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Casting choices of doom?

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Posted: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 12:00 am

On the subject of movies, sometimes you really have to wonder about casting directors and their choice of actors.

Sometimes, the casting is dead on. For example, for the "Harry Potter" movies, every one of the actors except for Fred and George Weasley looks exactly as I'd pictured them in my head. It was a little creepy — and you have to kind of worry for Daniel Radcliffe's and Rupert Grint's careers. Are they going to be known as Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley all their lives? Even so, it was perfect.

Other movies based on books, cartoons and video games have had similar success. While I never read the "Twilight" books, I know that people were raving over the actors playing the vampires being the best possible choices. Elijah Wood was an amazing Frodo Baggins, just as Orlando Bloom was a fantastic Legolas. Many of the actors in the "Lord of the Rings" movies just fit for their characters.

Or sometimes the actor cast is just so good that they make the role their own and you can no longer imagine anyone else playing the character, like Heath Ledger as the Joker in "The Dark Knight."

And then there are the Other Movies. The one where the casting choices are just ... strange. For "A Series of Unfortunate Events," for example, the choices for the child actors were pretty good, but Jim Carrey distracted from them badly, when they ought to have been the stars. He's just such a huge on-screen personality, it wouldn't have gone any other way, I think.

Or George Clooney in "Batman Forever." I mean, he does the rich playboy thing well and he's certainly easy on the eyes, but he didn't pull off tortured vigilante — although I'm willing to chalk that up to the script and directing, too.

And then there are movies where you just know, even if the cast is extremely talented and the script is amazing, it's just not going to work. At the moment, I'm placing my bets on this being the case for "The Last Airbender," the live-action movie based on the cartoon "Avatar."

Even leaving aside the obvious — that "Avatar" was full of Asian- and Inuit-inspired characters in an Asian-inspired world, complete with sitar music, kanji writing, pagodas and names like "Mei," "Piandao" and "Aang," yet none of the actors chosen to play them in the movie are Asian American or Native American — I'm already thinking that casting-wise, this is going to be a movie that doesn't work.

Three of the four main actors have very little acting experience to judge from and the fourth has none, so maybe they will do a good job. But given the three we have seen — particularly of Jesse McCartney, who is negotiating to play the "villain," Prince Zuko — I'm not sure they will be able to pull it off. For one, none of them has ever played similar roles before, and as far as I can tell none of them has any martial arts experience, something which plays a huge role in the cartoon. So already, they will all be overcoming two obstacles. The last choice, Noah Ringer as the main character, "Aang," is better in that sense; Ringer is a long-time martial artist. But he has no acting experience at all.

Could it be a good movie? It's possible, I guess. But given that these actors will already be acting "against type," with limited experience, without the necessary physical skills, and looking absolutely nothing like the characters they are supposed to play? I'll be surprised if "The Last Airbender" is not a flop, especially with fans' excitement over the movie quickly vanishing after news of the cast came out.

By the time it comes out, will anyone want to see it? Or will it be just another "Dungeons and Dragons"? Can a cast make or break a movie like that?