Common touch: The best and worst of the rapper’s movie roles

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By Richard Roeper

POP QUIZ!

What do the following actors have in common:

Awkwafina, Cate Blanchett, Jacqueline Bisset, Sandra Bullock, Ellen Burstyn, Gerard Butler, John Cho, James Corden, Chace Crawford, Elizabeth Debicki, Laura Dern, Danny DeVito, Jennifer Garner, Regina Hall, Anne Hathaway, Katie Holmes, Russell Hornsby.




Also: LeBron James, Mindy Kaling, Anthony Mackie, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kumail Nanjiani, Gary Oldman, Keanu Reeves, Storm Reid, Rob Riggle, Rihanna, Gina Rodriguez, Amandla Stenberg, Channing Tatum, Bradley Whitford, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Renee Zellweger and Zendaya.

All of these fine talents — and many more — were in a movie with Common last year.

That’s how common it was in 2018 to see a movie featuring Common.

I don’t think a month went by this year when I didn’t see Common or hear Common or experience something produced by Common.

In addition to playing Rafiq on Lena Waithe’s The Chi on Showtime, Common is a producer on the show. He is the voice of Kibari/Kiburi on the animated Lion King spin off series The Lion Guard.

Not to mention his day job in music and those ubiquitous Microsoft commercials, with Common onstage, rallying the world: “Today, right now, you have more power at your fingertips than entire generations that came before you!”

Even if I don’t immediately go online and order something Microsoft-y, I’m always fired up after seeing one of those spots. Yes! Common is RIGHT! LET’S DO THIS!

Most impressively, the Chicago-born Lonnie Corant Jaman Shuka Rashid Lynn, aka Common, continues to fight for social justice and, through his Common Ground Foundation, works to empower high school students from underserved communities on myriad fronts.

Forgive the pun, but he truly is an un-Common man.

In addition to the activities described above, Common also was a ubiquitous presence in the movies last year.

I’m ranking these roles from my favorite on down, but I pretty much enjoyed each of the performances, even in some of the, shall we say, less successful movies.

The Hate U Give
The Hate U Give

1 The Hate U Give
The Story: This is George Tillman, Jr.’s smart, blistering and moving tale of one Starr Carter, a girl (Amandla Stenberg) caught between her time as a prep student in an upper-class community and her home life in an underprivileged and sometimes dangerous neighborhood.

The Common Factor: In one of his best film performances to date, Common plays Starr’s Uncle Carlos, a dedicated policeman caught in his own “two worlds” conflict when his work as a cop slams up against a racially charged tragedy involving one of his own family members.

All About Nina
All About Nina

2 All About Nina
The Story: In this sharp and funny little unpolished gem, Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays the title character, a talented but self-destructive stand-up comedian.

The Common Factor: He’s the handsome and charming and commitment-averse Rafe, a successful contractor who hooks up with Nina and just might possibly be an equal match for her.

Common and Ms. Winstead kill it in an extended sequence in which they get together at his place, vow not to have sex, have sex, talk, have sex, talk, have sex …

3 The Tale
The Story: In this HBO original movie, Laura Dern is a journalist investigating long-buried, life-changing events from her youth.

The Common Factor: As Martin, Ms. Dern’s live-in boyfriend, Common strikes just the right tone between super supportive and, “Hey, what about US!”

Solid work.

4 Here and Now
The Story: Sarah Jessica Parker plays Vivienne, a renowned jazz singer and recording artist recently diagnosed with a fatal illness. (Not to be confused with the HBO series Here and Now, or the other movie from 2018 titled Here and Now, or the 2014 film Here and Now, or the 2013 short Here and Now, or the 1992 TV series Here and Now, or the 1989 Luther Vandross song “Here and Now,” et al.)

The Common Factor: He’s Vivienne’s manager and confidante, Ben. It’s a classic Common-as-a-rock performance, sprinkled with light humor.

Ben: Your mother called today. Several times.

Vivienne: What did she say?

Ben: Are you kidding? Why would I pick up THAT call?

A Happening of Monumental Proportions
A Happening of Monumental Proportions

5 A Happening of Monumental Proportions
The Story: A slice-of-life, workplace drama/comedy set at a high school and a publishing company.

The Common Factor: Looking uncomfortable in his nerdy office-drone attire, Common plays Daniel, a widower and father of a teenage daughter (Storm Reid), who gets fired from his job when the boss finds out about his affair with a married office assistant (Jennifer Garner). It’s NOT a good movie, but there’s something fantastically weird about the confrontational scene between the wronged husband (played by Keanu Reeves!) and our man Daniel.

Smallfoot

6 Smallfoot
The Story: It’s a breezy, sweet-natured animated tale set mostly in a village populated entirely by Yeti of various shapes and sizes.

The Common Factor: Our guy is the voice of the Stonekeeper, the leader of the village elders. The Stonekeeper is also a father, and Common is always strong playing paternal types.

Hunter Killer
Hunter Killer

7 Hunter Killer
The Story: Oooh, this was that terrible submarine political thriller with Gerard Butler et al., engaging in some wildly stupid and implausible games of cat and mouse.

The Common Factor: Common plays Rear Adm. John Fisk, a war hero turned diplomat who (along with Linda Cardellini’s NSA analyst) urges common sense and restraint even as the warmongers, led by Gary Oldman’s chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, well, monger for war. Good on Adm. Common for standing up to the bloodthirsty chicken hawks!

8 Ocean’s 8
The Story: Female-starring spinoff of the heist series, starring Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Awkwafina, and Rihanna.

The Common Factor: He has a cameo as … Common. Utterly believable in the part!

Common is also in Saint Judy, which is listed as a 2018 film on IMDb but has yet to be released. Perhaps we’ll see it this year, along with other upcoming Common-starring films such as The Informer, The Kitchen, Eve, El Tonto…. — Chicago Sun-Times/Andrews McMeel Syndication