“Total Recall” not only proves that Kate Beckinsale is stronger than the film itself, but more worthy of her own action vehicle than the original B-movie was of a remake. Beckinsale has enjoyed a lengthy career with few dramatic highpoints. The “Underworld” trilogy has made her a B-level action star (Comic-Con adores her; she was Esquire’s Sexiest Woman Alive in 2009), but in more mainstream studio fare she has been relegated to supporting roles that utilize her beauty more than her talent. Her strongest performances are in her least-seen films, and one can only hope she picks better going forward.
Her next project is a low-budget indie drama currently in post; “The Trials of Cate McCall,” from director Karen Moncrieff. Beckinsale plays a former hotshot lawyer who, while in recovery and estranged from her family, must take the appeal case for a woman wrongfully convicted of murder, so that she can be resinstated to the bar and reclaim custody of her daughter. The cast also includes Nick Nolte, James Cromwell, Dale Dickey and Taye Diggs.
THE START: Raised by actor parents in London, Beckinsale was a promising student before her acting career gradually took over. Her big break was Kenneth Branagh’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” followed by “Royal Deceit” and “Uncovered,” all of which she shot during her three years studying French and Russian literature at Oxford.
BIGGEST ASSET: British charisma and ass-kicking confidence.
CAREER HIGHTLIGHTS: Critical praise came for “The Last Days of Disco” (1998) “Snow Angels” (2006), “Laurel Canyon” (2002), “Nothing But the Truth” (2008) and “Much Ado About Nothing” (1993); none made any money. 2001 was her big year, with both “Pearl Harbor” and “Serendipity” cementing her as America’s British sweetheart. Since then, she dabbled in indie dramas (“Fragments,” 2008), mainstream comedies (“Click,” 2006), and horror (“Vacancy,” 2007), but beginning with 2003’s “Underworld,” she became an sci-fi/fantasy action star with a devoted following.
She won two Saturn Awards (Best Actress for “Underworld” and “Serendipity”) and a London Critics Circle Award (Best Supporting Actress for 1998’s “The Last Days of Disco”) and has a slew of other nominations from the Teen and People’s Choice Awards, the MTV Movie Awards, the Fangoria Chainsaw Awards, and even a Razzie nom for Worst Screen Couple (shared with Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett for “Pearl Harbor”).
Beckinsale’s top-grossing films are “Pearl Harbor” (2001; $449 million worldwide), “Van Helsing” (2004; $300 million), “Click” ($237 million) and “The Aviator” (2004; $214 million), followed by “Underworld: Awakening” (2012; $160 million) and “Underworld: Evolution” (2006; $111 million) — all were critically reviled save “The Aviator.”
MISFIRES: Few could argue that Beckinsale isn’t a comely talent, and while her project selection has been varied, her skill set (more than skin deep) and commercial bankability have never met in a critically adored film with her in the leading (hence no Oscar attention). Sadly, “Nothing But the Truth” could have been that apex if only it had been released. The film, co-starring Vera Farmiga, Matt Dillon and Alan Alda, was inspired by the same events surrounding the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame in 2005 detailed in Doug Liman’s 2010 “Fair Game,” starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn.
Beckinsale tells Women’s Health (in their aptly titled profile, Pretty Badass), “It’s slightly strange being predominantly known for something [‘Underworld’] that’s not necessarily my sensibility, but I’ve never had a plan. It all just unfolds and I think, ‘Well, that’s who I am now.'” On the same subject, she tells Movieline;
“But I suppose a part of you has to go, there is a kind of penalty for being so lucky to have this kind of a job that those things are going to happen. I do feel very fulfilled by the work that I’ve done, and often by the work that I’ve done that many people haven’t seen. So the bottom line is, I have actually done the work and I’ve had that experience, and it has been amazing. And yes, it would be nice if more people were aware of those, but at the end of the day it’s more important that I’ve actually had the experience.”
ADVICE: Along with selecting strong juicy indie roles, Beckinsale should land a new action vehicle, forego the unnecessary male co-star if she can, and get an A-list screenwriter and director on her team.