John Lyttle on film

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Whatever happened to William Hurt? The last time he was on screen he was playing second fiddle to Joanne Whalley-Kilmer in Trial by Jury (the tedious plot of which surfaces once more in the forthcoming The Juror). It was supposed to be an "interesting" cameo role - think De Niro in Angel Heart - that doesn't detract from a star's status, but the project wasn't exactly A-list, and the part (crook with a conscience) was dull andHurt was duller, washed-out if not washed-up. No way could even the actor's admirers pretend that this was one of Hurt's maverick artistic choices, like Second Best, Until the End of the World or Mr Wonderful. This was hitting the skids, brakes burning.

From Oscar-winning Best Actor (Kiss of the Spider Woman) to supporting Joanne Whalley-Kilmer. Well, Hurt (right), noted for both excess - alcoholic and emotional - and restraint (underacting so laid-back that he's almost not there) always said his career wouldn't be like other people's. From his 1980 debut in Altered States, he has refused to play the Hollywood game, and most critics bought the line about creativity above box-office. But perhaps Hurt didn't play the studio game because he was plain bad at it. Would any canny star have agreed to carry Time of Destiny and The Doctor?

Whatever, it will be interesting to catch next week's Smoke. Cast in this Wayne Wang comedy against veteran scene-stealer Harvey Keitel, this is a golden opportunity to remind audiences of the man who was hot in Body Heat and unexpectedly, blissfully manic in I Love You to Death. Is that man still operative? It'll be worth paying to find out...