There are certain rules known only to a select few by which it is possible to predict the quality of movies. The origin of these rules is often obscure and difficult to explain. One rule which appeared sometime in the last two decades or so is Rule 263: Shia LaBeouf must never be allowed to partake in any film that is good. The origins of this rule are frankly unknown and may be the result of some mystical curse or pacts with demons. Let us hope that whatever evil magic exists in Hollywood it may be contained there, and there alone.
Shia LaBeouf (She-a LA boof?) is, according to his Wikipedia page, an actor, performance artist and filmmaker. You may remember him from such films as Transformers (2007), Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) and Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011). Or you may not. Taste, style and a sense of their own mortality prevent many people from watching the Transformers series. It is easy to pick fault with the Transformers films. They are crass, loud and tasteless, make no sense, are difficult to follow, and are chocked full of blatant advertising. The dialogue is clunky, the visuals are confusing and the morality is really perverted. Seriously, the fourth film has a 10 minute scene explaining why it is technically legal for one of the characters to be sleeping with an underage girl. Hint: if you’re carrying a get-out-of-jail-free card in your wallet and basing your love life on a technicality, then you’re a fucking weirdo. As such, Shia isn’t even the worst thing in these movies. But he is in there. Even the eventual removal of Mr LaBeouf (la-BUFF?) from the series could not improve what are essentially uncomfortably sexist toy adverts. Yes, these films make money. Tons and tons of money. This may indicate that the complexity of the curse surrounding Shia LaBeouf (sheer la-buffet?) has far reaching financial consequences. Perhaps, on some lonely crossroads, a deal was struck promising success and fame with no mention as to the quality or integrity of the product. No, it is easy to attack the Transformers films because they are objectively crap. But Shia LaBeouf (la Broof?) has undeniable artistic vision, from his time with Disney to his time with his head in a paper bag. Several of the movies in which he had played a part have not simply had potential, but they had the potential to be awesome. And so, with a few key examples we ask the question: can Mr Shia LaBeouf (Shea LaBoheme?) ever be allowed to participate in a good movie?
Isaac Asimov is a giant of science fiction who inspires a loyal following that would make Tolkien jealous. He has a back catalogue of writing big enough to make you wonder how he ever managed to marry twice and have two children. He wrote or edited more than 500 books on subjects such as physics, biochemistry, literary criticism and popular science. With regards to fiction he is known as a key writer during ‘The Golden Age of Science Fiction’, and two great pillars of his work are The Foundation Series and The Robot Series. The latter of which deals with interaction between humans and the self-aware robots they create during the early years of galactic explorations. The stories are far reaching, often inconsistent and really inventive. Their influence on later science fiction cannot be overestimated. Unfortunately that isn’t really what the movie I, Robot (2004) is about. Taking its title from a collection of Asimov’s short stories, and taking inspiration from elements of that same series while trying to create a unique, murder-mystery plot, the script was filtered through several years of Hollywood production bullshit to result in a vanilla flavoured science-fiction/action movie with all the style and subtlety beaten right out. Okay, so the film isn’t actually bad. It just seems to make a series of really dull choices resulting in a dull movie with none of its own identity. We need a morose, racist tough guy in the lead! Will Smith? Really? How do we make the action scenes unique and memorable? Lots of Matrix-like slo-mo bullet time of course. What should we make a future city look like? Like a leftover set from an old Star Trek movie. Considering the potential of the source material, this is unforgivable. Shia seems to be LaBaffled in a minor role which is equivalent to the dog in disaster movies that never dies but we all secretly hope will. Everything about I, Robot had been done better in some previous film. Clearly the curse was beginning to take effect because despite its potential, its budget and the weight of the other stars I, Robot ended up being a movie you forget before you’d left the cinema.
Clearly Shia is LaBelled as the lovable, comic-relief sidekick because he plays the same role in Constantine (2005). However, where I, Robot is bright and futuristic Constantine is dark and retro. In keeping with the film’s mood we are expected to mourn when Shia’s character is killed off in the third act (spoiler, by the way!) Unfortunately, the response is closer to relief that the character’s quips and witticisms have come to an end and we can now get on with the story. The whole movie is a poor reflection of the source material and that is the whole problem. Constantine taken in isolation is a well-made, supernatural thriller with some really awesome scenes. The final confrontation between John Constantine, Gabriel and Lucifer is a fantastic mixture of tension and irreverent humour. However, Keanu Reeves, no matter how hard he ACTS-THE-LIVING-SHIT out of lighting a cigarette, simply is not John Constantine. John Constantine is a blond, bisexual punk from Liverpool who works as an occult detective and con-artist. He is not a slick, black haired exorcist from Los Angeles. It is true that fans can become far too attached to a property, particularly when it changes medium. That being said, the great strength of the Hellblazer comics was how they commented on the social and political setting. The 2005 film has none of that and replaces the down and dirty, working class look of the comics with what feels like an attempt to do a Blade Runner-esque fantasy-noir. To be LaBhonest, Shia’s character is not the only thing wrong with Constantine but it is another unwelcome element in a film which could have been so much better.
It may be painful to talk about but it is now necessary to move our discussion into one of the great tragedies of our time. It was inevitable to bring up Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). Following the success of Transformers the year before, Shia commanded a much more significant role in this movie as the son of Indiana Jones, Henry “Mutt Williams” Jones III. As we have established the nature of the “LaBeouf Curse”, the lad himself is not the only thing wrong with this film although he is a part of it. There is neither the time nor the space to pick apart Crystal Skull for all that it was or might have been but, just consider what came before and who was involved. George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg, Harrison Ford, David Koepp writing the screenplay, John Williams doing the music and a great supporting cast. Based on three of the best adventure movies of all time, one of which, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), might be the best action/adventure movie ever made. Might it be that the world had simply moved on and the innocent adventure fun of the Indiana Jones films is no longer relevant? No, nope, that simply isn’t it. The film just isn’t as good. It lacks the conviction of the earlier movies in the series and gets too close to being a parody of itself. Family bickering while in quicksand, slapstick action scenes and Tarzan-like swinging through the jungle sit poorly alongside grave robbery, being eaten alive by ants and being burned alive by space aliens (yes, space aliens!). At least in Raiders we knew that melting Nazis was supposed to be scary. Shia LaBored is a character too slapstick to be an action hero but not funny enough to be likable. He comes across as a wilfully ignorant rich kid who’s had all of life’s advantages but still needs something to rebel against. In other words, an arsehole!
And finally Lawless (2012). This film is a little more obscure than the other three. Writer Matt Bondurant based his source novel, The Wettest County in the World (2008), on family stories about a bootlegging past in Franklin County, Virginia. The film went forward directed by John Hillcoat and based on a screenplay by Nick Cave (yep, the Aussie singer). Unfortunately, production was delayed due to financing problems and wasn’t released until 2012. Shia plays the youngest of three brothers who run a bootlegging operation which is targeted by law enforcement and threatened by rival, big city gangsters. The cast includes Tom Hardy, Mia Wasikowska, Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman and Guy Pearce, all of whom give super-off-the-wall quirky performances of a collection of oddball characters. The cinematography swings wildly all over the place between some scenes shot with the harsh reality of Walter Hill movies and others with the artistic dreaminess of Werner Herzog. In addition, the pace of the movie is all over the place. At some points it races along with the passage of months or years, while at other times it seems to be quietly and endlessly contemplating itself. All through the film Shia looks like he’d be LaBetter-off-elsewhere. His performance is at one time central to the plot while being completely dwarfed by the acting talent which surrounds him. In many ways he ends up being out of place in a film where every part of it seems out of place next to every other part.
As previously stated, it is easy to attack Shia LaBeouf on the basis of the Transformers movies alone – it can only be assumed that there remains an especially cold place in movie hell for all those who took part in those films, or at least an extended purgatory where they have to experience their own performance on repeat. Wait, didn’t Shia watch…anyway. Attacking bad movies for being bad is not the purpose here. If that were the case we would mention how Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003) couldn’t even climb to the extremely low heights reached by the original. Or that Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd (2003) spat on the hamburger of the first film and manages to reach the theoretical level of ‘Most Dumberestest’. Or that Eagle Eye (2008) took a single cool scene from The Matrix (1999) and ran it for a whole movie, thus removing all interest and excitement. Or indeed that Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010) should have stayed in bed. No, the purpose here is to highlight the continuing danger of casting Shia in anything which, from the start, has the potential to be a film of real quality. It is clear that in order to achieve the success and notoriety gained by such films as Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) and Disturbia (2007), an infernal pact must have been sealed which resulted in the bland disappointment of the four films examined above. Indeed, it is not the purpose here to even suggest that the above films are terrible. It is simply that none of them live up to the awesome potential of their cast or source material and in each of them Shia’s performance sticks out like a turd in a punchbowl. Ironically, in order to lift the curse which Rule 263 would protect us from, we’d probably need an exorcist like Keanu Reeves. On the up side, it must be remembered that there are many fantastic movies produced in Hollywood in which Shia LaBeouf does not partake. So, there’s that.