By Amy Ryan
July 28, 2006 at 12:00 PM EDT

If Miami Vice does well this weekend at the box office, it will probably be because of the title’s built-in nostalgia appeal, not because of Colin Farrell. He’s a talented actor, and I enjoyed his performance in the movie, but while he has a certain notoriety, he doesn’t have a fan base that will open a movie on the strength of his name. Alexander, The New World, and Ask the Dust are proof of that, yet he keeps finding bigger and better roles in Hollywood movies.

MSNBC columnist Dave White has an unusual theory about why Farrell isn’t a bigger star: Americans are afraid of his overt sexuality. (As opposed, White says, to the more subtle or nonthreatening sexuality of stars like Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and George Clooney.) In other words, what makes him a gossip-column fixture also dooms him at the box office. I’m not sure I buy that, but there’s a more interesting theory hidden in White’s sub-headline: ”How you can still be a big star when your films don’t make big money.” That is, today, it’s entirely possible to gain fame strictly through the gossip media without having the box office numbers to back it up. A certain kind of benign notoriety, in turn, makes possible to keep getting hired despite repeated box office flops.

I think the pioneer of this “failing upward” syndrome is Winona Ryder. Aside from Bram Stoker’s Dracula (and Mr. Deeds, which was more Adam Sandler’s movie than hers), she’s never been in a hit movie, but she kept her name alive via the public fascination with her rock-star romances and her ill-fated shopping spree at Saks.

These days, there are plenty of failed-upward stars: Kate Hudson, Penelope Cruz, Matthew McConaughey, and Scarlett Johansson all come to mind. Still, you’d think moviegoers would come to resent Hollywood’s insistence on trying to make movie stars out of actors people don’t want to pay to see. (The classic example of this is Gretchen Mol.) Will the public tire of Farrell, Hudson, and McConaughey as well, or will they continue to be allowed to fail upward?

Are there other actors you wish Hollywood would stop hiring, or some you feel deserve another shot?

addCredit(“Colin Farrell: Eamonn McCormack/”)