You might be asking yourself how Shia LaBeouf has achieved the typecast of 'lead straight-man in movies worth 80 million or more'. And when you ask the usual questions, you don't really get the usual answers. Q: Is he a great actor? A: Not really. He's good enough to not draw too much attention to himself when the situation calls for it (it always does). Q: Does he have incredible sex-appeal? A: Not really. He qualifies as being movie-star handsome in a cookie-cutter way, but has none of the charm or marketability to hang with Justin Timberlake or Ashton Kutcher. Q: Does he represent the common guy on any aesthetic or dramatic level? A: Probably not. Q: Then why does he get cast as the young man in every big-budget hollywood film? A: Originally--lucky childhood casting on Even Stevens. Now--He's just good enough never to screw it up. He's never perfect for any role, but he's suitable for all of them. He's a big-budget cinema hedge-fund. His name is getting so synonamous with blockbuster attraction that the movie-going consumer never remembers that they don't care about his face. Nobody 'doesn't like' him; he's not even a big enough hit with teenie-boppers to have a significant spot on the angry hipsters' hate-radars. But mediocrity is not a new commodity, and has never garunteed fame. LaBeouf capitalizes on un-certain times as a safety-star. He's a cinematic mannequin for film-makers who want the draw of the film to be... something other than him.
We're familiar with the term 'vehicle' as refferring to a film whose essential substance seems to be a showcase for a popular hollywood star in order for studios to capitalize on the consumers' demand to see them on-screen. Gerrard Butler, Jason Statham and even Michael Cera (now that the Nerdocracy is more powerful than ever), can be seen riding these cinematic towncars straight to the bank. But in every Shia LaBeouf project, the essential product is never Shia LaBeouf. The product is Transformers or Indiana Jones or Wall Street. These products are being delivered on a six-axelled vehicle to your megaplex and LaBeouf is the bus-driver.
Let's test this theory: What films do we remember him from... Transformers 1, 2, and 3 (the third one is still in production, which is telling that I 'remember' him from a film that isn't even out yet); Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull; and Wall Street: Money Never Talks in its Sleep (or whatever). What films DON'T we remember him from: Eagle Eye and Disturbia. These two are thrillers in which he had THE lead role--moreso than the rest (in Indiana Jones the true lead was Harrison Ford, in Wall Street, the real stars were Mike Douglass and our economy, and in Transformers--let's face it--the lead role was a weird combination of childhood toys and Megan Fox). Yet he's somewhat less memorable when he's the main guy than when he's... one of the main guys. The quick and obvious rebuttal is that these huge mainstream hits were simply seen by more people. But even amongst people who HAVE seen all his movies (not a ton of people. I found seven people on various online message boards who claim to have seen all 6 of these films we're comparing), he's more memorable as a glorified side-kick. I phrased the questions: "Name 6 Shia LaBouf Films" and, "Which ones have you seen". I also asked, "Do you like Shia LaBeouf?" Among seven people that answered as having seen the big 6, five of them responded as liking Shia LaBeouf (makes you wonder about the two masochists who badly need to get a job). Those who saw all 6, listed the 4 mega-blockbusters first, with the exception of Disturbia getting listed higher than Indiana Jones twice (still towards the bottom). There was no consistent refference point to their orders. Nobody was listing them chronologically (obviously), it seems as if they were just listing them as they thought of them. This means that even amongst Shia LaBeouf fans, he's better when he's the celery to someone's hot-wings, acting as rudder for the barge. He's cultural tofu, taking on the flavor of whatever sauces he's mixed with, and I don't know if this makes me like him less or more. It obviously doesn't make him a great actor, because none of his performances have ever laid plank on my emotional or intellectual drawbridge toward transcendance. But if the point of the film is to get some old fashioned adventure heros or deceptacons into your summer, he certainly never ruins it (The Crystal Skull wasn't horrible becuase of Shia, and anyone that wants to go round and round on this issue is welcomed to step up).
In the big-budget motion picture game of craps, casting Shia LaBeouf is playing the pass line and don't pass line at the same time. For himself, he's not gonna win big cash, but if you're looking to survive the come-out roll so you can lay odds on the special effects or nostalgia-market, he's perfect. Only, you better have that money-maker--something big that your movie is riding on other than just the script--a lesson which the makers of Eagle Eye and Disturbia learned the hard way.