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LL Cool J’s acting career.

LL Cool J’s acting career.  (photo)

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In a startling public relations gaffe, a Fox News spokesperson responded to LL Cool J’s unwillingness to have an interview from two years ago reappropriated for Sarah Palin’s new show with this snippy self-righteous rejoinder: “as it appears that Mr. Smith does not want to be associated with a program that could serve as an inspiration to others, we are cutting his interview from the special and wish him the best with his fledgling acting career.”

This would sting if it were remotely true. Fortunately for us, it’s not. Though LL Cool J (formerly James Todd Smith) is currently stuck on the CBS procedural “NCIS: Los Angeles” alongside far less compelling ’90s casualty Chris O’Donnell, at least the show pulls in 17.82 million viewers on average, which isn’t shabby at all. In any case, it’s not like LL got the film parts he deserved — but he is, as it happens, the single most successful male-rapper-turned-actor. (Queen Latifah, it seems, is the single most successful.) It’s kind of a tricky success — Tupac gave several highly-praised performances before his untimely death, so who knows? — but LL Cool J will not be getting any competition soon from Snoop Dogg (who mostly coasts on his persona, as in Huggy Bear in “Starsky and Hutch”) or the rock-bottom muttering of 50 Cent, and he’s genuinely fun and game.

I don’t know how much of LL Cool J’s chops have to be coached relentlessly: one Aaron Speiser, an LA acting teacher, apparently spends a lot of time helping him on the set (he’s credited as his coach on most of his credits from 1999 onwards), although that mostly suggests the man takes this acting stuff very seriously indeed.

There are three performances of his that stand out in my mind. Despite a supporting part in 1991’s “The Hard Way,” it’s in “Toys” that he really came into his own. It’s hard to maintain your dignity when you first appear as camouflaged sofa cushions, but he pulled it off. In a movie where Michael Gambon and Robin Williams seem to be having a competition to see who can mug harder — and where the spectacular production design is upstaging everyone — he walks away with the movie.

03312010_deepbluesea.jpgBut his ultimate partnership came in two collaborations with Renny Harlin: 1999’s “Deep Blue Sea” and 2004’s “Mindhunters,” two spectacularly entertaining and knowing pieces of deliberate trash. Harlin’s an above-average craftsman when it comes to shot composition and edits, which makes him the perfect person to make stupid movies about genetically modified sharks and whatever “Mindhunters” was about besides Rube Goldberg machines that kill people. These are seriously entertaining movies, in both of which [SPOILER] Cool J survives the high body count. Harlin must really dig him.

“Deep Blue Sea” gets the edge though: arguably, the whole movie stages an argument about black self-identity between Cool J and Samuel L. Jackson that isn’t even all that subtle. Early on, Cool J chews out Jackson for doing dangerous stuff like mountain climbing when he should focus on being a black entrepreneur/role model. If you remember what happens to Jackson later on, you’ll see who wins that fight, though Cool J’s last line (“Take me back to the ghetto”) seals the deal: after you survive the sharks, the hood’s no big deal.

It seriously took a movie about genetically modified sharks to get Cool J to get all meta on his image as a successfully self-promoting/crossover approved black man always acutely aware of his race and status. Which is awesome.

[Photos: “NCIS: Los Angeles,” CBS, 2009-present; “Deep Blue Sea,” Warner Bros., 1999]

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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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