (1984)
Radio Days (1987)
Funny Farm (1988)
Blue Steel (1989)
Goodfellas (1990)
Miller’s Crossing (1990)
Billy Bathgate (1991)
The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
On Deadly Ground (1994)
Clockers (1995)
Blood and Wine (1996)
Snake Eyes (1998)
Gloria (1999)
Ed (2000-2002)
Knockaround Guys (2001)
The Next Big Thing (2001)
Jersey Girl (2004)
The Black Dahlia (2006)
Black Dynamite (2009)
Kill the Irishman (2011)
The Young and the Restless (2011-2012)
The Mob Doctor (2012-2013)

34 comments:

  1. "The final confrontation between Thornton and Starr in this film is one of the funniest moments either actor has ever been involved with. "

    which is to imply that Thornton has been funny before... not really the case

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    1. Hmm, not really the case, if we don’t count Indecent Proposal, U-Turn, Bandits, Intolerable Cruelty, Love Actually, Bad News Bears, Fargo or Bad Santa. But nice try, thanks for playing.

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  2. I love that you highlight familiar faces without that face/name recognition like other actors have.

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    1. It's one of my favorite things to do on the site, for sure. Character actors are the backbone of so many movies and they deserve all the recognition they can get!

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  3. Could you do a director profile of Ingmar Bergman?

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    1. Been workin' on that one for about a year and a half. Getting closer though. Thanks for your interest! Should have it up in the next few months.

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    2. Im from Sweden so thats why i was very glad to see that you regard him so highly, i also appreciate that you acknowledged Erland Josephsons work, a great actor. And since you seem to like Bergmans work what are your thoughts on Liv Ullmann?

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    3. Ahh gotcha. I actually watched two Bergman's this weekend, so I definitely am getting closer. I just have to accept the fact that I won't be able to see ALL of his films, especially the TV stage plays he made later in his life. And some of his early films were never released on home video here, so they are proving very difficult to find.

      Ullmann is one of my favorite actresses. I adore her so very much. If you're interested, here are two of my pieces from this blog in which I've highlighted her work. Thanks again for stopping by and commenting!

      Top 10 Female Performances of All Time

      Top 15 Director/Actor Collaborations

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    4. My pleasure! Really appreciate your interest.

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  4. He's a really good character actor. And I have to agree with Fisti in that it's really great that you go for familiar faces that are far from the big stars most people talk about (please, make that Blanchett "In Character" post, though, haha!) I like Mike Starr a lot and especially in "Ed Wood"! And "Mad Dog Glory", God, how many times have I seen that movie? It was back when I was watching everything Bill Murray was in!

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    1. Thanks man! I'll get to Blanchett soon - don't worry! I hadn't seen Mad Dog Glory in years, was so happy to revisit it for this post. Also, I think I just got a notification that you friended me on FB, but then the friend request disappeared really quick. Was that you?

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    2. Oh, yeah, man, I was working at the same time and I accidentally canceled it. Sorry!

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    3. It's all good man! I just wanted to make sure I wasn't going crazy haha

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    4. You certainly aren't buddy. It's sent again, check it out! I hadn't closed your FB page open and I was being sent requests silmutaneously, as I was loading some pages for work! So, yeah, multitasking didn't work that good this time, haha! My mistake. Check it out, anyway. It's cerainly sent again.

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    5. Saw it man! Glad to have connected on there.

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    6. Yeah, buddy, me too. Awesome cover, by the way! I wish I could visit L.A. sometime.

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    7. Thanks man, I was really pleased with how that shot came out!

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  5. He's one of the all time great "what's his face." I've seen him in so many movies and always enjoyed him but never knew his name. Thanks for enlightening me. I completely agree that Ed Wood is his best performance , at least that I can recall with certainty that its him, lol.

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    1. My pleasure! I agree, this dude is in so much, it's hard to remember exactly what you've seen him in. That's the work of a great character actor.

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  6. One of the great character actors ever. I love that scene in The Bodyguard. It's a true scene-stealing moment. Hell, he was one of the few things in The Black Dahlia that I liked as he managed to play his role straight while everyone else tries to play their parts as if they were in a noir film. Ed Wood is his best role.

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    1. Yes! You are so right about his work in The Black Dahlia, which sort of touches on my notion of Starr always fitting in. He IS in the world of that film, the rest of the actors are only acting like they're in that world.

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  7. Starr is one of those actors where I couldn't identify the name but recognize him from so many movies. Goodfellas was the first that came to mind, but there are a ton in his career that I've seen. He's always on the edge in being over the top, even when it's a drama. He makes it work for the most part, though. Nice job, Alex.

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    1. Thanks Dan. You're right, Starr always teeters on the edge of going too far, but consistently manages to keep it all together. Love this guy.

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  8. I fucking love this guy. If you need to make a scene uncomfortable, just put some people in a room, and have this guy stand off to the side. Just his face alone will crank up the intensity to 11 real fast.

    Great post, Alex. I always dig this shit.

    (and you're reply to the first comment actually made me laugh out loud...Do you like apples?)

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    1. Nice man, glad you're a Starr fan. Dude is mad crazy intimidating.

      As for that comment, whatta joker. It's like, go look on IMDb... bro. You should see the comments people leave on this site that I don't even bother to approve. Some very... interesting people in the world.

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  9. I first really remember Starr from "Goodfellas" but he was cemented into my mind in "Mad Dog and Glory". Some character actors blend in so well it just works but this guy stands out so much--size, look, accent--you're right. It shouldn't work but he is perfection in nearly everything! His work in "The Ice Harvest" was outstanding but I have to go with "Ed Wood", as well, for his top work to date.

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    1. So happy you're a fan of his work! I loved revisiting Mad Dog and Glory and The Ice Harvest for this post - Starr is so priceless in those.

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  10. Well, you and I are certainly in the same boat when it comes to this guy. As soon as I saw this guy's name posted here Ed Wood popped into my head. More or less every other choice you have here I agree with (I wouldn't have even remembered he was in The Ice Harvest had it not been listed here - and that scene you mentioned is really the only one I actually remember from that film). But you are so right, his work in general brings a comedic touch that is just so right on. It's teeters on being almost scary at times but he has never fallen off into it as far as I can tell.

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    1. I love that scene in The Ice Harvest - easily the best sequence in the film. The man can own a scene just with his damn voice. Much of Starr's charm is that he does often come close to teetering on the edge like that. But still, he manages to never go off.

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  11. It shouldn't surprise me that you love the wildly underrated Mad Dog & Glory. I love it too. And I love Mike Starr in it. "Chivas and milk."

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    1. haha chivas and milk... whatta goon. Love him in that damn movie. "You should try that shit on me sometime."

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  12. Nice choice. I haven't seen some of these films yet, so I need to check out more of his work.

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    1. Thanks man. Starr is so good in everything!

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