Four ways to fix Owen Wilson's movie career. Will the lovable buddy ever hit the Hollywood heights he deserves? Scott Brown offers some advice

By Scott Brown
February 25, 2003 at 05:00 AM EST
Owen Wilson: Scott Gries/Getty Images

Four ways to fix Owen Wilson’s movie career

Back in the mid-’90s, audiences got their first look at a new breed of character actor, in the broken-nosed form of laid-back ne’er-do-well Owen Wilson. The gangly Texan displayed an ability to distill small-time slackerdom into a weird charisma. As his writing career with partner Wes Anderson (”Rushmore,” ”The Royal Tenenbaums”) built his artistic credibility, his performance as an ambitious but inept crook in Anderson’s ”Bottle Rocket” (1994) put him on every casting director’s ”genial doofus” list. A string of forgettable studio movies (”Armageddon,” ”The Haunting”) followed. Then came the ”buddy” period (”Shanghai Noon,” ”Zoolander,” ”I Spy”), the next logical step up the Hollywood ziggurat.

But that step is starting to look like a plateau. Wilson has gotten jammed in buddy mode, and audiences are starting to nod off, if the returns of ”I Spy” (awful) and ”Shanghai Knights” (so-so) are any indication. His literate stoner-cracker routine, while consistently engaging in doses both small (”Meet the Parents”) and large (the ”Shanghai” series), is becoming a cheap currency, as formula movies make him the white-bread foil for what movie executives might call a ”lively, ethnic type.” Ironically, Wilson is falling into a rut familiar to many talented minority performers: the permanent sidekick.

Wilson’s next project, ”Starsky and Hutch,” will be a serviceable hoot, no doubt; and September’s ”The Big Bounce” (an offbeat thriller directed by ”Grosse Point Blank”’s George Armitage and costarring Morgan Freeman) might just be the big boost Wilson’s been waiting for. But anyone with fond memories of ”Bottle Rocket” and ”The Minus Man” would love to see him really stretch his legs again.

So while we’re on the subject, here are a few unsolicited career suggestions:

Go solo, go small Wilson’s a great improviser and a fantastic scene partner, but he needs a lead role, preferably in something modest and honest. Our pick: Anything directed by up-and-comer David Gordon Green (”All the Real Girls”), another sage from the sticks.

Don’t get too relaxed Stoner-chic is a fine identity, but it has its limitations. Wilson’s earned the right to emote (as he did, to surprisingly good effect, in the otherwise unremarkable ”Behind Enemy Lines”), and he shouldn’t be afraid to exercise that right. There’s a real sincerity behind those shifty eyes.

Use that regional identity Wilson is clearly not from L.A. or New York, and that’s refreshing. The farther away he gets from the Media Factories of the East and West, the better his flyover-state charm can be used. We suggest extended trips to Austin, and power lunches with the ever-growing Texas Roundtable (Mike Judge, Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, etc.).

Don’t fix the nose Not that you were going to, Owen. Just making sure.

Do you agree?