Saturday, April 12, 2008

Second String Actors: John Ortiz

Part of my appreciation for Michael Mann's vastly underrated 2006 film, "Miami Vice", lies in the realization of just how sleazy and 'bad' the villains looked and felt. Mann is certainly no stranger to populating his films with talented supporting parts, but there was something different about the performance of John Ortiz as Jose Yero. I couldn't quite place him, but there was an intense fire burning beneath his scruffy face and greasy hair. One truly feared this guy. And then it hit me. That same guy had been the sweet, respectful police officer named Ruben in Denis Leary and Peter Toland's "The Job" in 2000-2001. Now, I'm a huge fan of Leary and Toland's "Rescue Me", but "The Job" is even better because it laid the groundwork for the inspired comedy in "Rescue Me". Instead of tracking the lives of NYC firefighters, "The Job" documented the lives of NYC cops with the same profane, jocular attitude. And right there in the middle of it all was Ortiz as Ruben, the innocent detective taking most of the crap from Denis Leary, Lenny Clarke (Uncle Teddy in "Rescue Me") and Diane Farr.

Bouncing from television work to feature length films for the past 10 years, Ortiz has yet to make an indelible impression on the movie-going audience. If anything, he's been typecast as the 'greaseball'. Who could forget his scene stealing performance in Joe Carnahan's "Narc", where he plays a fried junkie who gets to interact with Jason Patric and Ray Liotta in the nude after he burns his girlfriend's hair off in a domestic dispute (a scene that's mostly grotesque for its level of bottomed-out filth, but ends on a possibly improvised humorous moment when he shouts out to his girlfriend being carried away on a stretcher "you fucking bitch... ohh baby I love you!"

Ortiz made a large splash last year with his supporting turn as Javier, Russell Crowe's partner who makes a less than glamorous exit from the three hour film early on (again, due to his character's reliance on drugs). But there are softer, brighter sides to Ortiz's career which began in 1993 in a small role in "Carlito's Way", a film that seems to have featured a large array of great character actors today (Luiz Guzman etc.) In "Take the Lead" he stars opposite Antonio Banderas as teachers trying to teach inner city kids dance, and as Willi Colon in "El Cantante", he supports a drug-addled Marc Anthony as his trombonist. And genre is clearly not a problem, as Ortiz stepped into the action film "Aliens Vs. Predators- Requiem", which, I'm sorry... I can't bring myself to watch just yet. Still, I feel like there's a whole side to Ortiz we haven't seen yet. In 2008, he's scheduled to appear in 2 films including the long delayed Gavin O' Connor film "Pride and Glory" starring Ed Norton and Colin Farrell, James Gray's "Two Lovers" as well as being attached to the Oliver Stone film "Pinkville".

I keep expecting Ortiz to break out from the second string acting tier eventually. He has the talent, he certainly has the face, and he's overdue.

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