question of the day: Is Ashton Kutcher the new Clark Gable? And if not, who is?

Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir appears to be absolute in earnest when he suggests that Ashton Kutcher has “massive star potential,” in spite of the fact that Killers has just bombed at the box office. Well, perhaps “bombed” is too strong: estimates right now peg the misbegotten spy comedy with a debut of a little over $16 million… but that was good enough for only third place, just barely behind the other new comedy, Get Him to the Greek. But both films are well behind Shrek Forever After, still at No. 1 in its third week and adding another $25 million-plus to its coffers. The fourth Shrek installment is tepid enough, and to see it continue to dominate says a lot about how uninspiring the slate of current movies is.

One thing it says, it seems to me, is that Ashton Kutcher does not have massive star potential, because wouldn’t the audiences he supposedly should appeal to have flocked to see him even in a movie admitted to be crap by its own studio? (Lionsgate didn’t screen the film for critics before it opened.) But let’s see what O’Hehir has to say about the should-be star:

Indeed, I’ve been pondering the Kutch-nundrum since before his non-breakthrough with “Spread,” and I’m not getting anywhere with it. I’ve always found Kutcher a tremendously likable, funny and magnetic screen presence. He’s a born movie actor, not a master thespian; I have no desire to see him in “Macbeth” or “Uncle Vanya.” (He might be good in “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”) But when Kutcher’s not on autopilot — the way he was the whole way through “Valentine’s Day,” for instance — he’s capable of wily, lively performances that work on various levels and exhibit a ferocious animal intelligence.

We already know that Kutcher has tremendous appeal to the ladies (and to quite a few gentlemen, I would imagine), but you can go to your average Hollywood casting call and find two dozen guys who are that good-looking. Thing is, most of them are going to be assholes. Kutcher’s secret ingredient is his good-humored charm, the sense that he’s not taking the whole game all that seriously — and most of all, the fact that he’s obviously having fun. There’s a definite void in the male-star market, with George Clooney and Tom Cruise getting older and Leonardo DiCaprio playing only tortured Scorsese roles, and Kutcher’s upside as a leading man whom women long to, um, know better and men long to emulate is very, very high. The closest parallel I can find — I’m ready for the screaming! — is Clark Gable.

Before you explode, let me explain that I mean the closest possible 21st-century cognate or equivalent to Gable, since the roles Gable played, and the kind of public figure he was, are not available today. Like Gable, Kutcher’s always going to play the same debonair, good-humored guy who thinks of himself as in on the grand joke of life, but who allows himself to get pulled through the mill of love by some broad anyway. If anything, Kutcher’s a lot less of a blasé sophisticate than Gable was; Kutcher’s attempt to play a sharp-dressed, French-speaking, soulless spook in the early scenes of “Killers” are particularly flat. (In fairness, that’s a fake Cary Grant role, not a fake Gable role.)

O’Hehir goes on to catalogue all the many ways in which Kutcher is a just plain nice guy, from the fact that he is actually an Iowa farm boy to how he personally interacts with his millions of Twitter followers without apparent aid of a marketing team. But is that enough to make him — or to make anyone — the next Clark Gable?

Is Ashton Kutcher the new Clark Gable? And if not, who is? Do we even need another Clark Gable?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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Mon, Jun 07, 2010 11:51am

I dunno. Clark Gable never nauseated me to the point where I want to throw up, so…ya know.

Mon, Jun 07, 2010 12:06pm

I’m too young to really decide on the Gable part, but I can admit Kutcher kind of has enough charm not to make me want to punch him. The problem is the roles he keeps choosing have this smug quality instead of the “not taking too seriously, joke of life” that’s claimed.

So I can see this as a possibility, as in he’s an actor that you pay to see once a year in an enjoyable comedy/semi-drama, but he hasn’t reached it yet, nor is it clear that this type of star can exist in Hollywood anymore. It just barely works for Clooney.

Mon, Jun 07, 2010 12:36pm

Clark Gable was clearly, identifiably a man. Kutcher, like most in his generation in Hollywood, is an overgrown pretty boy.

(Actually, that would be my generation . . . He’s exactly my age.)

I’m hard pressed to think of any genuine leading man (“man” being the key word) under the age of 40 or so. Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig are both 42. Russell Crowe is 47. Clooney’s 49. Bruce Willis is 55. Mel Gibson is 54 and insane. Patrick Dempsey is 44, and still isn’t so much a movie star as a TV star, despite Hollywood’s best efforts. The best I can come up with among the under-40 crowd are Matt Damon and Christian Bale. Not bad, but not the radioactive cores of charisma that emanated from the likes of Mr. Gable.

The easiest answer to the “Clark Gable” question right now would be Robert Downey, Jr. (45).

Mon, Jun 07, 2010 12:40pm

And just so I’m not only including white guys in my stats . . . Laurence Fishburne is pushing 50 and Sam Jackson is over 60. Even Will Smith and Jamie Foxx are 42.

Tyler Foster
Mon, Jun 07, 2010 1:15pm

No. But Spread is easily his best, most interesting work, so O’Hehir isn’t all wrong.

Mon, Jun 07, 2010 3:03pm

David Tennant.

Mon, Jun 07, 2010 3:11pm

Nope, not Clark Gable….he’s more like a Zeppo. On a good day, maybe Red Buttons.

bats :[
bats :[
Mon, Jun 07, 2010 3:24pm

Brian nails it with “overgrown pretty boy.”

Mon, Jun 07, 2010 4:07pm

Ashton Kutchner = Johnny Weismuller


Clark Gable DEFINATELY not!

If he is self-aware, then I’d possibly vote for him being a latter day Victor Mature (without the bedroom eyes).

Mon, Jun 07, 2010 4:15pm

I think Robert Pattinson comes closer, provided his Twilight popularity doesn’t ruin his career.

Mon, Jun 07, 2010 6:30pm

@Brian, I think it makes perfectly good sense for mature actors to be in the over 40 crowd. Hollywood is not a hotbed of maturity, and I think the indulgences that are allowed actors (and rock stars) would inhibit emotional growth rather than encourage it. Even in the real world, people are talking about college life really just being an extended high school, emotionally.

Mon, Jun 07, 2010 9:38pm

It’s kind of a ridiculous premise to begin with, but that aside . . . the name that comes to mind is Gerard Butler.

Tonio Kruger
Tue, Jun 08, 2010 12:34am

George Clooney–an actor of whom I’m not really fond–is the closest equivalent to Gable I can think of.

And let’s not forget that like Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant, Gable started out playing thug roles and only later on moved on up to lead roles. Thug roles are hardly a thing I’d associate with Kutcher.

For what it’s worth, actress Barbara Stanwyck supposedly swooned at the prospect of playing opposite Gable when they acted together in Night Nurse. I can’t imagine her doing the same thing for Kutcher. Nor can I imagine Kutcher pulling off, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” or all those other lines we associate with Gable.

Someday Kutcher might get all the roles Tom Cruise currently plays–but even Cruise would have a hard time convincingly playing a modern-day Gable-like role.

Tue, Jun 08, 2010 1:05am

Anybody else remember a few years back, when they were saying the same kinds of things about Ben Affleck being the new Gary Cooper? And look how that turned out.

To be honest, I don’t think that there will be a new Clark Gable or Gary Cooper. The movies are no longer trying to appeal to those audiences, they’re trying to appeal to 12-year-old boys. Not exactly an audience who is clamoring for a new Clark Gable.

Solid Yeti
Solid Yeti
Tue, Jun 08, 2010 4:59am

He may be more of a TVish star at this point in his career, but Nathan Fillion=21st century Clark Gable

Tue, Jun 08, 2010 5:43am

There are no more movie stars in the classic sense, and I don’t think there will be again. Once upon a time you could imagine that stars had interesting and glamorous lives: now you can know every little detail, and you know that every little detail has been massaged through the publicity machine before you were allowed to know it. No mystery, no excitement.

Doesn’t help that most of them have never done stage work.

Tue, Jun 08, 2010 9:17am

@Paul: There’s nothing at all wrong with the fact that most of the best leading men are over 40. (Well, except when they try to pair them on screen with 20-something women, which can get creepy.) I was just pointing out the contrast between those men and the crop of mostly boyish-looking and/or boyish-acting stars in the under-40 crowd. With that crop of talent, it’s hard to imagine anyone being a “next” leading man in the mold of any of the truly manly stars of the past.

Sun, Mar 16, 2014 3:26pm

There will never be another Clark Gable.