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When Missing Actors Return to the Franchise Fold

When Missing Actors Return to the Franchise Fold (photo)

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This week’s “Fast & the Furious” is the fourth film in an eight-year-long franchise, but only the first to reunite all four stars from the original cast: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez and Jordana Brewster. (Walker alone starred in 2003’s “2 Fast 2 Furious,” while Diesel made an uncredited cameo in 2006’s otherwise unrelated “Tokyo Drift.”) Speaking about the film this week with the New York Times, Diesel said “It’s kind of tricky to revisit a character so long after the fact. But it’s very cool on a lot of levels to be able to go back to high school and do it all over again.”

Returning to a long-running franchise after being missing in action isn’t just difficult; it’s also unusual. Even if a film series lasts long enough to permit a star to leave and then return, it only happens with the right alchemical mix of fan interest, career desperation, big paychecks and ego-stroking. Here are five memorable examples:

03302009_HalloweenH202.jpgActor: Jamie Lee Curtis
Film: “Halloween: H20” (1998)
Period Between Franchise Appearances: 17 years, four films

Jamie Lee Curtis starred in the first “Halloween” sequel — which picked up the action just seconds after the original film — but was absent from the third installment (which had nothing to do with any of the others) as well as the three that followed. Like many moviegoers, “H20” pretended those non-Curtis films never happened (“You mean Michael Myers isn’t really the pawn of an ancient Druid cult?!?”) and picked up Laurie’s story two decades later.

Now living with her son (Josh Hartnett) and his terrible haircut as the headmistress of a private school, Laurie remains haunted by the memories of Halloweens past. Everyone tells her to get over herself, and she’s almost ready to move on when — wouldn’t you know it — Michael begins to introduce her students to his knife collection.

Though the early slasher sequences are as stale as the air inside Michael’s William Shatner mask, the screenplay by Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg does a nice job exploring Laurie’s mental anguish, and Curtis never phones her performance in. Plus, the finale, in which she gets fed up and decides to kick the shit out of Michael, is totally badass. Too bad the next film, 2002’s “Halloween: Resurrection,” negated the whole thing and turned Laurie back into a victim. At least they didn’t turn her into a Druid.

03302009_UniversalSoldier2.jpgActor: Jean-Claude Van Damme
Film: “Universal Soldier: The Return” (1999)
Period Between Franchise Appearances: Seven years, two films

In “Universal Soldier: The Return,” dead soldiers are reanimated in something called a “Rejuvo-Booth.” By the time this fourth “Universal Soldier” rolled around, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s career needed some time in there as well. Van Damme avoided the series’ two TV movie spin-offs, but after a slew of flops, things weren’t looking rosy for JCVD by the turn of the millennium. But if Van Damme’s return to one of his more popular roles made sense, the movie he chose to do it in did not.

In the original film, he plays Luc Deveraux, a soldier killed in Vietnam and brought back to life by a secret government program that turns him into a perfect killing machine called a “UniSol.” A couple years later, Deveraux is miraculously and inexplicably cured and is a normal guy; or at least as normal as a guy who does spin kicks and splits in tight jeans can be. Plus, he’s working for the same group that makes the UniSols, with no apparent moral qualms about helping to create the next generation of corpsey super soldiers.

It’s hard to believe the guy who delivered that heartfelt performance in last year’s “JCVD” is the same meathead who here exchanges flat-as-a-pancake banter with his romantic love interest (“I…uh…saw it on ’60 Minutes!’ “) and gets into overly heated arguments with an evil computer (“You left me no choice! YOU KILLED DYLAN!”). Still, ceaseless stupidity and all, there’s something prophetic about the tone of “The Return.” When the stodgy general comes and shuts down the UniSols, he tells Van Damme’s boss “The big spending of the Cold War era is over,” and he may as well be talking about the budgets of Van Damme’s movies.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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