In case you missed it, we’ve been having a little post-Olympic fun with some of our potentially-athletic movie stars (check out all the contestants here, and the results of the Round of 16 here). Now, we move on to the Regional Finals. The Elite Eight. The best of the best. Eight actors enter, but only four will remain in the tournament after this article.
Region #1: Athletic Characters
(1) Tom Cruise vs. (2) Jennifer Lawrence
Truthfully, both of these characters would be better served competing in American Ninja Warrior than the Olympics. The Olympics are so confining. Athletes typically compete in one, specific event. Both of them are like caged birds, and I want to let them fly. However, that is not the game we’re looking at.
Lawrence’s main argument is that, with the absolute highest of stakes, she’s proven herself to be an incredible archer. During the Olympics, the top male archer set a world record in the preliminaries, and then pooped in his proverbial pants during the first elimination round. We can be confident that won’t happen to J-Law. That being said, her archery is really her only defining skill. She probably wins gold in that one event, but that might be it.
Tom Cruise, on the other hand, is a pure volume shooter. He’s in an impressive number of successful movies, showing off a versatile set of skills, to the point that I don’t even know what event he’d be best suited for. Even in movies that perhaps aren’t as critically acclaimed, like Jack Reacher, Cruise shows off incredible ability as a marksman that could translate to an Olympic event. Across his movies, Cruise has shot, played volleyball, run, jumped, and climbed, all with remarkable efficiency. He is a member of the IMF, the IMPOSSIBLE Mission Force, hired to do IMPOSSIBLE things. And he’s the best at it! Are J-Law’s credentials impressive? No doubt. Will she crack under pressure? Absolutely not. But Cruise has been too successful in too many categories to lose to the one-dimensional Katniss Everdeen.
Winner: Tom “Don’t Mention Knight and Day” Cruise
Region #2: Athletes in Comedies
(1) Adam Sandler vs. (3) Vince Vaughn
I promised myself that I wasn’t going to write too much about the Ryan Lochte fiasco. Was it bad? Yes. Was it mishandled by literally every single person involved? For sure. But the media said, wrote, tweeted, memed, and smoke-signaled everything that ever needs to be mentioned about this issue. Hotwheels was beaten to the punch, and it’s probably for the best. However, I bring him up now, because his “tantics” are incredible relevant to this matchup.
Adam Sandler’s most relevant Olympic skill, and a huge reason why he was the number one seed in this region, is his golfing ability from Happy Gilmore. In the movie, Gilmore (played by Sandler, of course) is constantly on the verge of getting kicked off the PGA Tour for his erratic behavior. He is kept on for entertainment value, an interesting storyline for an otherwise vanilla professional sport. In light of #LochMessMonster, #LochteGate, #LochteNeedsDepends, or whatever you want to call the scandal, could you imagine the USOC allowing Happy Gilmore to represent the United States? I don’t know that Happy would even want to, given he was golfing for his grandmother’s financial security, the love of a good woman, and the disdain for Shooter McGavin, all of which reasons are no longer relevant. It’s a match made in hell, and I can’t imagine Happy going to Tokyo in the Red, White and Blue.
If you bump Happy out of the equation, Sandler is standing on some very shaky ground. Sandler has moved on, in part, due to the sheer athletic ability of The Waterboy‘s Bobby Boucher. In the Olympics, though, Boucher wouldn’t play football– he’d play rugby. Looking back on the film, and seeing the difficulty the coaching staff had teaching Bobby to simply rush a quarterback, I don’t know he could grasp rugby. I know I sure can’t figure out the rules. Outside of those two movies, Sandler’s basketball ability is pretty mediocre– he loses important games both in The Longest Yard and Grown-Ups. Sure, he threw the game in Grown-Ups in a really heartwarming moment, but that makes me question if he has the killer instinct necessary to make Team USA.
Now, onto Vince Vaughn. Are there character questions? Definitely. In Dodgeball, he signs away his gym, quits on his team (only to be ironically convinced to return by Lance Armstrong), and then gambles on the outcome of his own game when he comes back. In Old School, he starts a fraternity as a grown man, and smokes during athletic competitions. But you know what Vaughn displays in both movies? A propensity to lead others, and help them achieve more than they thought possible. We are building a handball program from the ground up, and that’s the type of leadership we need. If he can teach Milton from Office Space, Steve the Pirate, and Justin “The Apple Guy” Long how to play Dodgeball, he can take on this responsibility. (Also, this is all ignoring the fact that he won a Sudden Death Dodgeball matchup blindfolded. USA Handball will follow a strict “no-blindfold” policy, so he will only be more dominant on the handball court.)
Winner: Vince “All-State in High School” Vaughn
Region #3: Real Athletes
(1) Mark Wahlberg vs. (2) Russell Crowe
If this was a rap battle, this would be much easier. If it was a contest for “Most Australian,” or “Most Likely to Use the Word ‘Wicked’ in a Sentence,” this would also be easy. But alas, it’s neither of those things, and that’s what makes my job difficult. First, let’s compare boxing roles. In one corner, we’ve got Marky Mark as “Irish” Micky Ward, a boxer from Lowell, Massachusetts who boxed in the 1980’s, 90’s, and early 2000’s. In the other, we have Crowe as James J Braddock, fighting for love and money in Depression Era New Jersey. Both men were very gritty, very Irish, and very good at boxing for brief stints in their careers. They were both, at some point, world champions in their respective weight classes. But honestly, I’m not super interested in their careers. I’m interested in what I saw on film.
Crowe and Wahlberg both end their films with wins in title bouts, leaving the audience with the thrill of victory. Wahlberg does admittedly lose one fight during the course of the movie, when his mom/manager convinces him to fight up a weight class in order to get paid, while Crowe runs the gauntlet undefeated. However, as we all know, that’s not the only thing that matters in a boxing movie. Wahlberg has much more enjoyable training montages, more drama with his trainers, and even gets into a battle with the police. Plus, he has Amy Adams. So, I’m going to overlook the one defeat in the ring, and call the boxing category a wash.
In terms of other films, Crowe suffers, like many other actors in the tournament, from a lack of volume. Sure, he starred in Gladiator, and won a number of fights to the death before eventually succumbing to a cheap shot from Joaquin Phoenix. But that’s the end of his resume. No other clear-cut Olympic skills, and no event in the modern Olympics that caters specifically to his style. Maybe judo or wrestling, but even then, you don’t get armor or swords in those events. Meanwhile, Marky Mark has racked up victories in a huge number of athletic roles. He’s got both Shooter and Lone Survivor to pad his resume with the rifle. Four Brothers reinforces his skills in the boxing ring, as well as his overall status as a bad ass. And just this year, New England Patriots special-teamer Nate Ebner played on the US Men’s Rugby team in the Olympics, reminding me of another gritty Wahlberg role in Invincible.
I loved Cinderella Man, but it can’t push Crowe over Wahlberg, and the rest of his roles just don’t stand up to The Artist Formerly Known as Marky Mark.
Winner: Mark Wahlberg
Region #4: Athletes in Dramas
(1) Sylvester Stallone vs. (3) Hilary Swank
The big Region #2 upset may have put one-seeds on high alert, but don’t expect anything too crazy out of this region. I have been pulling for H-Dog all tournament. Karate Kid Part IV is an under-rated sequel, especially when looking at the downward spiral of the series. Million Dollar Baby is an exceptional, Oscar-nominated film. Yet, whenever I think of Hilary Swank, the first thing that pops into my head is the debate on The Office about whether or not she’s hot. It’s not fair. She should be recognized on her merit, not her questionable aesthetic appeal. But alas, such is life.
That intro basically serves as an apology, because The Swanky Leg just never had a chance in this one. First, like Wahlberg v. Crowe, we will just compare boxing roles, and it is a blowout. Outside of, and heck maybe even including Raging Bull, Sylvester Stallone created and portrayed the most iconic fictional boxer ever. Rocky is the GOAT. What other fighter can claim victories over Apollo Creed, Mr. T, and the entirety of the Soviet Union? Further analysis of the quality of his victories might be needed in later rounds, but not now.
Comparing other movies, it is again a landslide, both in terms of volume and quality of characters. Sure, Swank beats up her high school bullies in Karate Kid. But, across various films, Stallone beats up* (*viciously kills/seriously maims) Vietnamese guerrilla fighters, rogue police officers, “Social Darwinist Radicals,” and a number of other legitimate bad guys. He’s the real deal. And, given the video evidence, I’d prefer to have him in the ring over Swank. This even ignores his skills as a wrestler, archer, and country singer. Sly deserved the one-seed, and he’s not falling in an upset.
Winner: Sylvester “Let’s Forget My Comedy Career” Stallone
There you have it– our Final Four. Much like the NCAA Tournament, we have three top seeds left, and one Cinderella Story. Next up, we’ll see who can survive into the finals.