Barring a glorious surprise with the upcoming fourth installment, none of Michael Bay’s “Transformers” movies are any good. But the first film at least has its Spielberg-approved boy-and-his-car story to ground things, and the third has the most impressive mayhem in its admittedly over-extended third act. The middle installment, “Revenge Of The Fallen,” has neither of these things. Instead, it has a generic, formulaic plot that essentially replicates the first film (perhaps a side-effect of the writers strike, though that Kurtzman, Orci and Ehren Kruger were the credited writers suggests that you were never going to get much on the page), noisy action, not one but two resurrections of characters thanks to a bullshit MacGuffin, endless action sequences that still don’t find a way to actually tell the fucking characters apart, an increasingly hateful lead performance by Shia LaBeouf, random pot-brownie gags and an increasingly thick vein of misogyny (Megan Fox posed ludicrously on motorbikes, an attractive woman who tries to seduce LaBeouf only to LITERALLY TURN OUT TO BE A TRANSFORMER), and an even thicker one of racism. Even for defenders of Bay, this one’s inexcusable.
Nadir: The jive-talking robots Skids and Mudflaps, caricatures so racist that they’d be shocking in the 1940s.
We’ve mostly tried to avoid films that fall into the “so bad they’re good” category, but that line is definitely blurred with the almost preternaturally campy disco musical “Xanadu.” While it is undoubtedly terrible, featuring nonsensical plotting and dreadful wooden acting, not least from Olivia Newton-John whose register is stuck on “wholesome Aussie on skates” when she’s supposed to be a mysterious semi-divine muse sent to help lunkheaded artist Sonny (Michael Beck) find his talent, it is so gleefully, day-glo, video-effect terrible that it’s quite entertaining. And there are even (brief) moments when it’s almost good, with Gene Kelly’s flashback dance with a 40s siren (also Newton-John) a creditable routine that’s oddly touching. That said, what’s endearing is the cheesiness of a film that has no idea how bad it is, nor that the flash-in-the-pan roller-disco aesthetic it revels in is not, in fact, going to last forever. Or even the week.
Nadir: Any moment when no one’s dancing or singing or skating and you’re suddenly aware they thought they were making a film here.
"Super Mario Brothers" (1993)
In an interview with The Guardian, the late, great Bob Hoskins answered the questions “What is the worst job you’ve done?”, “What has been your biggest disappointment?” and “If you could edit your past, what would you change?” with the same answer: “Super Mario Brothers.” Not a soul would disagree. The first, and maybe still the worst, major video-game-to-movie adaptation (there’s some very tough competition), it takes the seminal, colorful platform Nintendo games, and like some premonition of how Hollywood would be twenty years on, turns it into a weirdly gritty “Mad Max”-inspired story about Dennis Hopper trying to turn everyone into dinosaurs. Fans of the game would be puzzled by the complete lack of resemblance to the thing they loved, everyone else would just be bored out of their minds at what filmmakers Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel (the creators of “Max Headroom,” and who blew up their own careers with the movie) came up with.
Nadir: Dennis Hopper turning into a T-Rex.
“Jonah Hex” (2010)
The films on this list are terrible, but most are at least recognizably movies: they have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and tell something that at least resembles a coherent story. The same can’t be said of “Jonah Hex,” which runs at a mere 81 minutes, and sucks like a vacuum for every single incoherent one of them. Starring Josh Brolin as DC Comics’ back-from-the-dead, heavily-scarred bounty hunter, who takes on John Malkovich’s auto-villain with the help of Megan Fox’s prostitute, it’s a movie that makes more sense from the trailer than from the actual movie, feeling like the filmmakers (in this case, “Horton Hears A Who” director Jimmy Hayward, who replaced Neveldine and Taylor at the last minute) wrapped the project, only to remember three weeks before released that they hadn’t shot thirty pages of the screenplay, and had to glue something together, because the posters had already gone out. With millions of dollars spent on these movies, a basic degree of competence is the very least you can expect from them. But not from “Jonah Hex.”
Nadir: A final fight sequence that randomly cuts together two fight scenes between the same two people in two different locations, for reasons that no human being on earth can effectively explain. No clip available, but here’s a scene where the film randomly shifts into animation to make up for it.
“Pearl Harbor” (2001)
He’d go on to do it with clones in “The Island,” and with warring alien robots with “Transformers,” so we suppose it’s no surprise that Michael Bay was able bring his unerring talent for making headachey, tedious movies out of potentially exciting premises with “Pearl Harbor.” But the travesty here is that this is history, and one of the most important, tide-shifting, annals-rewriting events of the 20th century at that, and Bay manages to take that dramatic gold and spin it into straw: the final film is a lumpen flavorless bore, featuring three of the least charismatic actors who’ve ever graced a blockbuster in Kate Beckinsale, Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett, in a “love story” so inert we can never really remember who is who. Everything about this film makes us sad, especially the absolute tragedy of its 3-hour running time.
Nadir: So. Many. Flags. So. Much. Slo-mo.