Rock stars who act -- We look at screen roles from Whitney Houston, Will Smith, Janet Jackson, and more

By David Browne and Michele Romero
Updated April 01, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

Whenever actors decide to exorcise their hidden rock & roll demons, we laugh so hard it takes us a few moments to wipe away the tears and regain our composure. That’s why dilettantes like Bruce Willis, Eddie Murphy, Jasmine Guy, and Joey Lawrence are lucky if their CDs even make it to the cutout bins. But rockers who turn to acting don’t seem to evoke the same sense of hilarity; in fact, some of them are actually pretty good. Two years ago, we rolled up our sleeves and dug into the cinematic oeuvres of Mick Jagger, Sting, Kiss’ Gene Simmons, among others. Now, with Henry Rollins costarring in The Chase and Soul Asylum’s Dave Pirner making a cameo in Reality Bites, it seems an entirely new generation of musicians-from the worlds of alternative rock and rap, especially-are following in the limping footsteps of such master pop thespians as Phil Collins, Prince, and, er, Madonna. So, once again, let’s grab some Milk Duds and a bag of popcorn and chart the progress of that very dubious creature, the rockin’ actor.

Cindy Herron *Day Job: One quarter of new-jack Vegas revue En Vogue. *Movie: Juice (1992) *Role: Yolanda, well-meaning Harlem nurse and homey’s girl. *Drama Mien: Passable soap opera range, from sincere concern to gosh-darn anger. Even more impressive: She does it all without the benefit of three hours’ hair and makeup! *Art Imitates Rock: Lines to boyfriend like ”I been workin’ out-you don’t mind a little sweat, do ya?” tease like the best En Vogue lyrics. *Musical Tie-In: None (En Vogue is not on the soundtrack album), but Herron gets to exercise her diva lungs by screaming at the top of them. *Grade: B-

Dave Pirner *Day Job: Lead singer-guitarist of longtime and finally successful Minneapolis band Soul Asylum. *Movie: Reality Bites (1994) *Role: Phineas, girl toy of costar Janeane Garofalo’s sardonic, Gap-managing character. *Drama Mien: Suitably slackerlike, especially while clipping his toenails during poignant moment of a Real World-like documentary. *Art Imitates Rock: In real life, he, like, dates the movie’s star, Winona Ryder-who in turn dates a rocker (Ethan Hawke) in the movie. *Musical Tie-In: Ryder, Pirner’s partner, belts out off-key version of Squeeze’s ’80s oldie ”Tempted.” *Grade: C

Janet Jackson *Day Job: Least bizarre member of showbiz family. *Movie: Poetic Justice (1993) *Role: Justice, South Central L.A. hairdresser with a curse for verse. *Drama Mien: Despite TV acting experience (Good Times), her range is limited to flashing a chipmunk grin and staring pensively-perhaps wondering if future Jackson Family Honors will be jeopardized by her saying ”f — -” eight times in one scene. *Art Imitates Rock: Dialogue (”I’m goin’ on a diet-my ass is gettin’ too big”) reminds us of Jackson’s fitness obsession. *Musical Tie-In: Sings sappy and decidedly unpoetic ballad, ”Again.” *Grade: C

Henry Rollins *Day Job: Musclebound frontman of the Rollins Band and part-time poet and spoken-word artist. *Movie: The Chase (1994) *Role: Officer Dobbs, a barking idiot with a buzzcut-i.e., Henry Rollins dressed as a cop-in vehicular pursuit of kidnapper-on-the-run Charlie Sheen. *Drama Mien: Rapid, monotonous delivery devoid of all feeling-much like his music. *Art Imitates Rock: Rollins’ messianic complex jibes with film character’s, who explains his career in law enforcement with: ”I see myself as almost a prophet.” *Musical Tie-In: Rollins Band instrumentals pump up endless car-chase scenes. *Grade: F