I call them The Two Steves.
Steve Martin and Steve Carell.
Although they are a good generation apart, they have a lot in common. Both are good actors and sly comics, with a certain sophistication that sets them apart. And the career trajectory of each man is noticeably similar. I guess what I'm saying is that Steve Carell is the new millennium's Steve Martin.
Ah, yes, Steve Martin in the 1980s-early '90s. Mr. Reliable. One of the few reasons to go to a movie a couple decades ago.
There were such inventive, savvy screen comedies (listed in no particular order) as ... “Roxanne” ... “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” ... "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" ... "HouseSitter" ... “Parenthood” ... “L.A. Story” ... "All of Me" ... “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” ... “The Man with Two Brains” ... “Grand Canyon” and ... most audacious of all, a couple of screen musicals, “Little Shop of Horrors” and the singular “Pennies from Heaven."
Heck, I even love such underrated, little-seen Martin titles as “Movers and Shakers," “My Blue Heaven,” “Leap of Faith,” “The Lonely Guy” and "Mixed Nuts" - especially “The Lonely Guy” and "Mixed Nuts," both of which I'm convinced are primed for major rediscoveries/reëvaluations.
And these were all made when he was appearing regularly on television, as a recurring guest host on "Saturday Night Live," its resident "wild and crazy guy."
He was once on a roll. But the good times rarely last. Unexpectedly, during the 1990s, Martin segued into what I call his "toxic family-friendly" period - appearing in the wince-producing “Father of the Bride” duo and the unwatchable “Cheaper by the Dozens” twins. Nothing seemed the same. I mean, need I mention “Sgt. Bilko” or the unnecessary remakes of "The Out-of-Towners" and “The Pink Panther (1 & 2)"?
Everyone eventually makes painful compromises for their jobs. You go along to get along, as the saying goes, and actors probably know this better than anyone else. As movie audiences have dumbed down, filmmakers have had to lower their standards. (Movie critics have certainly given in, endorsing films that, a decade or two ago, they would have squarely dismissed - compromising so that their readers or, more to the point, their editors don't think of them as impossible-to-please elitists.)
But as the '90s closed, Martin bounced back. The Oughts brought another string of stylish Steve Martin films, starting with "Bowfinger": "Joe Gould's Secret" ... "Novocaine"... "The Spanish Prisoner" ... "It's Complicated" ... and, even though they were major disappointments, "The Big Year" and the (Woody) Allen-esque“Shopgirl” (based on Martin's slim novel). "Bringing Down the House," on paper, seemed like it would be an embarrassment, but in performance, it somehow worked.
Carell, much like Martin, originally honed his talents on television, popping up as a guest player in assorted sitcoms. There were occasional bits in movies ("Curly Sue," his first film, "Bewitched" and Woody Allen's "Melinda and Melinda") and, then in rapid succession, came "The Office" on television and the movie “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” leading breathlessly to a smooth team-player turn in “Little Miss Sunshine” and a bravura star turn in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”
His subsequent choices have been interesting - "Dan in Real Life" ... "Date Night" ... "Dinner for Schmucks" ... "Crazy Stupid Love" ... "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" ... "The Way Way Back" ... "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" ... "Hope Springs" and, of course, "Foxcatcher."
Carell hasn't quite yet hit the dry period of his movie career, although there was one 12-month time frame that included the groaners "Evan Almighty" and ... "Get Smart." Yes, Like Martin, he has his own dubious remake.
I’m hoping that these two represent only a blip, just a couple passing aberrations.
Note in Passing: Right now, matters look good for these farceurs extraordinaire. Carell has something called "Freeheld" coming up (with Ellen Page and Julianne Moore, his playmate from "Crazy Stupid Love"), and Martin has "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk," an Ang Lee film (with Kristin Stewart). In the meantime, the American Film Institute's tribute to Steve Martin will be televised by Turner Classic Movies @ 8 p.m. (est) and 11:30 p.m. (est) on Thursday, July 30.