There have been more than a few moments in celluloid history in which you could’ve called Robert De Niro (above) the finest living actor and not been completely full of shit. Under the direction of Martin Scorsese, De Niro’s performances in “Mean Streets”, “Taxi Driver”, “Raging Bull”, “Good Fellas”, “King Of Comedy” and possibly even the remake of “Cape Fear”, are enough of a body of work to justify all sorts of crazy accolades.  And while there’s obviously some some clunkers in his filmography (Scorsese’s “New York, New York”, “Righteous Kill”, “15 Minutes”, opposite Wesley Snipes in “The Fan”, opposite Dakota Fanning in “Hide & Seek”, opposite Eddie Murphy in “Showtime”), some of the works that aren’t quite as amazing as the Scorsesse films cited above are exceptional if just shy of brilliant  (“Heat”, “The Deer Hunter”, “Midnight Run” “Bang The Drum Slowly”…and in the rich history of Ronald Thomas Clonte’s “Rock, Rot & Rule”, I’ll admit “The Godfather II” is almost as good as “Analyze This”).  So it is with the deepest regret that I must use the occasion of De Niro’s 68th birthday to select the 3 worst films he’s appeared in.  They are also, not so coincidently, 3 of the worst movies ever made.  Is the trio below as horrible as “Little Fockers”?   I’ll admit, I’ve not seen the comedy in question, but even if the entire movie consists of Ben Stiller learning to assert himself (with hilarious results!), I’m gonna guess no.

3) “We’re No Angels” (1989) – Neil Jordan’s 1992 “The Crying Game” is the modern king of “don’t-spoil-the-secret-ending” smasheroos, however a much bigger mystery surrounds what could’ve possibly possessed an actor of De Niro’s stature to take a leading role in this dopey convicts-posing-as-priests atrocity.  Though Sean Penn would later play a mentally handicapped individual to minor acclaim in “I Am Sam”, his bumbling performance as De Niro’s sidekick in “We’re No Angels” has even the most patient cinema goer wondering how Jordan or the elder thespian could’ve failed to kill him with their bare hands.

2) “Flawless” (1999) Though De Niro is only partially at fault for the rottenness of “We’re No Angels”, he’s got all sorts of blood on his hands in the case of “Flawless”, an singularly uninspired attempt at portraying a one-dimensional Archie Bunker-esque retired cop suffering a near fatal stroke…and then being nursed back to health by the same next-door neighbor/drag queen (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) he’s been hating on.  Hang on, folks!  BIG SPIRITUAL EPIPHANY!  DRAG QUEENS R PEOPLE TOO!  EX-COPS W/ HANGUPS CAN ENJOY ABBA!

Schlock-shoveling director Joel Schumacher was clearly all too willing to eschew any element of a believable character study in favor of the most heavy-handed LEARNING LESSON.  Meanwhile, De Niro and Hoffman square off in a ferocious duel to determine who is the least credible in their respective roles — given that both had previously shown such mastery at absorbing a part’s every nuance, this was a deeply negative career milestone for each.  In De Niro’s case, it was a low he’d not hit again until….

1) “Stone” (2010).  Inmate Edward Norton has cornrows, problems with authority figures, and a penchant for burning old people’s houses down (while they’re inside). He’s also got Mila Jovovich — described by Norton’s titular character as “a sexual alien”, ie. a wife all too willing to use her fucking skills to curry favor with hubby’s grumpy, aging parole officer (De Niro).  Who amongst us hasn’t dreamed of a film in which Jovovich  — oh so convincing as a prostitute in “He Got Game”, a teenage whore on “Married With Children” and most memorably, AN ALIEN in “The Fifth Element” (you might even say, stop me if you’ve heard this before, she’s kind of a sexual alien) — is repeatedly riding Robert De Niro’s 67-year-old cock while the former Travis Bickle looks for all the world like he’s alternately a) in a coma, b) about to burst into tears or c) wondering if David Faustino might turn up at the premiere (and how awkward would that be?).

How it all turns out is unimportant — and beyond predictable.  What’s important to remember before you rent this piece of shit or stumble across it on cable is that the only performance that’s remotely interesting in the entire car-wreck disguised as a movie is Norton’s. Shame he’s doing a hollow impression of other characters he’s already played to greater effect in previous films.  As you can tell, I’m very familiar with De Niro’s prolific nature being a rather reliable red flag, but “Stone” is a film of such aggressive unoriginality, even actors and filmmakers who routinely phone it in should be offended.

I realize there’s something a little screwy about trashing an internationally beloved film icon on his birthday, but it’s not as though I really have anything to worry about.  What’s A.J. Benza going to do, hit me through the computer?