Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Franco 

The wonderful/terrible career of James Franco

James Franco will turn in an amazing motion picture performance someday. He has to; he's already done everything else.

Not since Orson Welles has a wunderkind fired such scattered buckshot at so many possible cultural targets: film, television, stage, literature, recordings, photography, advertising--even an art exhibition at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. Add all of that to his now-infamous debacle as an Oscar host and stints as a university professor at both UCLA and USC, the young Mr. Franco has apparently crossed everything off his bucket list... plus mine, yours and everyone else's.

Yet, Franco's bucket seems to be dry, though it's not for lack of effort. In fact, he's currently appearing live on Broadway, eight times a week in Of Mice and Men, and is the producer and co-star of a new film, Palo Alto (opening Friday, June 13 in Boise)--the screenplay is based on Franco's 2010 short-story collection of the same name.

But so much of his work feels instantly forgettable; and, of late, Franco's fame seems to be more rooted in online selfies, rather than any of his performances.

"Attention is power," Franco wrote in a December 2013 article for The New York Times.

He may have delusions of such power, but if Franco's statement were true, he would be more of a despot than simply desperate for attention.

The good news is that Franco's latest, Palo Alto, isn't half bad--at least the half of the movie in which he doesn't appear. As the film's producer, Franco earns extra points (at least behind the lens) for his encouragement of debuting director Gia Coppola, who cuts her cinematic teeth on this contemporary story about a teenage wasteland where high schoolers have a bit too much privilege and way too little parental involvement.

Yes, Coppola is one of those Coppolas. Her aunt is Oscar-nominee Sofia; and Gia even hired some more of her relatives to fill out the cast of Palo Alto: great aunt Talia Shire (The Godfather, Rocky); cousin Bailey Coppola; and her legendary grandfather, Francis Ford Coppola (you only hear his voice as a judge).

Unfortunately, the source material is weak. In a 2010 critique, Publisher's Weekly ripped the book Palo Alto to shreds saying, "The author fails to find anything remotely insightful to say in these 11 amazingly underwhelming stories."

But Coppola's freshman filmmaking effort is a valiant attempt to make a decent film out of a pedestrian story. In it, a creepy soccer coach screws around with a troubled teen who befriends another troubled teen who is friends with a third troubled teen who... sorry, am I boring you? Suffice to say, Palo Alto actually looks great. Unfortunately, somebody made the fatal error of adding sound to this film.

In Palo Alto, Franco portrays the (you guessed it) creepy soccer coach. This follows a 2013 performance as another creep who targeted teens in Spring Breakers; which came on the heels of a ridiculous exercise in daytime creepiness on the ABC soap opera General Hospital (Franco was a semi-regular on the show for three years).

We all know that Franco can do much better--just look at his performances in 127 Hours, Milk and even Pineapple Express, which had streaks of greatness. But an acceptable batting average doesn't cut it. And when an artist such as Franco has ample skills, his choices of quantity versus quality is exhausting. We've seen this kind of wasted career before: Marlon Brando and Richard Burton come to mind. Yet, it's Mr. Franco's career to abuse as he sees fit.

But then there was the aforementioned Orson Welles who, at the age of 36, had already done his best work. Today Welles is considered by many to be one of America's greatest filmmakers; but much of that adulation came posthumously. In truth, by the latter part of the 20th century, no studio would finance Welles's projects because he continually diluted his talent by becoming a TV commercial pitchman and participated in too much buffoonery on TV variety shows.

This is not necessarily the path that young Mr. Franco (who just celebrated his 36th birthday) is on. It's just that if we saw less of him, we could enjoy him more.

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