Most of us know what N.W.A. stands for, the gangsta rap group Ice Cube found his voice in. But that one member seems to have lost his A. in recent years, finding comfortable employment in the Are We There Yet films and as a producer of the subsequent T.V. series. In the movies, though, he did seem to have a little bit of an A., but not nearly enough of one to defy a flacid PG rating. But lest we forget one of the rappers behind "Fuck the Police" or the star of films like Boys N the Hood, Higher Learning, or Dangerous Ground, all of which contained unabashed, purely R-rated A.
De Niro always gets a bad rap as being an Italian toughguy typecast, for the fact that he's appeared as such in so many violent Scorcese movies (e.g. Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino, etc.). And then he's played the mentally-ill loner gun nut Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and the mentally-ill ex-convict Max Kady in Cape Fear. But anyone who's stuck around for the rest of his Scorcese collaborations would see that he's an extremely well-rounded actor, and even funny (see King of Comedy). And even before he made some of the most notable Scorcese mob flicks, he played a saxophonist across Liza Minelli in the 1977 musical New York, New York under Scorcese's direction. So it would seem De Niro always had it in him to play an animated shark in Shark Tale or the stubborn, ex-CIA Father-in-Law in three Focker films.
To be fair, present day Nick Cage would accept any film role, regardless of how mild or explicit the rating or how humiliating or noble the character (but mostly humiliating). While he's primarily opted for over-the-top Jerry Bruckheimer-style action flicks in his day (e.g. The Rock, Face/Off, Con-Air Gone in 60 Seconds, etc., etc., etc.), he never tossed a hat at child-friendly roles like those in the Ant Bully (animated) Astro-Boy (also animated), G-Force (animated and about talking guinea pigs), the Sorcerer's Apprentice, and the National Treasure franchise. And while kids get to share in the joy that we adults have come to cherish called Nicholas Cage, we adults can be rest assured that there will be no short supply of terrible R-rated films in the years to come (in fact about three are cranked out every year, almost without fail).
This edgey comic works best when left uncensored and racey on his own HBO comedy special, or holding a gun in a movie in which he is literally one of two eponymous Bad Boys. But when starpower (and the moneybags to accompany) overrides integrity, we get movies like (all three) Big Mama's House, Rebound, Disney's (G-rated!) College Road Trip, and of course the animated Open Season (in which he voices Moog the bear). Puerile humor in any example. Meanwhile mid-nineties Martin Lawrence (c. when his show Martin was still on the air) is off somewhere crying and cussing simultaneously.
Arnold Schwarzenegger has single-handedly ensured the screaming bloody deaths of Predators, T-1000's, Martian Police Squads, and Mythical Warlords. He has also starred in Kindergarden Cop and Jingle All the Way, alongside children who have no business watching any of his movies. It's hard to get the picture of a leather jacket and shotgun-clad Terminator out of your head, even as he marches down the hallway of a non-threat-posing elementary school, as that's the Arnold we've always known, the self-serious, English-impaired toughguy-line-spouting action hero you love to hate to love.
From straight-up gangsta lyrics like "Don't beg you're dead, and don't dare show fear. Young gangsta fucked wit Scrappy and Red tore off his head. And all the kid do was cry like a bitch. His life was a pit and mine's in the shit," to playing a literal dog in the talking animal movie Racing Stripes, Snoop Dogg has come a long way from the street. He is best known for smoking weed and rapping about it, that and just general delinquency, but he has since cashed in on an image that can hardly be taken dead seriously, what with how much of a household commodity his signature chillness has become. Hardly a serious competitor in today's "rap game," he seems to be perfectly content appearing as and parodying himself via countless T.V. and film cameos, Monk, King of the Hill, and Half Baked to name a few. That working out, he seems to have had no trouble finding his way to voice acting roles, and whatever else fills his pockets with that sweet green (take that as you will).
Then: Fast and the Furious, The Chronicles of Riddick, xXx, Knockaround Guys. Now: The Pacifier, the plot of which finds another Hollywood stiff, known for his toughguyness and inability to act (or emote whatsoever), in the company of children, and soon babies are far more trying than anything he faced in his Navy SEAL training. To be fair Diesel is still living up to his last name, reprising every last role he "acted" in when he was still "on top" (such as all the unyielding Fast and Furious sequels and forthcoming/announced Chronicles of Riddick and xXx sequels that somehow are anticipated by anyone). And in 1999, he did voice the giant in the animated cult classic the Iron Giant. But who better in his prime could play a robot spot-on. Besides Keanu Reeves.
Once Rocky and Rambo, Stallone found his way to Antz and Spy Kids 3-D rather quickly, the former of which was preceded by Cop Land, a tough guy mash-up of Scorsese familiars including the likes of Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, and Harvey Keitel. What a segue into Weaver the Ant, or Joe the Lion from Zoo Keeper, Kevin James' most recent (and unfortunate) occupation-centric comedy. Perhaps in an attempt resurrect his once potent toughguyness, Stallone has reprised all the roles that he is best known for, and even surrounded himself with other nearly-forgotten action stars in the Expendables (a sequel of which is forthcoming, to whose relief). Here's a film star who knows not the meaning of T.K.O.
"The Rock" used to be a WWF wrestler, whose signature tagline was "Do you smell what the Rock's cooking?" which he'd use, along with a lifted eyebrow, to taunt his adversaries. Nowadays, the Rock (or rather Dwayne Johnson, as he's come to consider himself), is cooking up a whole mess of milquetoast mediocrity. To which all those repulsed by his menu offerings are surely lifting an eyebrow in skepicism. While having lept straight into wrestler-and-human-meat-stack-friendly action films like the Scorpion King, Walking Tall, and Doom, Johnson has also taken on less-than-bad-ass roles in movies like The Game Plan, Tooth Fairy, Race to Witch Mountain, and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (has generic family-friendly adventure template written all over it). And so we see another bear of an action star go from grizzly to teddy.
This Spanish sex icon of years past has hung up his Zorro mask, and lowly-buttoned blouse-shirt. The once gun-slinging star of movies like Once Upon a Time in Mexico and Desperado has relinquished his edge in favor of roles like Puss In Boots from the Shrek franchise and the burnt-out spy dad (sounds right) from the incredibly awkward Spy Kids franchise. All that remains left of the former action star is his fragmented English skills which, when paired beside his aging physique, aren't quite the dynamic package they once were (Perhaps he should stick to caricaturizing himself via his ever Spanish-sounding voice-acting.).