Or, as Kristen Baldwin explains, not every TV actor is ready for big-screen prime time

By Kristen Baldwin
October 11, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Melissa Joan Hart is no George Clooney

Having just seen Melissa Joan Hart’s ”Drive Me Crazy,” about the only thing I can tell you that’s interesting about this film is that it used to be called ”Girl Gives Birth to Prom Date.” Lots of factors go into its disappointment at the box office — a script that reads as though it was written by Teen Movie Maker Version 4.0 software is chief among them — but the real problem is the star. As perfect as Hart is for her role as ”Sabrina, the Teenage Witch,” she just doesn’t have the heft as an actress to command the big screen. The simple truth remains: There are some TV actors who shouldn’t venture into film, period.

Hart is a great ”Sabrina,” primarily because she’s got perky pushiness down pat. She’s an accessible teen celebrity — cute but not too pretty (nope, not even on Maxim’s cover) — and Hart can handle the lightweight comedy that a TGIF sitcom requires. But in ”Crazy”, where she plays a somewhat popular high schooler who makes over her cute-boy next-door neighbor — Adrian Grenier, an appealing star who escapes the film’s idiocy with his pride intact — to make the BMOC jealous, Hart seems lost trying to act drunk, say, or cry convincingly. It makes sense that she’d try to take advantage of the youth boom and star in her very own teen flick too, but if Hart wants a bigger showcase she’d be better off securing herself a dramedy on The WB.

She’s got plenty of peers in the Not-Ready-For-Big-Screen-Players group. Any male cast member of ”Friends,” for example, should stay away from celluloid. (Although I am hoping that Matthew Perry’s new film, ”Three to Tango,” starring fellow TV folk Neve Campbell and Dylan McDermott, lives up to its cute premise.) Katie Holmes, a good actress just waiting to happen, should steer clear of films because she’s yet to have any clue what she’s capable of (see ”Disturbing Behavior,” ”Teaching Mrs. Tingle,” and ”Go,” where she plays the same squinty cutie pie with varying levels of eyeliner). And now that Chris Farley is dead, David Spade should probably pack his silver-screen dreams in too.

Not all hope is lost, though. George Clooney, as Bruce Fretts noted in his Hot Topic last week, is maturing into a surprisingly subtle and nuanced performer. Hilary Swank — a.k.a. the bland single mother Steve Sanders swooned for on ”Beverly Hills, 90210” — is most certainly owed an Oscar nomination (and the award, in fact) for her incredible transformation into the transsexual teen Brandon Teena in ”Boys Don’t Cry.”

And let’s not forget Molly Shannon, the versatile ”Saturday Night Live” powerhouse who has done the near impossible with her new film, ”Superstar”: She’s made a funny, sweet, and entirely entertaining movie out of an ”SNL” sketch. Her spastic Mary Katherine Gallagher character sustains through all of ”Superstar”’s 90 minutes, because Shannon so clearly cared and thought about who this short-skirt-wearing outcast is (something Hart obviously forgot to do when choosing her generic ”Crazy” role). ”Superstar” is rife with small, delightful moments of silliness — you may not be puking up your popcorn with laughter, but you’ll definitely leave the theater with a smile. Any TV star who can do that for a moviegoer deserves a three-picture deal with somebody.