8. "Now You See Me"
This magic-world thriller, starring Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Mark Ruffalo (amongst others), was an unexpected hit this past summer. Baffling, too, considering the movie was so utterly implausible and almost instantly forgettable. Movies about magic are usually more powerful if the magic tricks could actually be accomplished in real life. With "Now You See Me," though, not only is every trick phony baloney but it's accomplished using sophisticated visual effects which add an even less genuine layer of unbelievable humbug. Not that any of this matters much. With cardboard cutout characters and a narrative that doesn't motor as much as badly limp forward, "Now You See Me" was a supposedly "fun" romp that makes so little sense that it's very nearly impossible to care, playing largely like a humorless mishmash of "The Da Vinci Code," "National Treasure," and "The Prestige." When the outrageous final twist zaps into view, it's like it's been beamed in from some other movie altogether—or maybe some other galaxy. The fact that the studio is already planning a sequel is a testament to what good marks the cinemagoing public are, as we clearly can't tell when a magic trick is being pulled on us. In this case, the filmmakers, with no return, made our money vanish—like that!
Diablo Cody where did you go wrong? Try: everywhere and in every way. Following her best script to date, “Young Adult,” the scribe switched gears and took on her first directing gig (of her own material, no less), “Paradise,” off a script meant to skewer religious hypocrisy originally called, “Lamb of God.” Starring the acting-wise tone-deaf Julianne Hough as a conservative, sheltered, but somehow super-sarcastic teen from the Midwest who loses her faith after a near-death experience on a plane crash that leaves most of her body badly burned, Hough’s Lamb protagonist heads out to the paradise of Las Vegas to find her way. Or indulge in sin, she’s not really sure what she’s going to do. Along the way she befriends the “magical negro” archetype (Cody’s words, played by Octavia Spencer) and a skeevy and charming bartender played by Russell Brand. The pedestrian lessons everyone learns from her voyage into her metaphorical Oz (friendship! faith! everyone has scars! just like those burns!) would be bad enough as it is, but Cody lays it on thick with a cloying, sugary patina that’s part “Sweet Valley High” and part Disney Channel movie of the week. Cody appears to half-heartedly try something refreshingly earnest, but undercuts herself the entire time with quips, cutsey bon mots, over-clever pop culture references and signs all pointing to the fact that she just can’t let go of her affected distance in writing. It’s worked in the past, but the half measures here only exacerbate all of its syrupy, saccharine and myriad stink-eye issues. This misguided and ill-conceived afterschool special is one to miss.
6. "The Host"
A lot of young adult adaptations have attempted to fill the hole left by the "Twilight" franchise and almost all of them have failed. This isn't much of a surprise, since they are almost all poorly paced bores that care more about their self-important "mythology" than things like well-developed characters and inventive narratives. But it was still sort of shocking to watch "The Host" crash and burn, if only because of its literary "pedigree" (it's based on a novel that was written by "Twilight" godhead Stephanie Meyer) and the talent of writer/director Andrew Niccol (whose recent lark "In Time" is, by comparison, a masterpiece of speculative science fiction). Apparently in the future humanity has been co-opted by extraterrestrial beings (that look like glittery deep-sea squids), who live inside their human hosts. Saoirse Ronan (yes, her again) stars as a human who refuses to let the alien invader take over, which leads to a lot of back-and-forth voiceover where the two personalities bicker inside her skull. Add to that a minimally designed futureworld consisting mostly of silvery, mirrored cars, and a lengthily explored subplot involving underground wheat production, and maybe it is apparent why this wasn't the next "Twilight." At least in that movie the love triangle actually had, you know, bodies.
5. "The Big Wedding"
There was a time—the 1970s was probably the last point—when the concept of a film teaming Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon and Robin Williams would have been enormously exciting. That time has long since passed, and with the older generation paired with the present-day cinematic warning labels of Katherine Heigl, Topher Grace, Amanda Seyfried and Ben Barnes, few films in 2013 looked as unenticing on paper as "The Big Wedding." So in a way, it's impressive that Justin Zackham (the writer of "The Bucket List," here making his directorial debut) managed to make a film that was even worse than the marketing made it appear. A loose remake of the French comedy "Mon frere se marie," it sees the cast members as a dysfunctional family reunited for the marriage of adopted son Alejandro (Barnes) to Seyfried, with De Niro and Keaton, who divorced years ago, forced to pretend they're still married, to the disgruntlement of Sarandon, because Alejandro's real mother is Catholic and hates divorce, or something (it's a setup so contrived that it would be rejected in the writers' room of even the worst sitcoms). Set in a world that even Nancy Meyers would consider unbelievably smug and over-privileged, filled with characters who are both wildly unsympathetic and who at no point resemble actual humans, and involving very, very few laughs, the only point at which the film's even remotely bearable is early on, when you still cling to hope that this all might be a precursor to the family being massacred, "Funny Games" style. But sadly, it doesn't come to pass, and you're left with a 90 minute "comedy" that at no point brings anything remotely like pleasure to an audience. We've never been prouder of the American public as when they resolved to go and see something, anything else in theaters besides this.