Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Decline of Cuba Gooding Jr.

Quick! Name three great Cuba Gooding Jr. movies. Were any of them made before 2001? I didn't think so.

Cuba's career has steadily taken a nosedive for as long as most young filmgoers can remember. If I were a few years younger, my opinions of Cuba would most likely be different. Luckily, I can remember the good days.

Growing up, I could head to the theater and watch As Good as it Gets and What Dreams May Come to see this actor perform his ass off. Nowadays, all the kids get are Snow Dogs and Norbit.

What happened? How does an Oscar-winning actor who clearly had the chops find his way into any non-animated, post-Nutty Professor Eddie Murphy movie? Hell, his first major role was in Boyz n the Hood! If you've yet to partake in the sweet, cinematic nectar that is Boyz n the Hood, do yourself this favor.

Something must have happened. Something changed things for Cuba. Today, I tracked that something down.

Two tragedies took place in America in 2001. One of them was 9/11, the other was Pearl Harbor.

The only bombs Michael Bay should be concerned with are his own. When the film was released, it became clear that turning an attack on American soil into a love story was a bad idea. At least that's the message Oliver Stone took from the movie.

Cuba played Petty Officer Doris Miller, a boxer/cook who is quick to grab a machine gun when the Pearl Harbor hits the fan. Nobody loved this movie. Sadly, Cuba was attached to this stinkbomb and now he's paying the price.

After the Oscar win, his films continued to impress anyone willing to watch. The critics loved him in As Good as it Gets. They didn't hate him in Men of Honor either. He was getting better and better. But it's just like that old kamikaze pilot saying, what goes up must come down.

Pearl Harbor was the turning point. Cuba's co-stars (i.e. Affleck and Harnett), have found their own ways to stay out of the limelight (Gigli and Hollywood Homicide, respectively) but after this movie there was no looking back for Mr. Show Me the Money.

The following year marked the beginning of the Snow Dogs era. Scripts about talking animals remakes of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, started getting passed across Cuba's desk and Cuba read them all. Here's the tricky part. Why did he read these scripts, and more importantly, why did he take these roles?

Here's a clip from Boat Trip. No need for a plot description for this one. The clip explains it all. Tell me this. What about this earth-shaking dialogue made anyone involved think that this movie won't suck?

Here's the thing. These movies are not stopping. In seven years, Cuba Gooding Jr. has been in over fifteen terrible movies. Fifteen! And they keep getting worse! At least the first few of his movies made it to theaters. Now, there's a steady stream of straight-to-DVD releases with his pretty face plastered all over them.

You have to imagine that the paychecks he's being offered aren't that high anymore. How much money can someone make by recording a voice for a character named Loofah in The Land Before Time XIII: The Wisdom of Friends? No, I'm not kidding. Loofah!

Cuba recently played a flamboyant drug dealer in Ridley Scott's American Gangster. In a surprising turn of events, his performance was the most enjoyable part of that film. Could this have been a sign? Was a "Cuba Comeback" in order?

Sadly, American Gangster was not the catapult Cuba needed to get back on the right track. Nothing could prove that more than a quick look at his upcoming projects. Another straight-to-DVD feature with Ray Liotta, a drug gang movie that probably won't see theatres, and a military horror film with monsters that look like this.

Oh wait, one more. As you all know, he's also in this movie:

Cuba once complained that all the good roles go to Will Smith.
Looks like Smith missed one.

With his next two years tied up in terrible looking movies, it would seem that the "Cuba Comeback" is going to have to wait. Isn't there some way to bring back pre-Pearl Harbor Cuba? I miss Major Salt, Cpl. Carl Hammaker, and Chief Carl Brashear. I miss Tré Styles', Rod Tidwell, and Frank Sachs. What I don't miss is Loofah the talking dinosaur.

Attention all Hollywood bigwigs! Please start greenlighting scripts with at least TWO roles for black actors so that Cuba Gooding Jr. can co-star with Will Smith. That is, if Martin Lawrence doesn't get first pick.

Thanks for reading everyone. Also, I want to thank everyone who commented on my last post. I couldn't believe the response that funny looking poster received. Here are my favorite people in the world right now: Daniel G., The Mad Hatter, Whitney, Megan, Keith, Rick Olsen, Kaleen, MC, and Kim. I am loving the comments and feedback from everyone, keep them coming!


Fletch said...

I was going to vote in your poll, but it seems somewhat misleading with American Gangster there. Take away that, and I'd imagine most people would be going back pre-2000 for their pick.

It's hard to say what happened first - did Cuba start taking crappy roles that led to crappier ones, or was he not offered decent material, and the slide took off from there?

It's more than likely a mixture of the two. However, let's not forget one big thing: before Pearl Harbor and Rat Race and Snow Dogs and The Land Before Time, before Cuba's stock had dropped to the depths that it did, all the way back in 1999, he made Chill Factor with Skeet Ulrich.

If you ever caught that movie, you'll know that he deserved everything that came after.

elgringo said...

You're right. I'm going to switch the poll. That'll make for more interesting results.

I haven't seen Chill Factor but I did see Chain Reaction with Keanu Reeves and Morgan Freeman so I'll bet I have some idea.

Thanks for the comment.

whitney said...

That scene in Pearl Harbor annoys me so much. When he has the gun and he's shaking around. He reminds me of that kid in Hook that shoots all the marbles onto the floor. Gross.

Also, Hartnett is sooooo much cooler than Gooding these days. He may have had to recover from Pearl Harbor, but I think he did better than some. Remember how cool he was in Lucky Number Slevin?

elgringo said...

I'm in the minority that loved "Shoot Em Up" but really disliked "Lucky Number Slevin."

Remember how terrible "20 Days and 20 Nights" was?

Shaun said...

It's the mother of all coincidences that you posted about this. I was just discussing this very subject with my colleagues yesterday. We all agreed that Cuba has fallen into a black hole and has now been typecast in mediocre films even more than Sylvester Stallone.

I think a mistake he might have made was jumping at scripts for the sake of quick income, rather than carefully vetting them for the sake of long-term career benefit. Many a now-forgotten actor has been snared in that trap. Too many in Hollywood forget that mystique is something to be carefully cultivated, and Cuba has lost his.

Fox said...

I share your grief... is it grief?... over Cuba Gooding Jr., and I'm glad to see you pull for the guy.

Along with his poor choices, he ends up as the butt of a lot of jokes... unfairly, I think. (He's actually good in Radio, despite the hokey-ness of the film) Frankly, I'd rather watch him than a lot of Hollywood guys.

One interesting choice he made was to be in that film Shadowboxer opposite Helen Mirren. He does a fine job in that too.

He'll pull out of it one day.

elgringo said...

Shaun: At least with Sly Stallone you usually knew what you were getting. Cuba seems to strike out in every genre. And with these next few movies coming out, I'm afraid it's more of the same.

Fox, I actually liked Radio too. I voted on my own poll and Radio was my choice. I didn't think it would be enough to bring him back to respectable roles, but I thought he could at least be making more mainstream flops. Sorta like how The Rock's movie career is turning out. Cube totally could have been in The Game Plan.

Thanks for the comments!

Lunatone said...


elgringo said...

As stated in the post, no, I am not kidding you. :)

I know, that's what I was thinking. How strapped for cash is this guy now?

Ross Williams said...

I pretty much avoid any film he's in these days, I know it's going to be crap. The worst looking one was Daddy Day Camp, I wouldn't even subject my kid to that torture. Seems like after Jerry Maguire, he just started saying yes to everything, and made a few bombs and is now stuck.

I also want to know what happened to Eddie Murphy? I haven't seen him in a good film in nearly a decade, since Bowfinger, and before that, it's another decade back to Coming to America. The man had an awesome run in the 80's, now does nothing but play fat people, who fart a lot.


Ms☆Go said...


Cuba's gotta pay the mortgage.


And was Men of Honor post-2001?? That was a damn good overlooked performance from him.

elgringo said...

Hey DCMovieGirl, Men of Honor came out in 2000. I agree that it's underrated.

Thanks for commenting. I also love the picture of the worm-man on your page.

Daniel said...

So a few months ago I posted about how there hasn't been an MLK, Jr. biopic yet. I suggested Gooding in my casting call. Since I'm lazy:

"Cuba Gooding, Jr. - I know. Since his Oscar win in 1996, he's either been blacklisted or he has the worst agent in Hollywood. You'll find his post-Jerry Maguire movies in the movie library at Guantanamo: Instinct, Snow Dogs, Rat Race, Boat Trip, Norbit, Daddy Day Camp - I'll stop. He finally landed a chance in American Gangster last year, but it was unfortunately a flashy, shallow role. Call me certifiably insane, but I still think he has potential."

In a poll I had going along with it, 54 out of 369 people, or 14%, voted for Gooding to play MLK, Jr. That was tied for 3rd with Jeffrey Wright.

All of this is to say that enough people seem to like his movies that he's able to continue making them, regardless of quality.

elgringo said...

Hold the phone! You had 369 people vote in your poll question? WHAT?

I consider the 11 I have now a victory!


mwhitlock said...

Cuba Gooding Jr. went to my high school. But he denies it.

Kimberly Grafton said...

Poor Cuba. I pray for him regularly. He just needs to land one good role and prove to the world that Snow Dogs isn't the best he can do. I have faith that he'll make a comeback someday. Poor, poor Cuba. They should have stopped with the first Land Before Time. Now that they're on LBT 302 its just ridiculous, and no dinosaur should be named loofah. I think the only animal that could be given the name loofah is maybe a pet sea urchin, or a puffer fish. Maybe.

elgringo said...

"I think the only animal that could be given the name loofah is maybe a pet sea urchin, or a puffer fish. Maybe."

Ha! That's funny. Also, I'm glad someone's praying for Cuba.

Daniel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel said...

Thanks re: the poll. Definitely not normal for my humble little blog!

I actually was fortunate to get link to the post on the IMDb Hit List, so that boosted traffic for a couple days while I had the poll up.

Thomas Pluck said...

It's a damn shame, he could be really good. I think I'm going to watch Lightning Jack to see where the decline really began.

AtlantaShorty99 said...

So what's your opinion of Cuba in Radio? I've been looking up lots of info for one of my duel-credit courses, and I have to watch a movie and analyze it for Mass Comm, then write 1 page on my thoughts. I personally enjoyed his talent in the movie, because he played out the "evolution" of Radio's character so well. It took serious acting and lots of research to make the transformation real. Opinion? If you want to post back, my blog is

~ Riley

Anonymous said...

Cuba is an excellent actor. I just loved him in Radio. I think that is my favorite movie that he has starred in. He played the role so well, I almost forgot that he was not handicapped. I wish he would do more true life movies.