By The Playlist | The Playlist December 29, 2010 at 4:28AM
There’s a lot of bad movies released every year. Lots. We are but humans, and we can’t see them all. But someone always does. Sometimes it’s many (“The Twilight Saga”). Sometimes few (“Birdemic: Shock and Terror”). But there’s truly something to be said about the general public’s hunger for art that asks so little of them that they’re probably better off spending their time at home, masturbating or sticking firecrackers up their cat’s ass. Or both at the same time. We don’t judge. Maybe a little.
You know how we’re good at what we do? Most of these films were on our Least Anticipated Picks of 2010 written in December of 2009. The writing was on the wall, frankly, and while we love to eat our shoes and be proven wrong, most of the time we were spot on here -- plus there’s a lot in our honorable mention list that fits as well. These are the films that made us cringe, that made us practically walk out of the theater, that made us want to vomit in our mouths and pity the filmmakers who made them and the studios that released them with a straight face.
Just remember, you actually said without an ironic smirk on your face that you were looking forward to these. Or at least some of you did, you know who you are and we sure as shit remember. ;)
“Alice In Wonderland"
Yet another entry in the canon of Johnny Depp/Tim Burton films with grossly diminishing returns, their latest outing finds them reimagining “Alice In Wonderland” with a shitload of CGI and post-converted 3D. While critics picked “Clash of the Titans” as the whipping boy of bad 3D, Burton’s film is just as awful looking, with a strangely dour color palette and shockingly forgettable character design. Moreover, the characters are reduced to funny voices or gestures with Depp doing his poncy, mincing Englishman thing while Helena Bonham Carter spends most of the film shrieking like an annoying banshee you want to punch in the face. Only Mia Wasikowska walks out of the film somehow unscathed, retaining her class and dignity in a film that seems to have stripped it from everyone else involved. But what do we know? Audiences fell down the rabbit hole to the tune of over a billion dollars worldwide, which means studios will keep gambling on shitty 3D and thrown together classic fantasy stories, especially if it can turn into this kind of box-office success.
A gothic horror remake of the classic werewolf tale starring Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt and Hugo Weaving. Does this not sound awesome? Well, it does under the aegis of Mark Romanek. Under the dude who directed "Jumanji"? Mmm... Maybe not so much. While the screenplay of "The Wolfman" is poor, what's worse is the by-committee execution that makes for a holistically compromised picture from beginning to end. And from back to front it basically took 2 1/2 years to finally hit the screen, minus Romanek's development time. Tonally challenged, inane and unintentionally funny, "The Wolfman" is a masterclass in how not to make a modern monster film. We hate to be Nikki Finke, but the writing was slashed upon the wall in bright red ink. We told you so. Why "Captain America" fans aren't concerned (same director Joe Johnston) is a shining example of the love is blind/mouse-to-the-cheese epidemic that permeates geek culture.
When “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” hit DVD awhile back, it was packaged with a second feature-length movie made up of outtakes and deleted footage stitched together Frankenstein-style to form a ramshackle narrative. “Jonah Hex” somehow feels exactly the same, like someone accomplished made a pretty neat adaptation of the DC Comics character and a lowly intern was tasked with assembling the odds and ends on the cutting room floor into a second, far less comprehensible picture to be released as the second of a two-disc set for hardcore fans. 'Hex' is barely a movie, clocking in at under 80 minutes despite long passages that seem to be only filler. At times, the action sequences whiz by incoherently as if the film was its own trailer, while the accomplished cast give performances that suggest they were visibly weighing the pros and cons behind shirking their lines and just walking off set in full costume (Michael Fassbender and Josh Brolin, we hope this is a lesson learned, John Malkovich will obviously take any dumb role for a buck). At the moment where Aidan Quinn offers Jonah Hex a position as Sheriff of America (?!?) you can tell even the film’s star realizes everyone involved had made a huge mistake.
Whoever came up with the idea to hire Kevin Smith, a filmmaker who more or less turns on a camera and lets actors talk in front of it, to helm “Cop Out,” a big budget action comedy, should be loaded into a canon and shot into the sun. (Keep in mind this script wasn’t even a Kevin Smith original; he was a hired gun.) Smith needs to shoulder most of the blame, although the film’s two stars, Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan, should get a stern talking to as well. Willis seemed less committed to enunciating his dialogue, let alone emoting, and Morgan fell back onto his “doing crazy crap” shtick as a distraction from his character’s utter lack of dimensionality. This movie was so bad, so boring, so painfully protracted and dull, that for the last 20 minutes or so of the movie, this reviewer stood at the back of the theater, just waiting for the hurt to end.
Shame on us for thinking that with Nicholas Stoller co-writing the screenplay and pal Jason Segel involved that this might be good. Shame on us again for sitting through it. This expensive-looking turd deservedly bombed at the box office, showing that you can’t always dress up a terrible film in 3D to guarantee box office bucks. And Jack Black, oh god, Jack Black, probably one of the most convivial people in the film industry, and when in good hands (Richard Linklater) he can do decent work. But the man's one-trick-pony mugging show has completely worn out its welcome and if he's going to to continue with this godawful shtick he should be thrown in front of a cinematic firing squad. He's fun in kids' movies (the "Kung Fu Panda" films for one), but other than that he's got no ice or goodwill left to tread on.
“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time"
It's getting on 20 years since the first videogame-to-movie adaptation, and no one's ever quite managed to make a film worth a damn. Could the combined forces of the team behind the box-office colossus that is the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series and the award-winning director of "Donnie Brasco" make it work? Could they fuck. "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" might be a notch or two above "Super Mario Brothers" or "Double Dragon," but not by much. A hopelessly miscast Jake Gyllenhaal leads a cast that also includes Gemma Arterton exactly replicating her terrible performance in "Clash of the Titans," Ben Kingsley on villainous autopilot and Alfred Molina desperately trying to keep the side up, as they follow an overly-complex plot in search of some MacGuffin or other. The whole heavy pudding is leavened with a ton of interchangeable CGI-heavy setpieces, and an Iraq war parallel so heavy-handed you expect Michael Moore to have a screenwriting credit. The best thing you can take away from the two-hour running time is that the viewing public had enough taste to stay away from the movie in droves, sparing us from "Prince of Persia: The Pearls of Fallujah" in years to come.
“Sex and the City 2"
There's an argument to be made that the outcry that greeted the release of "Sex and the City 2" was disproportionate and faintly misogynistic, considering that dozens of geek-friendly pictures are released every year that are as bad, if not worse, than the sequel to the HBO spin-off. Certainly the reactions from many critics to the film seemed to be as much about the aging of the four protagonists as about the movie itself. But having sat through all one-hundred-and-goddamn-forty-six-minutes of the film, we can confirm that, even if many of the reviews were... unfortunately worded... their hearts were in the right places. "Sex and the City 2" is "The Matrix Reloaded" of TV spin offs, a film where seemingly all creators and actors involved forgot what made the original series special, turning into a grotesque parody of what came before. The franchise has always had a wish-fulfillment aspect, but, in the midst of a global recession, it becomes grossly misjudged here; as Charlotte and Miranda wonder how women without nannies cope, you can tangibly hear the audiences sharpening their guillotines. The script is loaded with single-entendres, the cast have become shadows of their former selves, and the cultural insensitivities are countless. We dare you to find a worse film on this list.
After a few weeks in theaters, the excuses have been coming in thick and fast for "Tron: Legacy." "You've got to see it in IMAX!" "It's an audio-visual spectacle!" "It's set in a computer, it doesn't have to make sense." If you've found yourself saying any of the above, you are part of the problem. Disney's would-be juggernaut is the worst kind of tentpole, a film that's thrown $200 million at the wall in the hope that something sticks, without beginning with anything as basic as a decent script. Churning Joseph Campbell's monomyths, "Star Wars" and "The Wizard Of Oz" into some kind of bullshit structure, forgetting to include any kind of tangible stakes and putting it into the hands of super-bland Garrett Hedlund and a firmly-on-autopilot Jeff Bridges (who's given the uncanny-valleyed "Polar Express" makeover for half of his performance), it results in a story that's almost impossible to engage with, even if it played by its own rules, which it absolutely doesn't (why does Tron feature in the film? Why has he become evil? How does Kevin Flynn identify him? And why does he change sides at the last minute?). It doesn't even work as an event movie: of the sparse action-scenes, only the light-cycle duel works, and even that could be basically recreated by playing with blue and orange-colored UV pens in a dark room. Outside of providing the source material for Daft Punk's fourth-best album (of four, let's not forget), this will be swiftly forgotten.
“Clash of the Titans"
Apologies to Mr. Louis Leterrier, but the botched, 3D conversion of "Clash of the Titans" was not the only thing wrong with the poorly written and overstuffed action, Greek-mythos tentpole. If films are going to be remade, we'd rather that they remade films like "Clash of the Titans" -- films beloved mostly from a sense of nostalgia than anything else, films that when rewatched, turn out to be pretty weak. But, while Leterrier's big budget remake managed to drop the mechanical owl, it didn't get much else right. Don't get us wrong, there was plenty of stuff in the movie -- giant scorpions, Guillermo Del Toro-cribbed witches, a giant monster or two -- but that's all it seemed to be, stuff; a film full of sound and fury signifying nothing. It didn't help that the film bore the thumbprints of a post-production hackjob, as Danny Huston and his two lines will attest to. But then, given the performances that did survive the cutting room floor -- Sam Worthington's inexplicably Australian Perseus and leaden performance, Gemma Arterton, given literally nothing to do but explain shit, Ralph Fiennes plagiarizing his own performance in the 'Harry Potter' films, and Liam Neeson being Liam Neeson -- perhaps that's a blessing. The whole thing feels simultaneously hideously expensive and oddly cheap -- by the time Jason Flemyng and his terrible make-up turn up, it feels like you're watching a $200 million version of an episode of "Hercules." The only thing legendary about this turned out to be the hasty 3D conversion job. But not in a good way.
It seemed like a dream on paper: handsome movie stars Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie team up with a hot European director coming off a major arthouse hit (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck of “The Lives of Others” fame) to remake a well-received 2005 French thriller (“Anthony Zimmer”). But the results were absolutely dreadful. There’s no forward momentum, no chemistry between the two leads (who stare at each other, goggle-eyed, without anything even resembling an emotional commitment), and even the arch “isn’t this all so fabulous” cinematography and set design can’t elicit much of a reaction. (The movie is set in Venice and can’t even muster a “Don’t Look Now” shout-out.) The director worried, very publicly, that the movie would be “too European” for American audiences. It turns out his fear was misplaced: he should have been concerned that it was “too boring.” For anyone.
There’s a whole lot of bullshit going on in “Legion." Paul Bettany shows up as a vengeful angel, a group of caricatured misfits (including Lucas Black, Dennis Quaid and Charles S. Dutton who has, swear to god, a hook for a hand) are trapped in a lonely diner on the cusp of the apocalypse, and a whole lot of nifty-in-design-but-lackluster-in-execution special effects assault the screen. What any of this means, beyond the fact that FX-dude-turned-director Scott Stewart should never, ever attempt another film again (too late, he’s already got a vampire movie in the can), is never really solidified. We are fairly certain, however, that this toxic mishmash of “The Matrix” movies, “The Terminator,” and a whole host of Z-grade basic cable genre fare won’t please anyone, no matter how low your expectations are or how bad your taste may be.
This ponderous look at the afterlife, complete with "ooh-look how we’re all connected" sentimentality, was picked up by a committed core of critics who wildly sang its praises (A.O. Scott, what were you smoking?), but that can’t mask what a genuinely awful movie experience it is and how out of his depth Clint Eastwood really was by taking on this kind of risky material. From the meandering screenplay (which writer Peter Morgan admitted was an unfinished version of the story) to the slew of drab performances (not even Matt Damon could escape this thing alive), it felt less like a meaningful exploration of life and death than watching the creative life of a formerly vital film director expire on screen. More to the point, it is irresponsibly unengaging, paced like molasses and features dull as bricks characters in an anti-drama setting. Eastwood should know better. He needs to slow down, take his time, and make movies worth watching, let alone praising.
You’re a famous comedian, and you want to take a vacation with some of your best buddies, but you don’t want to pay for it. Fortunately, Sony has a hole in their summer schedule, so they’re willing to bankroll a lazy lakeside getaway (for $80 million!) under the guise of a movie. We could be describing “Couples Retreat” from 2009, but we’re actually referring to Adam Sandler's “Grown Ups,” suggesting this is becoming a disturbing trend for lazy headlining comedians. The plot seems to be that Adam Sandler has a bitch wife, David Spade has sex with everyone (suspension of disbelief broken early on), Rob Schneider is a freak, Chris Rock is timid, and Kevin James is fat. Add some waterslides, a group hug, some casual sexism, and you have $160 million domestic. No wonder Al Qaeda hates us so much.
“Birdemic: Shock and Terror”
Computer whiz James Nguyen made a fortune on Silicon Valley, allowing him the chance to become a self-funded independent filmmaker. We haven’t seen his first two films, which are apparently standard romantic dramas, but once we saw the trailer for “Birdemic: Shock And Terror,” we knew we couldn’t resist. In 'Birdemic,' a suddenly self-aware millionaire finds the girl of his dreams just as gangs of MS Paint birds attack the coast, sending him fleeing with a ragtag group of survivors in search of the coast where… they can… swim to safety (?). 'Birdemic' is a non-stop demo reel of bad decisions, at a sub-sub-sub-student film level that even Tommy Wiseau would scoff at, and if we were just considering filmmaking on a purely technical level, it would be the worst release of the new millennium.
There’s a late moment in the odious, artless “Catfish” when one of the co-directors finally meets the film’s subject. He is initially incredulous, like a child who just set off a firecracker, but in a rare moment of introspection, he suggests that he doesn’t want to exploit their particular target. “Catfish” frames its shrouded-in-secrecy surprise, a depressing third act revelation, as an example of a systematic disease revolving around how we live entire lives online separate from who we are, and then proceeds to poke at its subject with a stick, free of insight or compassion. That moment of concern against the prospect of exploitation? It clearly faded at some point before the film played for months on over 500 screens nationwide.
“The Twilight Saga: Eclipse”
The argument was made this year that the latest installment in the 'Twilight' franchise, 'Eclipse,' wasn’t AS bad as the two previous installments. This writer must beg the question, what were those people smoking? Oh there’s humor and entertainment to be had in 'Eclipse' in spades, much like the other 'Twilight' entries, from the wigs that are wearing the HELL out of the actors, the laughably bad acting (have we confirmed Bryce Dallas Howard is actually a good actress? Because she is wretchedly bad in this), the corny CGI and effects (one word: WINTERSCAPE), and we haven’t even gotten to the script! Bella and Edward mumble declarations of impossible, eternal love with all the chemistry of a bowlful of cold mashed potatoes, and Jacob huffs and puffs while shirtless and oiled, but nothing anyone says progresses the plot in any way. Director David Slade has made some interesting films (“Hard Candy,” “30 Days of Night”) so was he just trying to adapt to the 'Twilight' aesthetic of “hilariously bad”? When Dakota Fanning is the best thing in your movie and she’s onscreen for two minutes tops, it’s time to rethink the approach.
Look, it’s the holidays, a good time to tell people you appreciate it when they try to stretch, to do something new. But there’s a reason we all learned to color in the lines before we understood what thinking outside the box was. So when Joel Schumacher, one of the very worst living directors, decides to try something new, we balk, if only because it seems after all this time the filmmaker still hasn’t learned how to actually make non-experimental films. In this case, he shot “Twelve” guerrilla-style on a minuscule budget on the Upper West Side, featuring a cast of unknown young faces and using fantasy sequences and overlaying voice-over to illustrate the distance brought to their lives as privileged youth. Instead of being sleazy guilty pleasure cinema, it’s painfully punishing moralizing, with obscenely gauche slow motion and atrocious student-film color filters used to get across the story of a drug dealer finding humanity from a soulless life with his Pure Hometown Girl From Back Home (Emma Roberts, typecast), through one facial expression and one CVS-quality cartoonish stubble.
“When In Rome”
So how terribly unfunny was this misguided PG Disney comedy? Dax Shepard was the funniest person in it. Although, that’s probably not too hard when your competition is the personality vacuum Josh Duhamel, the already out-to-pasture Jon Heder, the aimless Danny DeVito and the unlucky Will Arnett, who can’t seem to find a decent movie vehicle to save his life. Even the charming Kirsten Bell is left floundering here, forced to react to an increasingly moronic array or romantic mishaps. If this film serves any purpose it’s to hopefully put director Mark Steven Johnson in director’s jail where he belongs. How he managed to direct anything after the triple threat of bombs “Simon Birch,” “Daredevil” and “Ghost Rider” (okay, that was sort of successful -- we just hated it) is beyond us.
This list is already pretty long, but there were so many bad movies released this year that this could have run three times as long as it did, and that's even excluding films like "Yogi Bear," which were clearly not made for us (see our Least Anticipated of 2010 list written at the top of the year, 90% of those films fulfilled their terrible promise and would have made this list had we had the time). "The Book of Eli," for instance, demonstrated that whatever promise the Hughes Brothers may have once held was being squandered -- it may have a decent score, but it also had truly awful performances from fine actors like Gary Oldman and Mila Kunis, and one of the stupidest plot twists in living memory. "Valentine's Day" was basically "Love Actually" but without the entertaining bits with Bill Nighy, and therefore is a strong entrant into the romantic comedy hall of shame, where it's joined by "The Bounty Hunter," "Leap Year," "Killers" "Life As We Know It" and "You Again," the latter only being spared from the main list because of our strict quota on shitty Kristen Bell movies (the same could be said for "Burlesque"; c'mon baby girl, you know better).
"The A-Team" may not have been as bad as we were expecting, but it certainly wasn't great and "The Losers" and "The Expendables" more than made up for it, taking the same premise and proving entirely incompetent at pulling it off. "Robin Hood" saw Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe chasing past glories to no avail, telling the dullest possible part of a legendary story without joy, style or flair. They may have been for kids, but both "The Last Airbender" and "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole" were from big-name filmmakers, neither of whom showed an aptitude for family movies, or indeed movies of any kind. "Nightmare On Elm Street" somehow managed to be the worst of the Platinum Dunes remakes, a feat in itself, while "Skyline" proved that independently-made sci-fi flicks can be as mind-numbingly stupid as their studio equivalents. The editor-in-chief also loathed "I Love You Philip Morris," although others on staff were kinder, while "Takers" was about as good as a movie starring Hayden Christensen in a stupid hat can be -- i.e. not many. Hopefully, 2011 will see an uptick in quality...
- Gabe Toro, Drew Taylor, Katie Walsh, Oliver Lyttelton, Kevin Jagernauth, Mark Zhuravsky