Bacon Bits

Happy 66th birthday to the hardest working man in the film business.

Bacon Bits

A shout-out to Kevin Bacon on the actor’s 66th birthday! The hardest working man in Hollywood has around 80 films to his credit and a goodly number of TV shows, and it’s a mark of both his tireless work ethic and his range that he appeared in two new releases last week in vastly different roles, as the villainous police chief in the Netflix movie “Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F” and as a deep-fried sleaze of a private detective in Ti West’s horror sequel “MaXXXine.” In the former, a weary but serviceable retread, Bacon hits his marks like the pro he is; in the latter, he has a high old time wallowing in the movie’s gutter.

He’s never been nominated for an Academy Award and I doubt he ever will be. Not because he’s not good – he is – but because he’s become such a reliable commodity, an integral aspect of what makes a given film work, that he’s nearly invisible. Everyone knows who Kevin Bacon is, but he’s better appreciated as a cultural meme than a movie star. Which is, honestly, a shame.

(About the whole Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon thing: I recently met someone who knew Bacon from growing up in Philadelphia, a rare example of a non-film industry 1 Degree of Kevin Bacon. But, really, who was the wag who thought this up in the first place? And how high were they?)

I think my first impression of Bacon was in Barry Levinson’s “Diner" (1982), where he plays Fenwick, the most useless of the gang of buddies in 1959 Baltimore. But there's that one scene where Fenwick casually answers every question on TV’s “College Bowl” while barely looking up from his hangover, and you suddenly realize you’re watching a guy whose tragedy is that no one cares if he's a genius – not even him.

 Bacon had his leading-man moment as an adjunct member of the Brat Pack – “Footloose” (1984), sure, but how many people remember “Quicksilver” (1986), a piece of high-80s piffle which tried to do for Bacon and bike messengers what “Top Gun” did for Tom Cruise and F-14 fighter pilots? (I do.) But where some stars gain value by making themselves scarce, Bacon has made his name by being everywhere and doing everything, and when he gets a role worth sinking his sizable teeth into – say, his Texas high-art guru in Amazon’s hilarious “I Love Dick” or Willie the rough-trade proto-Proud Boy of “J.F.K.” – it’s worth the wait.

He doesn’t get top billing much anymore, but when he does, he seems more interested in character flaws and the different ways a human being can be bad. So I would point you to two lesser known entries in his filmography, the first being “The Woodsman” (2004, ⭐ ⭐ 1/2, streaming on Prime Video, Peacock, Kanopy and elsewhere; for rent on Amazon), a brave if contrived drama in which Bacon plays a sex offender trying to rejoin society after 12 years in prison. In my Boston Globe review, I said that “Bacon pulls off the nearly impossible feat of getting us to understand [his character] while never, ever forgiving him.”

 The second is “Cop Car” (2015, ⭐ ⭐ ⭐, for rent on Amazon, Apple TV, and elsewhere), an enjoyably nasty neo-noir in which our Kevin plays a dirty police officer whose life goes south when two kids hijack his cruiser. It’s a bit of a Coen brothers rip, but a good one, and just look at that pornstache.

Do you have a favorite Kevin Bacon performance? Spill. And if you have a Bacon number, let's hear it. (Mine is 2: I was friends in college with Victoria Redel, who wrote the very good novel "Loverboy," on which Bacon based one of his few directorial credits, the not-so-hot movie of the same title.)

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