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Once, as a younger man, I went to a Red Sox game at Fenway and found myself sitting behind a bunch of guys about my age and biting through my tongue to keep from laughing out loud.  The game was in a rain delay and I’d started listening to them talk, and sumbitch if they didn’t sound exactly like a Saturday Night Live sketch.  It was wicked awesome.

I know that they only sounded that way to my touristy ears; I know that I couldn’t hear, anymore than the comedians could reproduce, all sorts of shading and phrasing and inflection.

That’s why even the best actors will spend weeks or even months on a movie set, speaking all those lines, in take after take, with a Bad Accent.  They don’t bother, or aren’t able, to learn the little quirks of a locality; they paint only with the broadest brush.

I’ll be honest with you – I almost feel guilty about our two finalists for the Dixie Babble Bad Accent Championship.  Neither one was making a realistic ‘slice-of-life’ movie, by any stretch of the imagination (at least, dear Lord, I hope not). Both clearly were straining for over the top, and got there.  Both accents are so broad they barely fit on the screen.

So here they are, the last drawls standing in the Dixie Babble Bad Accent Tournament:

Oscar-winner Robert De Niro in Cape Fear, versus Oscar-winner Nicolas Cage in Con Air.

Come out, come out, wherever you are, put the bunny back in the box, and place your votes to decide our champion.

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The Final Four!

In one bracket, Robert De Niro and Keanu Reeves ran away from their opponents without a goodbye wave.

In the other, Marlon Brando squeaked (figuratively and otherwise) by Dan Aykroyd, while Nicolas Cage saw off a surprisingly strong challenge from Kyra Sedgwick.

So here we have Dixie Babble’s Final Four of Bad Southern Accents:

Robert De Niro as Max Cady in Cape Fear against Keanu Reeves as . . . aw, hell, does it even matter what his name was? . . . in The Devil’s Advocate.

Marlon Brando in Reflections in a Golden Eye against Nicolas Cage in Con Air.

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I was out of town last week, and took my daughter to a museum that played taped interviews with Southerners from the 1960s.

This reminded me that, sometimes, yeah, we really do talk like that.

But only in isolated, individual cases, so Dixie Babble will not let the historical record stop us from making fun of celebrities.

The Elite 8 of the Dixie Babble Bad Accent Tournament features successful – sometimes even acclaimed – actors who, for whatever reason, can’t bring themselves to talk like actual human beings from the Southeastern United States.  Round 2 brings us –

Renee Zellweger in Cold Mountain, having upset overall #1-seed “Half the Cast of Fried Green Tomatoes” in the first round, takes on Robert “Come oyut, come oyut whuhever yew ahhr” DeNiro as Max Cady in Cape Fear.

The second match sees Keanu Reeves in The Devil’s Advocate – in which buying him as a Southerner requires a greater suspension of disbelief than buying him as the son of Satan – against the otherwise great Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

In the third match, Marlon Brando in Reflections in a Golden Eye (really, though, his accent is less “bad” than “deeply weird”) faces Canadian Gentile Dan Aykroyd as a Georgia Jew in Driving Miss Daisy.

And in the last match of the second round, Kyra Sedgwick in The Closer – who’s character apparently isn’t even supposed to be from the South – goes up against what has to be the overwhelming favorite Bad Accent from this point on, Nicolas Cage in Con Air.  Even though I’m not entirely certain Cage even deserves to be in this tournament, since I can’t be sure his accent wasn’t supposed to be that bad.

Place your votes to see which Bad Accents move on to the Final Four.

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Yesterday’s matches were never even close. Keanu and Liz left Kevin and Reese choking in the dust of their extraneous vowels and elongated syllables.

The last matches of the first round feature contemporary actors, including the money favorite to win the whole thing.

The first game pits yet another Scalawag – Georgia-born Julia Roberts in Steel Magnolias – against New Yorker Kyra Sedgwick in The Closer.

Roberts speaks with the same accent many Southerners do these days, which is to say, not much of one at all. But for Steel Magnolias, she flattens her terminal r’s like roadkill, and gives every pronounced vowel that pseudo-aristo ‘aeh’ sound.

Apparently the “Closer” that Sedgwick plays in The Closer is supposed to be from Atlanta, which apparently is supposed to explain why she inserts an ‘ey’ where a short-vowel-sound would otherwise appear (i.e., she ey-inserts ey-an ey-‘ey’ whey-ere ey-a short-vowel-seyound weyould . . . OK, you get the idea).

In the second match-up, British actor Andrew Lincoln from The Walking Dead takes on an adversary even more terrifying than a herd of Walkers – Nicolas Cage in the immortal Con Air.

Lincoln’s accent isn’t always bad, which is what makes it so atrocious when it comes roaring up, seemingly out of nowhere, like he’s been bitten by Jerry Clower instead of a zombie.

I can’t find a decent clip from the show online, but that hardly matters since I don’t see how anybody can stand up to Cage’s “Put the bunny back in the box.”

Seriously. “Put the bunny back in the box.” Every other bracket may be a waste of time.

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In yesterday’s action, Marlon Brando in Reflections in a Golden Eye narrowly avoided the upset bid by Burt Reynolds & Jon Voight in Deliverance.

This match was a lot closer than it deserved to be. Have you listened to Brando in that movie? His accent is offensive both to Southerners and to closeted Army officers.

The second match of Day 2 was chalk, with Dan Aykroyd in Driving Miss Daisy beating George Kennedy in Cool Hand Luke in a runaway. Brando and Aykroyd will match up in Round 2.

Day 3’s first match sees Keanu Reeves in The Devil’s Advocate going against the tournament’s most recent entry, Kevin Spacey in the new Netflix series House of Cards.

An actor as accomplished and versatile as Spacey is a bit of a surprise entry in this tournament, but he overdoes the silkiness of his South Carolina congressman’s silky drawl. He actually sounds like what real Southerners sound like when they’re making fun of how some Southerners talk.

Keanu Reeves’s speaking voice doesn’t sound natural when he’s speaking in his natural speaking voice, so whose bright idea was it to make his hotshot lawyer/son of Satan a Southerner, anyway? Did I miss the part of the plot that explained why being from the South was in any way important to who his character is, or what he does? It’s entirely possible that I did miss that part, since I’ve never been able to watch the entire movie, largely because Keanu’s accent is so bad.

Place your votes:

Today’s second match pits two great actresses against each other: Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof versus Reese Witherspoon in Sweet Home Alabama.

Elizabeth Taylor was a beautiful woman and an electric screen presence who played Southerner after Southerner without ever quite mastering the accent. We could have picked from any of a number of movies, including her pairing with Brando in Reflections, but we decided to go with one of her best, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

And, yes, I know we’ve let Paul Newman off the hook twice now, but his accent in Cat, or in Cool Hand Luke, was never as distracting as his co-stars’.

Reese Witherspoon grew up in Tennessee, so – like with Burt in Deliverance – I’m going to blame what happens in Sweet Home Alabama on a Hollywood suit, telling the Southerner she doesn’t sound Southern enough. Her accent’s supposed to thicken as the movie goes on, but mostly it just grates.

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The first match-up of the Dixie Babble Bad Accent Tournament ended in the first upset, as #4-seed Renee Zellweger in Cold Mountain upended overall #1-seed Half the Cast of Fried Green Tomatoes. In yesterday’s other match, Robert DeNiro in Cape Fear edged out Kevin Costner in JFK, setting up a showdown between Oscar-winning actors in Round 2.

Day 2 of the Bad Accent Tournament brings us some icons of American cinema, and also Dan Aykroyd.

In the first game, Marlon Brando in Reflections in a Golden Eye faces the pairing of Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight in Deliverance.

You know Brando had dental implants put in to make him look more jowly for The Godfather? Had Reflections in a Golden Eye been made after The Godfather, you might think those implants had come loose and were rolling around in his mouth while he delivered his lines. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure that that’s a “Southern” accent he’s supposed to be talking with, so he might not deserve a place in this tournament, after all.

Jon Voight is a New Yorker who don’t know no better. Burt Reynolds, you should know (and if you don’t, you should be ashamed of yourself), grew up in a part of Florida far enough north to be considered South, and speaks with an easy good ol’ boy twang in many of his movies. Don’t get me wrong – Voight and Reynolds are brilliant in Deliverance, and his performance as Lewis Medlock helped make Reynolds the biggest star in Hollywood. Someone somewhere, either back in Hollywood or there on the banks of the Chattooga, must have told Reynolds he needed to sound more ‘Suthehn.’ But if that’s the price we had to pay to get Smokey & the Bandit, it was well worth it.

Vote below:

Game 2 of Day 2 matches up George Kennedy’s Oscar-winning performance in Cool Hand Luke with Dan Aykroyd’s not-Oscar-winning performance in Driving Miss Daisy.

Like Burt & Jon, George Kennedy delivers a great performance in a fantastic movie despite a distractingly bad accent. Is his Dragline supposed to be a Cajun? If so, he must have lost a lot of his accent in that Florida jail. Is Dragline just a Florida cracker good ol’ boy?  If so, was he hit in the head?

Dan Aykroyd shows up in Driving Miss Daisy for a just a few, fairly short scenes. Maybe that’s why his character talks like he’s in one of those SNL sketches that they tack on after the musical guest’s second song.

Place your votes here:

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Let’s start by agreeing that there is no single “Southern” accent. The modern South is too big, too diverse, too mobile to share any but a very few vocal traits across the region. Native Southerners from the same town, even the same neighborhood, can sound nothing alike; NASCAR fans who’ve heard the Burton brothers speak know that even natives Southerners from the same house can sound very different (Ward jokes that his bedroom was on the southern side of the house).

Next, let’s acknowledge that Hollywood butchers accents from all over the world. The English are still outraged over Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. American actors playing Irish routinely sound like someone’s after their Lucky Charms, and I’m pretty sure that whoever does the voiceovers for Outback Steakhouse commercials isn’t really Australian.

Finally, let’s admit that some Southerners, sometimes, really do sound like that. It’s painful, but it’s true.

Nevertheless, to someone from the South, nothing is as grating as a bad Southern accent in an otherwise enjoyable movie or TV show. Some of the best actors ever have stumbled trying to affect a drawl or a twang; few, apparently, ever even bother learning exactly how they talk in the corner of the South that their characters are from.

The purpose of the Dixie Babble Bad Accent Tournament, then, is self-explanatory, but I’ll explain it anyway: to determine the worst “Southern” accent ever captured on film or tape. Our selection committee has picked 16 of the worst offenders. We have actors who sound like they’re talking with a mouthful of molasses, who sound like Scarlett O’Hara on quaaludes, who’ve opted (or tried) for a generic drawl when the character’s supposed to be from some place with a distinct local sound, like New Orleans or the Appalachians. We’ve grouped them into 4 brackets and seeded them with, we hope, a little better judgment than the NCAA shows. By the end of the month, we will know who reigns supreme.

Or, who-ah ray-eens su-preyeem.

When choosing the field, the selection committee disqualified any accent that was supposed to be cartoonishly broad – so no Jackie Gleason in Smokey and the Bandit, no Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds, no anybody in O Brother Where Art Thou, and no Foghorn Leghorn (also, because we all kinda wish we talked like Foghorn Leghorn).

Also disqualified was any actor with the good sense to not even bother; those actors, in fact, are automatically named to the Clark Gable Memorial All-Star Team.

With no further ado, please welcome the actors facing each other in our opening matches:

Our first game pits overall #1 seed “Half the Cast of Fried Green Tomatoes against the #4 seed from their bracket, Renee Zellweger in Cold Mountain (nominated by Dixie Babble reader Laurel Retherford Barnes).

Both sides in this match are working the Scalawag angle, by featuring Southern actors, or actors who’ve spent significant time in the South, and should therefore know better. (To be fair, they probably had a director, producer, or studio suit badgering them that they didn’t sound “authentic” enough.) Zellweger, a Texan, won an Oscar for this performance, in which her accent isn’t bad, as much as it is . . . much. She sometimes sounds like Loretta Lynn right after a root canal.

The “Half the Cast of Fried Green Tomatoes” in question is the half that appears in the flashback “Whistle Stop” scenes; Kathy Bates and Jessica Tandy do admirable accent-work in the contemporary scenes. But Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary Louise Parker labor their lines with molasses-drawls so thick it’s a wonder the movie didn’t last longer than Doctor Zhivago. Parker graduated from the North Carolina School of the Arts, so one assumes she heard actual Southerners speak at some point. Nick Searcy is one of my favorite actors, a North Carolinian who speaks with his natural, wonderfully understated twang on Justified, a twang that apparently just wouldn’t do for this earlier work.

Take a listen using the links above, then cast your vote:

The second match of the first round pits two movie stars who try on accents that wander across just about every Southern stereotype, but never get closer than hollering distance to the place where the character’s supposed to be from. #2 seed Kevin Costner, in JFK, modulates his inflection and draws out his vowels, but at best he speaks with the generic accent that’s supposed to signify “South.” New Orleans is almost impossible to nail down, since so many peoples and traditions have come together there, and family has such a profound effect on how one talks; think Peyton Manning and Harry Connick, Jr. No one in New Orleans sounds like this, though. (At least he doesn’t say ‘New Or-LEENS.’ Does he?)

Robert De Niro is one of the great actors of American film, and his performance in Cape Fear is terrifying. His accent, though, is a grab bag of vocal stereotypes, veering from ‘Hillbilly’ to ‘Low Country’ in the same sentence. His speaking-in-tongues ain’t bad, though.

Round 1 continues tomorrow.

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