Is Colin Farrell Sexy?

The release of Robert Towne’s Depression-era romance “Ask the Dust” offers the occasion to ponder some burning questions: Namely—what’s the deal with Colin Farrell? Does the generically cute actor with a scoundrel’s smirk and ripped bod have what it takes to be a sex symbol? Can he act his way out of a pair of boxer shorts? And, more importantly, is the guy even sexy?

In the less-than-titillating “Ask the Dust,” the Irish bad boy plays Arturo Bandini, a broke LA-based writer bent on writing the Great American Novel and seducing a California blonde to wear on his arm. Instead he falls in love with Camilla, a sassy Mexican waitress played by Salma Hayek. Rather than wooing, though, he taunts and tortures her in a series of cringe-inducing scenes. (He doesn’t however go so far as to pull her pigtails.) Hayek oozes sensuality—she can’t help herself—but the chemistry meant to sizzle between the antagonistic pair never materializes onscreen. They engage in verbal warfare and skinny-dip in the moonlight, but the attraction supposedly reaching boiling point beneath their surface awkwardness remains cold.

When they eventually take their clothes off, it’s a snooze. Watching Hayek wait tables in her huaraches is sexier.

Maybe the casting is off in this film. Maybe it’s not Colin’s fault that the love story falls flat. An online poll, after all, found the notorious ladies man to be the “sexiest and most dateable celebrity bad boy.” I don’t know exactly what that means, but certainly it’s a sign that some people find him attractive. And even though most of his fan sites are defunct, prestigious directors keep hiring him to play roles of greater and greater significance. So he’s got to have something going for him, right?

Colin Farrell first came to international attention playing a Texan soldier in Joel Schumacher’s “Tigerland” in 2000, a role that launched him into the Hollywood stratosphere, where he took parts in a wide range of films before landing the lead in 2002 in Schumacher’s “Phone Booth.” His name indelibly engraved on the A-list, Colin played Alexander the Great in Oliver Stone’s “Alexander,” a mystifying casting choice that stunned detractors who later blamed poor Colin when the film tanked, and Captain John Smith in Terrence Mallick’s 2005 “The New World,” a historical figure he embodied with greater success—he got to play impassioned and dewy while stalking the 15-year-old Pocahontas in the woods.

While “Miami Vice” sounds promising, so far the consistently miscast star’s most compelling role is one that many people missed, in a low-budget, Irish ensemble drama called “Intermission,” in which he plays an Irish punk with cocky charm and a vicious streak. In a word, he plays a nastier version of himself and he does so to truly powerful and scary effect. The performance benefits from tapping into those qualities that land him most often on Page 6, his reputation as a potty-mouthed rogue and lothario, a 29-year-old Don Juan who married a woman whose nickname—Millie—he tattooed on his hand; had a kid with a model ex-girlfriend; and is rumored to have dated “Alexander” co-star Angelina Jolie and Mouseketeer-turned-pop star Brittany Spears, among others. And then of course there’s “Playboy”’s Miss January 2002, Nicole Narain, which brings us to the little matter of a sex tape.

While his drinking, swearing and charmingly unchecked propensity to say whatever crosses his mind make Colin more entertaining than most celebrities, he’s also a famous guy whose genitals (or “bits,” as he puts it) get more press attention than most. In the indie film “A Home at the End of the World,” based on the novel by “The Hours” writer Michael Cunningham, Colin was bizarrely cast as a sort of asexual cherub with a bland personality, blank facial expression and incomprehensible sexual sway over everyone who crosses his path. The story goes that a full-frontal shot of our boy was cut from the film’s theatrical version because, as was reportedly reported in “The Sun,” Colin was “too well hung.” Audiences in test screenings apparently became overly-excited, women gasping while the men-folk squirmed uncomfortably.

That his “bits” are something to squirm about has been officially confirmed with the wide Internet dissemination of a notorious 14-minute home porn tape, in which we see Colin being his randy self. He strokes his most buzzed-about body part and grins up at Narain from between her legs to snarl, “I could do this for breakfast, lunch and dinner.” The tape, much greater entertainment than “Ask the Dust,” was for sale for $14.95 on a web site called dirtycolin.com until his lawyers got the site shut down (a legal battle which the ex-lovebirds are still hotly fighting). Fans on such sites as Defamer and Bastardly have suggested that maybe Colin shouldn’t have been so hasty. This scandal could be just the publicity needed to boost “Ask the Dust” (which opened to crap reviews on March 10) and other upcoming projects at the box office. And truth be told, it might be his most winning performance ever.