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Anthony Hopkins prepares for the 'Silence of the Lambs' sequel

Hopkins is an overrated, scene-chewing actor — so says Bruce Fretts

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Anthony Hopkins prepares for the ‘Silence of the Lambs’ sequel

He’s starred in more than 40 films. He’s been nominated for an Academy Award four times in the past decade. He’s been knighted by the Queen. So how do I put this delicately? Ah, yes: ANTHONY HOPKINS IS THE WORLD’S MOST OVERRATED ACTOR.

Don’t believe me? Then go see ”Instinct.” In his latest cinematic stinker, Hopkins plays an anthropologist living amidst gorillas in the wild who is accused of murdering two Rwandan game wardens. The fuzzy-headed script by Gerald DiPego (”Phenomenon”) would have us believe that he’s actually more spiritually evolved because he’s in touch with his inner chimp. Cuba Gooding Jr. costars as the ambitious young shrink assigned to interview Hopkins.

That’s right — it’s ”The Silence of the Apes.” Apparently too impatient to wait for Thomas Harris to finish ”Hannibal,” Hopkins opted instead to rehash his Oscar-winning role (i.e., an imprisoned killer who tutors a naive investigator) in this wet sack of monkey crap. And his work in ”Silence of the Lambs” was derivative to begin with: Brian Cox offered a far more chilling interpretation of Lecter in Michael Mann’s criminally overlooked 1986 prequel, ”Manhunter.”

In ”Instinct,” Hopkins does most of his acting with his hair (it looks like he borrowed Sean Connery’s wig from ”The Rock”). When he’s ”wild,” he lets his long gray locks flow loosely. When he’s ”tame,” he pulls his mane back into a ponytail. For this he earns millions?

Oh, but you say, it’s not fair to condemn Hopkins on the basis of one awful movie. Okay, let’s take a quick tour of his post-”Lambs” oeuvre. (We’ll skip his earlier career, which included roles opposite Suzanne Somers in TV’s ”Hollywood Wives” and Bo Derek in ”A Change of Seasons”). He sported fake buck teeth in ”The Road to Wellville,” chewed the scenery as Dr. Van Helsing in ”Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” and got outacted by Elle Macpherson in ”The Edge.” He did a pretty good impression in the title role of ”Nixon” — unfortunately, it seemed more like an impression of Ed Sullivan. ”Meet Joe Black”? No, thanks. And don’t get me started on ”Legends of the Fall.” After his character suffers a stroke, Hopkins screws up his face like he’s auditioning for a remake of ”Popeye.”

Yes, the man is capable of giving a good performance. He did some of his subtlest work ever as an aging swordsman in ”The Mask of Zorro” (and that should tell you something). His turn as a butler in ”The Remains of the Day” was also a model of restraint. But that’s the problem — Hopkins is only capable of two speeds. He either underacts or overacts; there’s nothing in between. Both sides of Hopkins are on display in ”Instinct.” He doesn’t speak for the first half hour, which is a blessing, because when he finally opens his mouth, out comes that plummy, overenunciated accent that announces, ”I’m ACTING!”

Herein lies the secret of Hopkins’ undeserved acclaim. It’s what I call Brit Syndrome (B.S.), the mistaken belief that anything English is inherently superior to anything American. (B.S. also accounts for the inexplicable praise heaped on overrated performers ranging from Tracey Ullman to David Bowie.) Answer me this, Sir Tony: If Britain is so Great, how come we kicked your ass in the Revolution?

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