When it came to plotting out his transition from music to film, Justin Timberlake seemed to be smarter than the average bear (as our own Hampton Stevens points out). He starred in a series of well-respected films, building his acting credibility until he landed a role in one of this year's best-reviewed movies, The Social Network. He seemed all but in the Hollywood A-list. That is, until it came to today's release of Yogi Bear, the 3D, animation/live-action hybrid in which Timberlake voices the character Boo-Boo.
The film's box office receipts have not even been tallied, but the film is already looking to be a liability for the singer-turned-actor. Reviews for Yogi Bear have been a pick-a-nick basket full of rotten tomatoes: "The only worse 2010 animated feature also came from Warner Bros., Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore," The Hollywood Reporter writes. The Chicago Tribune pans the movie, saying it did not "need Justin Timberlake to 'do' Boo Boo, Yogi's fellow resident of Jellystone Park. What it needed was a joke or two." And as the Orlando Sentinel bemoans, Yogi is "the lone Christmas release specifically aimed at children, so it automatically qualifies as their lump of coal."
The whole endeavor is starting to look like a giant Boo-Boo on the part of Timberlake, the actor. After carefully staging his film career by taking on supporting roles in smaller indie flicks (Alpha Dog, Black Snake Moan), Timberlake is currently riding a wave of critical praise for his performance as Napster founder Sean Parker in The Social Network. JT the former boy bander was suddenly being taken very seriously as Justin Timberlake the thespian, so much so that the film's studio is footing the bill for an aggressive awards campaign aimed at landing Timberlake a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. And here, right smack dab in the middle of awards season, Timberlake is forced to derail that venture to shill for his turn as Boo-Boo bear (a phrase that just looks so absurd in print). So a voice-acting gig that at the time looked like a good idea—or at least a desirable paycheck—is beyond just a blemish on the actor's resume. Its inopportune timing could be ruining his chances for an Oscar nomination.
It's not the first time a stinker that an actor has had in the can has resurfaced just in time to harsh their Oscar buzz. Eddie Murphy, with his Norbit debacle, is probably the most famous case of the unfortunately timed paycheck. Back in 2007 Murphy was all but a lock to win the Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Dreamgirls, having already picked up the Golden Globe, the SAG, and nearly every other precursor award along the way. Then just as the actor was putting the finishing touches on a display case to house her surefire Oscar trophy, Norbit—the offensive, racist, misogynistic "comedy" in which Murphy dons prosthetics, a fat suit, and make-up to play an overweight black woman and an elderly Asian, among other characters—cannonballed into theaters. The rest is Oscar history: Murphy's Oscar momentum took an abrupt about-face, Little Miss Sunshine's Alan Arkin walked off with the award for his less impressive performance as a curmudgeonly grandpa (a real acting stretch), and Murphy's film career has been a joke ever since.
There are other theories as to what contributed to Arkin's upset win over Murphy—it was a "career achievement" award for an actor who had never won before; Murphy's acceptance speech at other awards shows were too boring; his ego was off-putting to many Academy members—but the prevailing thought is that voters simply could not stomach calling the star of Norbit "Best Actor." He probably wished he skipped that paycheck.
Justin Timberlake has an uphill battle if he hopes to receive an Oscar nod for The Social Network, but it's not outside the realm of possibility. He was that good in the film. But dealing with the negative press from Yogi Bear is only going to make that uphill battle more steep and violent. And if the past decade shows us anything, it's that it may just be a moot point: Anne Hathway, Heath Ledger, and Amy Adams, all featured in the gallery above, are prime examples of actors who watched their Oscar hopes slip away in part because that "paycheck" film has come back to haunt them in the prime of awards season. Will Timberlake join their ranks?