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Phrase has changed but the meaning's the same.

Byline: Jim KEOGH


In case you missed it, that much-loved phrase to denote a good thing gone bad, "jump the shark," may have jumped the shark itself. According to recent news reports, it's now being replaced by the hipper "nuke the fridge." And Indiana Jones is to blame.

To backtrack: "Jumping the shark" denotes the moment when a cultural franchise - whether a long-running TV show or popular rock group - commits an act so cheesy, so desperate for ratings or attention, that it immediately flips from semi-respectability to self-parody. The phrase refers to the "Happy Days" episode when a water-skiing Fonzie literally jumped over a shark while wearing his leather jacket, and viewers across the land sensed the end was nigh.

"Nuke the fridge" refers to the scene in which our hero finds himself trapped in a nuclear testing zone seconds before the government is about to detonate an A-bomb. Indy climbs into a lead-lined refrigerator (conveniently labeled "lead lined"), and is hurled by the blast, unscathed, through the desert.

That sequence and other subsequent implausibilities - implausible even for an Indiana Jones movie - prompted a wave of online chatter from disaffected fans, and "nuke the fridge" was born. Now, when a movie franchise is said to have nuked the fridge, it has officially gone from the sublime to the absurd.

On rare occasions, a franchise that's turned radioactive can be reborn. The Batman movies seemed doomed when director Joel Schumacher slapped nipples on the batsuit and turned a proud superhero saga into a carnival sideshow. Christopher Nolan came to the rescue by scrapping all that had gone before and reconstructing the legend in "Batman Begins."

Obviously, it's not just Harrison Ford's alter ego who has misstepped. Plenty of other cinematic standbys are doing their part to keep the irradiated appliance stocked with sheer awfulness.

A sampling of others who have nuked the fridge:

Mike Myers, when he does foreign accents - Myers scored big-time doing the mod-English thing in the Austin Powers movies. In "Goldmember" he even went Dutch; how many actors can say the same? By the third "Shrek" his Scottish burr fixation had worn thin but bearable (he'd also gone tartan in "So I Married an Axe Murderer"). But his Indian holy man shtick in "The Love Guru" is so obnoxious, I could hardly get through the trailer.

Some actors nuke the fridge with accents right out of the box - Kevin Costner as Robin Hood comes to mind frighteningly fast. Conversely, Meryl Streep never overstayed her welcome when it came to playing characters from other lands, though in recent years she's pretty much stuck to the home shores linguistically speaking. I suppose Myers shattered Streep's cardinal rule: if your character is interesting enough, it doesn't really matter what accent you use.

M. Night Shyamalan and his formula - we love this, don't we? Somebody comes out of nowhere, is hailed as a genius, then starts believing his own press. His subsequent efforts don't live up to the early promise, he sneers at his critics, and is derided as a hack. It's the American story.

Shyamalan established his template with "The Sixth Sense," which drew its power from its bleak atmospherics, the suggestion rather than exploitation of violence, and a beautiful twist ending that has become part of cinema lore.

Shyamalan followed this well-worn path with the intriguing "Unbreakable," but showed signs of nuclear poisoning with the ending of "Signs" that was dominated by a confrontation with a Creature from the Black Lagoon-ish alien. "The Village" was dull right up until its Twilight Zone conclusion, which was just silly. "Lady in the Water" was about the worst thing released in 2006. And for a studied dissection of everything that's wrong with "The Happening" I gladly point you to the blog of film pundit Jim Emerson ( and his brilliant essay, "What the hell is happening in The Happening?"

When exactly Shyamalan nuked the fridge is open to debate. I'll just say he didn't help his case when the demonic dog in "Lady in the Water" ripped a film critic to shreds.

Eddie Murphy times two (or more) - Murphy proved during his "Saturday Night Live" days that he could convincingly play multiple roles in a single sketch, often in a host of ethnicities and races. He has since turned that skill into his personal vanity project. He was fine as the calorically endowed Klump family in the "Nutty Professor" movies and as the uber-nerd and his Hollywood star brother in "Bowfinger." But he nuked the fridge playing a trio of unfunny characters in "Norbit," his very own Three-Mile Island.

In "Meet Dave," Murphy plays both a full-size robot and the tiny man living inside his head who controls his every move. I've seen the previews, and I'm not optimistic. According to, Murphy will be playing single characters in his next few movies, a wise career move. Stay out of the fridge, Eddie. It's glowing.


CUTLINE: Three who have jumped the shark, er, nuked the fridge: Writer/Director M. Night Shyamalan (his formula), Mike Myers (his foreign accents) and Eddie Murphy (playing multiple roles in a film).
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Title Annotation:ETC.
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jul 13, 2008
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