Movie romances thrive on the "odd couple" concept: the less two paramours have in common, the more friction they generate. But there are times when the star pairing elicits a gigantic "What?!" from the audience. I don't just mean they have a lack of chemistry. I mean you'd never imagine them even being in the same room together, much less wooing each other on the silver screen. Out of loads of examples, here are nine favorites:
- JOHN TRAVOLTA and LILY TOMLIN in Moment by Moment. Whoever thought, in 1978, that Travolta and Tomlin would be convincing as star-crossed lovers? Tomlin's longtime companion Jane Wagner, that's who. She wrote and directed this turkey.
- SAMUEL L. JACKSON and JULIETTE BINOCHE in In My Country. Not many saw this 2004 drama, in which Jackson played an American journalist and Binoche a South African(!) poet. So not many know that the foul-mouthed Tarantino regular and the elegant Gallic Oscar winner hooked up. (On screen, that is.) Jackson rarely plays a romantic lead; In My Country may suggest why.
- BARBRA STREISAND and GENE HACKMAN in All Night Long. Streisand has long been a polarizing figure, yet '70s audiences bought her as the movie girlfriend of Ryan O'Neal or Robert Redford. But pair her up with tough guy Gene Hackman? That's what this 1981 fiasco tried to do. Even weirder: Streisand's character also dates Hackman's son – played by a young Dennis Quaid!
- ELVIS PRESLEY and CAROLYN JONES in King Creole. I haven't seen all 31 Elvis movies, but I'll bet that King Creole is the only one of any genuine quality. Presley's leading ladies were a who's-who of 1960s starlets – Mary Tyler Moore, Nancy Sinatra, Barbara Eden, and of course Ann-Margret – but this 1958 drama placed the King in a doomed affair with the future Morticia Addams.
- ADAM SANDLER and EMILY WATSON in Punch-Drunk Love. Sandler's dopey comedies inexplicably boast an impressive roster of Oscar-winning costars, including Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, and Marisa Tomei. Still, Paul Thomas Anderson pairing the sloppy comedian with winsome British thespian Emily Watson was a stroke of mad genius – one that worked.
- QUEEN LATIFAH and EUGENE LEVY in Bringing Down the House. Sure, this pairing was designed to be outrageous, in the same nerdy white guy/sassy black woman vein as Road Trip and Napoleon Dynamite. But those comedies played it safe by limiting their interracial romances to one or two scenes involving side characters. Say what you will about this middling Steve Martin comedy, it was bold to have the sexually ambiguous rapper-turned-actress, in her first leading role, get it on with the veteran Canadian funnyman, 23 years her senior.
- LARRY DAVID and EVAN RACHEL WOOD in Whatever Works. Speaking of intergenerational romances, they always add an ick factor to movie romances, and in this respect, few filmmakers are as icky as Woody Allen. If Manhattan wasn't so damn great, he'd have been tarred and feathered for partnering his 42-year-old self with the 16-year-old(!) Mariel Hemingway. Yet it's somehow not as gross as the perfectly legal on-screen romance between the 61-year-old David and the 21-year-old Wood. Such an unlikely and unappealing couple is one reason why Allen's 2009 comedy flopped.
- DANNY DeVITO and PARKER POSEY in The Oh in Ohio. The diminutive DeVito doesn't usually get lucky in movie love. Too hard for audiences to swallow, I guess. Perhaps his only "normal" romance was with Chloe Webb in Twins. Odd, but not unbelievable. Odd and unbelievable is DeVito and Posey in this little-seen indie comedy. Despite her quirks, Posey's still a strange match for DeVito, 24 years older and 4 inches shorter. No surprise that The Oh in Ohio fizzled at the box office.
- KIRK DOUGLAS and FARRAH FAWCETT in Saturn 3. Fawcett, fresh off of TV's Charlie's Angels, was one of the world's hottest celebrities in 1978, when Saturn 3 was casting. Although she was considered a terrible actress, she still had her choice of movie roles. Why she picked this sci fi stinker is anyone's guess, but it nipped her big-screen career in the bud. (Saturn 3 is a real trainwreck, helmed by the great musical director Stanley Donen, written by acclaimed novelist Martin Amis, and costarring Harvey Keitel with a dubbed mid-Atlantic accent!) As for Douglas, a fine actor who had fallen far from his 1950s zenith, I assume he just needed the work. Fawcett was 32 at the time; Douglas 62. Who would have guessed that he would outlive her by seven years – and counting?