A few days ago, a picture from Will Smith’s upcoming film Bright surfaced. Smith is on set, smiling with a cop’s handlebar mustache and uniform with a medal draped over his chest. Next to him is a similarly-dressed being with mottled green-yellow skin and inhuman features.
Yes, Smith’s new film is a buddy cop movie set in a world where orcs, fairies, and humans live (and serve in uniform, apparently) together. The Rizzoli & Isles & Dungeons & Dragons must work together to protect an all-powerful wand. Hey, it might be good! Well, it’s directed by Suicide Squad helmer David Ayer from a script by perennial disappointment Max Landis (American Ultra, Victor Frankenstein), so maybe not.
I hope you read all that and never strayed from the main point, which is: Will Smith, why are you doing this to yourself?
Collateral Beauty, which opened in December to the lowest box office and second-lowest critical ratings of Smith’s career (its 13% fresh rating beaten by After Earth’s 11%), is what we’ve come to expect from a man that was once one of our biggest movie stars. The absurd plots (gaslighting a bereaved man into thinking the metaphysical concepts of Love, Death, and Time want to have a chat) and asinine scripting (he tearfully sings the entirety of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” to make a point) have become Smith’s masochistic self-typecasting.
He’s a rich guy (net worth of over $250 million as of 2014) who seems to have his head on straight, speaking out against Donald Trump and Islamophobia. So if you’re not stupid and you’re financially stable (sorry Nicolas Cage), why would you willingly seek projects that make you look like a moron? Why not spend it on something like Gods of Egypt? That’s the kind of movie you’d expect from a mogul without motive beyond egotism. All its characters are flying mecha-gods that literally bleed gold.
Thankfully those answers are now here, as a secret conversation between Smith and his agent has come to light.
AGENT: Will, we’ve got a hit on our hands! Hancock is going wild out there — people love seeing you as a bad boy.
WILL SMITH: He’s not a “bad boy,” Dave, he’s a damaged hero. Quietly broken. He’s angry at the world and doesn’t know why.
AGENT: Neither did the audiences, but they ate it up. But I wanted to talk to you about some of these scripts you’ve been pushing on me. You’re still the biggest movie star out there, baby. You gotta be pickier!
WILL SMITH: What are you saying?
AGENT: Well I mean, there’s this one you sent over yesterday. I was just thumbing through it. Says here you’re gonna kill yourself by taking a bath with a jellyfish so you can give a blind meat telemarketer your eyes?
WILL SMITH: It’s all part of the atonement. The character’s a hero. He also gives bone marrow to a kid — without anesthesia.
AGENT: Would a doctor even do that? That seems unethical. Needlessly painful.
WILL SMITH: What if I told you he was texting while driving and killed seven people? He EARNED the pain.
AGENT: Will, you can just be a hero. People like you as a hero! Men in Black, Independence Day, The Pursuit of Happyness…
WILL SMITH: I like being in movies, Dave. Sometimes they have to be bittersweet. Like life, Dave.
AGENT: Yes, I understand that you’re a more mature, serious actor now. What’s this father-son thing you sent over?
WILL SMITH: It’s a space adventure about my son being parented from very far away on an alien planet.
AGENT: Oh, so it’s like a metaphor for Hollywood and how you —
WILL SMITH: I have an accent. A good one. Like they’ll have in the future. Also, he’s not allowed to feel fear.
AGENT: What? Like Dune? Or Scientology?
WILL SMITH: What? Pshh. No. What? What even IS that?
AGENT: OK, OK, fine. Moving on. There’s a script that’s been floating around lately that I don’t want you to even look at. A crazy convoluted fable about time-traveling New Yorkers who are in love during the winter or something — just stay away.
WILL SMITH: Wait, how do they time travel?
AGENT: Will, that’s not important. It’s a bad script. The characters are thin, the plot is insane, and you’re at a place in your career where you can choose better movies to make than ones where a demon head-butts the main character off a bridge.
WILL SMITH: A demon!? I’m in.
AGENT: No! Damn it, Will.
WILL SMITH: Did you know Lucifer is a fallen angel?
AGENT: Yeah, I guess, Will.
WILL SMITH: He’s atoning for his —
AGENT: I’ll see what I can do. But in exchange, I want you to look at this Tarantino movie for me.
WILL SMITH: Django? More like “hell no” — he’s not even the lead.
AGENT: I think you two could really make something great together, even if you’re not completely in the spotlight.
WILL SMITH: He gets beaten but he hasn’t even done anything to atone for. I just don’t see it happening. On the other hand…
AGENT: What is it?
WILL S MITH: There’s a new script I’m really excited about. There’s a hitman in jail, but he has a daughter and he really loves her.
AGENT: Oh. Hey! That sort of sounds interesting.
WILL SMITH: Dave, he has to —
WILL SMITH: — blow up a witch with the help of a crocodile man and Jared Leto.
WILL SMITH: So that he can atone!
Jacob Oller has plenty to atone for, too, but you don’t see him making a hundred movies about it.