Big Willy (aka Willard Christopher Smith Jr.) has had a pretty incredible career to date, and his fair share of interesting monikers too. It’s pretty rare for an actor to successfully cross the divide from gold disks to the silver screen and to arguably become more credible in the process. It didn’t exactly work out like that for J. Lo, Bowie just about pulled it off but in typically kitsch fashion, and though Kanye fancies his chances at directing, it’s early days and I can't see him garnering anywhere near a similar level of praise. Either way, it all kind of pales in comparison when you consider that in April 2007 Newsweek reckoned The Fresh Prince was the most powerful actor in Hollywood, and he’s been nominated for four Golden Globes, two Academy Awards and has won plenty of Grammy Awards.
The only argument that really matters though, the one that rages on in dark pub corners and chat rooms across the globe, is which Will wins; the cuss-averse rapper or the big screen hero? We delve deeper, through the arbitrary, misguided lens of three example face-offs between two wildly different artistic mediums!
MEN IN BLACK VS MEN IN BLACK
The first of the now-trilogy emphatically continued Smith’s success on the big screen following hits Six Degrees Of Separation and Independence Day. As proven in many of his films, Smith was seen as having a real affinity for hanging out with extra-terrestrials, playing a smart-ass detective and perfect foil for Tommy Lee Jones’ Agent K. He was also obviously the perfect candidate to join the MIB, as to paraphrase the Agent J himself, “he make this look good!” The film was a huge success, going on to win an Academy Award and inspire sales of the Ray-ban black sunglasses to triple to the tune of $5 million.
Will Smith accompanied the Men In Black film with one of his first forays into rap. Reaching no. 1 in most countries it was released in, the song features guest vocals by Coko from SWV (remember them? They were great!) It went on to win a Grammy Award and features an alien singing in the video. But could it ever rival the thrills and out-of-this-world production values of the film? Not really.
Winner: Agent J
Hitch VS Switch
A few years on from Men In Black and Will Smith was the biggest film star going, regularly topping Box Office charts and already Oscar-nominated a couple of times. In Hitch he plays a romance doctor, helping people iron out their love-kinks. Surprisingly there are never any aliens involved; just a straight up human-centric romantic comedy. It’s not the greatest film ever made, but then a film about a professional matchmaker wasn’t likely to be. Entertaining enough, but didn’t pull at many heart-strings.
Although not officially on the Hitch soundtrack, Switch was released as an accompanying song and is one of his catchiest songs. Although not as successful as some of his previous tunes (it peaked at no 4 in the UK), I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like to get down to it on the dance-floor and attempt to make one move that represents ‘switch’ (for me it’s a switch in direction – only you know what you do). Therefore, it’s definitely a hit.
Winner: The Sweet Prince
Wild Wild West Vs. Wild Wild West
Also directed by MIB director Barry Sonnenfield and featuring a pretty stellar cast, including the likes of Salma Hayek, Kenneth Branagh and, er, Kevin Kline, 1999’s Wild Wild West was a brilliant, tongue-in-cheek steampunk romp, the rival to which we’ve still not really seen. That’s how I remember it anyway. On closer inspection, the film ‘won‘ Razzies for worst director, worst original song (more on that presently...), worst picture, worst screen couple and worst screenplay, and was additionally nominated for worst actor (Kevin Kline), worst supporting actor (Kenneth Branagh), worst supporting Actress (hayek) and, bizarrely, worst supporting actress (Kevin Kline in drag).
Featuring lyrics such as ‘West, Jim West, desperado, rough rider, no you don’t want nada’ and ‘Any damsel in that’s in distress, be out of that dress when she meet Jim West’ (seems kind of like taking advantage upon reflection), as well as this particular peach; ‘Watch your step with flex, and get a hole in your side, swallow your pride, don’t let your lip react, you don’t wanna see my hand where my hip be at’; the eponymous original soundtrack remains a lyrical rap classic to this day. Ok, if not a classic per se, then a peoples’ favourite. Now who you gonna call?
Winner: The Fresh Desperado
Despite numerous awards, hundreds of millions of dollars in box-office revenue worth of pulling power, and a diversity of roles that any method actor would envy, all evidence points to Will’s stint in the record industry being his real peak. Perhaps we’ll get lucky and he’ll soundtrack either Robot 2, Bad Boys 3 or Hancock 2?