Can Mark Wahlberg Act?

You know, before last Saturday's SNL, I was really wondering whether or not Mark Wahlberg was the humorless, self-important a-hole he appeared to be earlier last week when he went mouthing off (more than once) about how pissed he was about Andy Samberg's "Mark Wahlberg Talks to Animals" skit.I'm guessing some very smart friends or publicist or agent told Mr. Wahlberg he needs to show the world he could get over himself because he didn't have the best of press weeks leading up to last Saturday. And oh yeah ... he had a movie coming out. With all that said, for the most part, the mission was accomplished. Mark did the self-deprecating thing in a pretty funny SNL skit with Samberg, and all was quiet in the jungle. Sincere kudos to him.

It's been hypothesized that the whole Wahlberg-Samberg thing smacks of Lawler-Kaufman. If that's the case, Wahlberg is a much better (and smarter) actor than people give him credit for. My guess is his initial negative reaction was legit. The back channels then worked their magic and he used his Kimmel appearance to set up the SNL cameo.

I've always liked Wahlberg. I think he used to suffer from the Keanu Syndrome: earlier in his career, I was never sure whether or not he could act. I legitimately couldn't tell. Few actors have this gift. It's not something to be made fun of. It should be honored, admired even. It should be cared for and nurtured. We should build a nest for these little chicks, keep them warm, and regurgitate food into their mouths when they squawk with hunger. They must be made healthy and safe until the day they are set to leave the nest. They either fall on their faces at that point, or they soar. Like an eagle. Like a big, beautiful bald eagle, they will.

And Wahlberg has been getting there in my book. Maybe he isn't flying like an eagle, Seal-style. But he's at least flapping his wings, showing he has the potential. Hell, I was happier than heck when he was rightfully nominated for his role as Detective Dignam in The Departed. And a few years before I was rooting for him to get a Supporting Actor nod for his hilarious work in I Heart Huckabees.

Then came ... The Happening. It's as if M. Night Shyamalan came to Wahlberg in the dead of night, ninja-style, and clipped his wings. If you haven't seen this movie -- this terrible, awful, lazy movie -- you must witness it for the sheer badness that is Mark Wahlberg's performance. It isn't all bad (Wahlberg nails a scene between him and a plant). But man, trust me when I say it's a car wreck.

Enough of a car wreck that I had to ask myself the question again: Can Mark Wahlberg act? I posed this very same question to my good friend, the esteemed J Good. Our conversation went something like this:

ME: Do you think Mark Wahlberg is a good actor? Who is a better actor? Him or Keanu?

J GOOD: Depends. You have to ask yourself, who do you think wins in an act-off?

ME: How would an act-off work?

J GOOD: You get them side-by-side and call out different situations and have them act the scenarios out. For instance, 'Show me coquettish' and so on.

ME: Hmm. Well, I think Wahlberg is more relaxed in his roles overall. Equally wooden at times. But overall more natural. Yet Keanu seems to have settled into this thespian profession at last. It's like after 20 years or so he's finally figured this acting thing out. I guess I would say Wahlberg wins in an act-off, but I somehow enjoy the Keanu Experience more.

I realize I may get a Funky-Bunch punch to the face for all of this, but the fact of the matter is I like Wahlberg as an actor. I dislike about half of his movies, but I like the guy. I'm a fan. He's delivered some original work. I look at his roles in Three Kings, Boogie Nights, I Heart Huckabees and The Departed and there's some great variety there. He's not as one-note as some people claim him to be. It's just that The Happening was a real shock to the system. I haven't seen him in Max Payne, mostly because I hear it's terrible. But he's got that Peter Jackson movie coming out next year and I'm dying (dying!) to see Darren Aronofsky's The Fighter (is that still going to happen?) where he gets to play the great Mickey Ward. Here's hoping he takes flight.