Jeff Goldblum to the Rescue.

Jeff Goldblum Law & Order

Jeff Goldblum has made a career of being the most interesting thing in the room. Sure, you never quite get past the fact that he’s Jeff Goldblum, nor does he want you to (he’s never been an actor who “disappears into his roles”), but heck, the same could have been said of James Stewart. Goldblum’s quirky, unignorable “always thinking, always probing” shtick brings dimension to his characters even when everything around him is 2-D. This is paradoxical, because you’d think an actor who brought all kinds of attention to himself would destroy the integrity of a piece, but in Goldblum’s case, the showiness is hypnotic — it draws you in and allows you to sail past substandard elements in a piece that would otherwise hang you up. He doesn’t allow you to suspend your disbelief so much as he allows you to enjoy your disbelief. And soon enough, you’re actually caring about the ridiculous things he’s asked to say and do.

He’s now bringing the Goldblum Touch® to alternating episodes of Law & Order: Criminal Intent. (New eps air on Sundays at 8 Central on USA Network.) LOCI is in some ways the perfect Jeff Goldblum vehicle. At times the plot holes are gaping. At times the dialogue is unbelievably dumb, jammed with clunky expository lines real people would never say, engineered (more like jerry-built) to squeeze ten pounds of information in a five pound bag. So, it is a show (if it is to have any redeeming value at all) desperately in need of rescue.

When I watch the Goldblum episodes of LOCI, I see an actor who’s stoked by the realization of how badly he’s needed. (Yes, he even makes his own evident ego-gratification part of the performance.) He’s actually goofing on the show, sharing with the audience that he knows that it knows just how awful it is, even as all the other actors around him struggle hard to maintain their commitment to the show’s “reality.” I wonder if they hate him. I can hear Eric Bogosian saying, “Hey man, I know how sad this shit is — I’m a respected playwright and performance artist, for God’s sake — but at least I’m trying to make it work!” Meanwhile, Goldblum is using every tool at his command to signal the audience, “Get a load of the next clunker they’re making me say. Sorry, folks. I’ll do what I can to make things interesting while you have to watch me say this.” It’s a tour de force that makes the show worth watching.

Two years ago I raved about a psychic-detective show called Raines, with Goldblum in the title role. That was a much better show than LOCI, written with some subtlety and directed with intelligence, so it died after seven episodes. You could tell Goldblum believed in it, and that made it great. Goldblum doesn’t believe in LOCI at all, not the plotlines, not the dialogue, not his own character — and that’s how he’s making LOCI great.


4 Comments on “Jeff Goldblum to the Rescue.”

  1. I have always been slightly put off by Goldblum’s unconventional look and in-your-face schtick, repleat with hambone facial contortions and overly emotive voice. I don’t hate him, though…or particularly like him either. But your take is thoughtful and I will look at him in a new light.

    I have a similar type of regard for the great Harvey Keitel who–no matter how good or crappy the movie–always turns in an interesting performance, and is sometimes able to single-handedly save not so great movies.

  2. rovronr says:

    Jury rigged vs. Jerry rigged:
    I think you meant jury rigged. Jerry rigged, according to the ‘Jury rigged’ source below, refers to Germans.

  3. Ted Naron says:

    I always thought that “jury-rigging” meant tampering with a panel of 12 peers in order to influence the outcome of a trial. But no, it appears you’re correct. An acceptable use of “jerry” in the phrase, and one that expresses my meaning, is “jerry-built.”

    So I have made that change in the post.

    Thanks! I have learned something new.

  4. rovronr says:

    On the other hand, a show ‘desperately in need of rescue’ could be construed to be in need of ‘jury-rigging’ to make its way to port. Or, a show that attempts shoddily to use a five pound bag to contain ten pounds of crappy ‘content’ could easily be defined as ‘jerry-built’. I guess it would depend on whether the description is meant to apply to the precedent or antecedent description.

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