Why Is Shia LaBeouf So Terribly Over-Hyped?

Why are we getting constantly LaBeouf'd? Shia LaBeouf, that actor who plays the same snarky, zippy prick in every movie, is everywhere these days, gracing two Vanity Fair covers in as many years and now looking gray and smoky for GQ's June issue. Plus he's getting plum roles in big rock 'em sock 'em movies like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of What the Hell Is Going On and Transformers. He's got the lead in a fall thriller, Eagle Eye, and Entertainment Weekly has just named him one of the 15 members of Hollywood's "Next A-List." Ugh. What's going on? Isn't he bland and uninteresting at best and a smartass punk at worst? Why is he getting this big push, all of these ringing endorsements?

Mostly, we suspect, because he's there and he's easy. He's modestly attractive and moderately talented, and has been employed in comedy (the TV series Even Stevens, the regrettably-titled tween flick Holes), drama (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints), and action thrillers (Disturbia, Transformers) with significant box office success. Really though, those successes, we suspect, had less to do with him and more with whatever was around him (like, you know, giant magic alien robots). There are other young actors who, in our opinion (and, it would seem, in critics') the industry should be heralding, but inexplicably aren't. Where are the covers for Joseph Gordon-Levitt, so beguiling in films like Brick and The Lookout? Or what of the puckishly handsome Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild)? One could argue that they have already had, or will soon get, their own chance to stake a claim at mega stardom (Gordon-Levitt will star in the upcoming G.I. Joe bombast, Hirsch starred in this spring's much-beleaguered Speed Racer), but still their combined buzz is easily dwarfed by LaBeoufamania. And it feels frustratingly deliberate.

Obviously magazines like to spot that Next Big Thing, so they can point a finger later and say "see? seeeeee?" And they don't want to take too many chances that they'll be wrong (paging Gretchen Mol). To that end, LaBeouf is just the perfect kind of non-threatening, amusingly talented youngun that they can get behind. He's got a smart mouth, but can seem kind and sensitive too. He has convenience store freakouts, but charmingly apologizes for them months later. By comparison, thoughtful actors like Gordon-Levitt and Hirsch probably seem too dark and brooding. (And LaBeouf knows it: "the Goslings of the world are incredible to watch, but they make character pieces," he says in GQ). Those guys will be the next Penns, the Day-Lewises, cluck some magazines. Meanwhile, Shia is "talked about as the next Tom Hanks," according to Vanity Fair. Oh perfect! Tom Hanks! An actor who chirped and mugged his way through his rocket rise to fame in the 80's and only became really interesting when he started to, you know, act. (Some might argue with us there. Yes Big and Splash were great, but look at some of the lesser stuff. It's the same shtick over and over again.) That film god Steven Spielberg, a longtime friend of Hanks', has backed The Beef certainly doesn't hurt the juggernaut.

Trouble is, we just don't see it. Hanks just had that something, more organically, without nearly as much effort, that LaBeouf, who is all packaged slickness and market-tested suavity, doesn't. More importantly, why rabidly try to define someone so early in their career? The media machine that's selling us Shia is probably doing more to eventually damn his career than building the next American idol. His Indiana Jones role was clearly tailored deliberately to his wise-cracking, broad appeal (he's funny for the guys, comfortably cute for the girls!) It felt like an advertisement for some abstract, irritating product. And we're pretty damn sick of it.

What do you think? Is he way over-hyped or the next big time muckity muck?