What is it about winning an Oscar that makes Hollywood's best actresses immediately run out and enlist in pulpy, down-market action movies?
Mira Sorvino ("Mighty Aphrodite") shot blanks in "The Replacement Killers." Halle Berry ("Monster's Ball") coughed up a hairball in "Catwoman." And even the great Judi Dench ("Shakespeare in Love") couldn't bring respectability to "The Chronicles of Riddick."
When Oscar winner Charlize Theron makes her play for action cred in "Aeon Flux" this weekend, she will do so amid a history of stigma and uncertain box office.
With the possible exception of Angelina Jolie in the profitable if vacuous "Tomb Raider" movies, no actress - Oscar-feted or no - has been able to carry an action franchise the way, say, Sigourney Weaver did with "Alien" and its sequels.
But that was two decades ago, and Weaver's exit from the action ranks has left a void. Which explains why Theron and Co. sometimes go out on a B-movie limb.
Here are some of the candidates to succeed Weaver as Hollywood's action queen, with evaluations of their performances to date.
No actress looks better in snug-fitting cargo shorts, but the "Tomb Raider" movies robbed Jolie ("Girl, Interrupted") of her other great actorly asset: that bewitching bad-girl aura of danger and disenchantment. She found it again in the violently sensuous "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," squeezing bullets at Brad Pitt like love bites.
Great as the Bond girl Jinx in "Die Another Day," adequate as Storm in the "X-Men" movies, Berry may simply lack the charisma to carry her own picture. Then again, no amount of charisma could have saved "Catwoman." For the time being, Berry seems to have sworn off action roles.
The dimply star of "Alias" and "Elektra" has one of Hollywood's most robust, athletic bodies, but will she use it? Garner has proved serviceable in romantic comedy ("13 Going on 30") and now seems determined to prove her dramatic chops (she plays a widow in Susannah Grant's "Catch and Release," due next year). Versatility may yet be her undoing.
She kicked much virtual butt alongside Keanu Reeves in the "Matrix" movies but was bland and confined in "Red Planet" and hasn't been offered much in the way of above-the-title roles. Which is too bad, because with her severe demeanor and exciting physicality, she could be a distaff version of Arnold Schwarzenegger: Sexy but sexless, cartoonishly imposing in a way that appeals to a general audience.
Tough enough to play a female boxer in "Girlfight," demure enough to pull off a bikini in "Blue Crush," Rodriguez seems ergonomically engineered for action stardom. But will she get her shot? Currently starring in ABC's hit drama "Lost," she plays big-screen second fiddle to Kristanna Loken in "BloodRayne," coming in January in the United States.