What the Hell Happened to Wesley Snipes?
At the top of his career, Wesley Snipes was an A-list action star who could also cross-over into comedy and drama as he saw fit. Few actors can claim the kind of cross-genre success Snipes enjoyed. But all that ended amid very public legal entanglements that ultimately landed Snipes in jail with a three year sentence for failing to file tax returns.
If you take nothing else away from this article, remember this: No matter what anyone else tells you, you still need to file your taxes.
Snipes made his screen debut opposite future co-star Woody Harrelson in the 1986 Goldie Hawn football comedy, Wildcats. Amazingly, Wildcats was also Harrelson’s big screen debut. Years later, the two would reunite as box office stars for two more films. But here, they were both unkowns.
Wildcats is your typical Goldie Hawn comedy following the formula that was successful with Private Benjamin to lesser results. Instead of the army, Wildacts finds plucky Hawn as the unlikely coach of an inner city high school football team.
No one expects a movie like Wildcats to be good. And it wasn’t. It was the kind of bland, harmless comedy Hawn was known for in those days. Her daughter, Kate Hudson, has carried on the torch with similarly formulaic romantic comedies in this decade.
Later that year, Snipes followed up Wildcats with another sports movie. In Streets of Gold, Snipes played a boxer coached by Klaus Maria Brandauer. At the time of the movie’s release, Brandauer was the star. But later video releases would emphasize Snipes’ supporting role.
Meanwhile (yes, we are still in 1986!) Snipes was also paying his dues on TV. Most notably, he played a pimp on the 80’s TV sensation, Miami Vice. Around this time, Snipes was also in consideration for the role of Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Proving that sometimes things work out for the best, the role ultimately went to LeVar Burton.
The following year, he played another gangster opposite Michael Jackson in the Bad video…
This is easily the most mis-matched gang fight on all time. And yet, Jackson triumphs with his superior cotch-grabs. Sham-on! Famously, this video was directed by Martin Scorsese! I guess Robert DeNiro was busy that day.
It is nothing short of a miracle that Snipes ever again played a tough guy after having both Michael Jackson’s finger and his junk thrust at him that many times.
Not surprisingly, Snipes took 1988 off presumably to recover from the dressing down Michael Jackson gave him. He returned to sports films with 1989’s baseball comedy, Major League.
The movie starred Tom Berenger and Charlie Sheen. It was also Rene Russo’s movie debut. Snipes played a showy centerfielder, Willie Mays Hayes. It was a small role, but it allowed Snipes to make the most of his screen time.
The movie was a hit and allowed Snipes to move on to bigger and better things. A sequel was released in 1994. But Snipes declined to return to the role that helped make him a star. He was replaced by Omar Epps.
Snipes appeared in two films in 1990. He had a small role in the Christopher Walken crime thriller, King of New York. But more importantly, he finally got to work with director Spike Lee after having turned down a small role in Do the Right Thing to make Major League.
Mo Better Blues is a period drama about a jazz musician played by Denzel Washington. Snipes played another grand-stander as Washington’s band-mate and sometime rival, Shadow Henderson.
Mo Better came at a time when Spike Lee was on a roll commercially if not creatively. While not a critical darling like Do the Right Thing, Mo Better was a hit both with critics and audiences.
1991 was a big year for Snipes. He got his first starring role as drug lord, Nino Brown in Mario Van Peebles’ New Jack City. New Jack City was a surprise hit that spawned a decade’s worth of copy cats. It is one of those films that gets forgotten in the wave of imitators it inspired. But Nino Brown was a star-making role for Snipes.
Later that year, Snipes reteamed with Spike Lee for the inter-racial relationship drama, Jungle Fever.
Like Mo Better Blues, Jungle Fever is a frustrating film. It feels like a great film that lost its focus. But like Mo Better, the reviews were mostly positive and Jungle Fever was another box office hit for Lee and Snipes.
Posted on August 4, 2012, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actor and tagged blade, entertainment, major league, movies, wesley snipes, white men can't jump. Bookmark the permalink. 45 Comments.