What Happened to Robert De Niro?

There was a time when young actors and filmmakers looked at Robert De Niro as a godlike being. A force to be reckoned with, emulated and mercilessly stolen from. You practiced your best Travis Bickle in the mirror, plastered posters of Taxi Driver all over your room, and holy shit that entrance in Mean Streets. You wanted to do that at every bar, club or grocery store you ever walked into.

For a period of 30 years or so, from 1965 until 1996, anything he did was worth a look-see. Even We're No Angels, if only for the sheer oddity of De Niro pairing with Sean Penn as fake priests.

After 1996 -- we'll ignore Jackie Brown, The Good Shepherd and even Wag the Dog -- things go off the rails. De Niro starts taking roles that would make the characters in his Martin Scorsese movies puke up their veal parmigiana and order a hit on every exec in Hollywood.

Not a visit to my grandparents' house in Corpus Christi comes without a viewing of at least one of De Niro's soft-serve comedies. Meet the Parents, Analyze This or Analyze That, something really bland with the word "kill" in it that proves to be false advertising.

Do you realize that Meet the Fockers has made $516 million worldwide? A movie based partially on the idea that the name Focker sounds like fucker? And then, they made Little Fockers! With babies and stuff, and more of Ben Stiller getting punched in the nuts or something.

The recent release of the trailer for October's The Big Wedding made me nearly punch a hole through my laptop. There is getting a paycheck (Shark Tale, Limitless) and there is The Big Wedding. I know you can't win 'em all and that sometimes you need to take a break from being yourself, but at this point, something like Cape Fear seems a million years ago.

What the hell ever happened to I Heard You Paint Houses, which he was supposed to do with Scorsese, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino? That's pure boner material. Did he lose Marty's number? Don't they all live in the same neighborhood anyway? Aren't they Facebook friends? Do something, dammit.

His buddy Pacino isn't exactly the same as he once was, but I haven't seen him commit anything as heinous as New Year's Eve. Okay, Gigli was close. And then there was S1m0ne.

As a music writer over on Art Attack's brother blog Rocks Off, I have to reconcile age with the art when it comes to musicians almost daily. Some rocker folks just mellow with age, like Aerosmith or Van Halen, and lose their edge, hiding what made them so watchable in the first place under...something else.

And I understand that we can't all be as bitchin' as we were in our twenties. Hell, I used to drink a whole bottle of Robitussin before I went out drinking on Friday nights and carry a screwdriver in my back pocket. Now I get excited about reverse happy hours at sushi places and get excited about organic grape juice.

November will see the release of Silver Linings Playbook, starring De Niro, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence and directed by David O. Russell. If you know Russell's filmography, you know that we could be in for a treat. It's definitely not the sort of fare that De Niro has been doing, but it's a start.

Maybe he kills that pretty boy Cooper...

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Craig Hlavaty
Contact: Craig Hlavaty