It’s interesting to see how some filmmakers retreat after a significant failure: McG’s poker-faced “Terminator Salvation” was a disaster of post-production mistakes and idle-minded science fiction concepts, something of an attempt for the candy shop auteur to go “legit.” When that failed at the box office, McG retreated in the opposite direction, making a romantic comedy that made “The Truth About Cats And Dogs” look like “Rigoletto.” Absolutely nothing works in this tragically-inept mash-up, attempting to wrangle a '90’s sitcom tone and allowing it to mesh with cheap spy theatrics, failing on even the most basic level. CIA agents Chris Pine and Tom Hardy get to fight over an unfortunate Reese Witherspoon, a pretty woman made by the production team to look like plasticine. Both trade barbs, mostly at the tenth-grade level, while taking the time to mock the sexuality and appearance of Chelsea Handler, a sub-quality comedian that nonetheless doesn’t deserve the misogynist humor at her expense in an overly-expensive Target commercial posing as a film. Hardy looks actively uncomfortable in a broad studio comedy atmosphere, and it’s embarrassing to see the “Bronson” star, an actual actor, getting cuckolded by the CW-level appeal of Pine’s smirky alpha male dullard. There’s a sort of moral outrage that can be applied to “This Means War,” the theoretically casual laughs provided by the idea these mooks are using excess amounts of your taxpayer money to woo a girl, and comfortably participating in extreme surveillance techniques presented as a toss-off luxury to their job. But why heap insult onto injury? This is a stupid, broad, ugly film that’s fishing for guppies and coming up with an empty net.
Somehow, Len Wiseman attracts less of the scorn given to some of his contemporaries -- Michael Bay, Brett Ratner, McG. Perhaps it's because he's more under the radar, or maybe because his films to date have been less egregious to certain sections of fandom, but if there's any justice in the world, his remake of "Total Recall" will put him right atop everybody's shit list. A film for which "aggressively mediocre" would be a compliment, it carries across neither the psychological tricksiness of Philip K. Dick's source story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale," nor the over-the-top gonzo weirdness of Paul Verhoeven's 1990 film (to which the script, credited to Mark Bomback and Kurt Wimmer with several others doing doctoring work, is close enough to invalidate its own existence, while dropping all the bits that made the film memorable). Wiseman spends a lot of time building his world, without noticing that he's borrowed most of it from "Blade Runner," "Minority Report" and a handful of video games, shooting the film with a gloosy, lens-flare-aided sheen that's mainly just boring. To Wiseman's credit, he shoots action with a clarity that some of his contemporaries can't manage, but he also undermines it by stacking it with CGI that makes the whole thing feel weightless. Nonsensically plotted, entirely predictable and dumb as a rock, the only crime worse than wasting the talented likes of Colin Farrell, Bill Nighy and Bryan Cranston on such non-existent roles, is that the film exists at all.
One day, in good time, like fine wine, “Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston" may age to become a cult underground classic. It has all the ingredients of an ironic so-bad-its-good guilty pleasure, mostly stemming from its vapid, narcissistic, and talentless buffoon of a director (though he certainly doesn’t deserve to go under that appellation and clearly is some kind of trust fund brat). Yes, since Morgan Spurlock, a lot of documentarians have unfortunately gone in the route of amateur first-person doc, but perhaps none have been as clueless, inept and loathsome as Whitney Sudler-Smith. While the bumbling nature of this nincompoop was a PR selling point -- hey, he’s entertaining! -- Sudler-Smith is a spoiled cretin with little interest in his subjects who delivers almost no insight to fashion whatsoever. Ostensibly about Halston, the famous '70s/'80s American fashion designer that invented the ultrasuede synthetic that reigned in the disco era, Sudler-Smith's "documentary" is seemingly more interested the hedonism of the '70s, Studio 54, Andy Warhol and meeting celebrity friends of the fashion icon. All the while with his stupid, goofy grin and myriad peacocky hairstyles and outfits on display (there’s even a scene of him playing a Chanel guitar for some reason, and at one point he visits his rich mother to ask her why she thinks he was so interested in the ‘70s). This is a doc that features its lead pontificating while driving around in a Trans Am and then willingly shows sequences where fashion pillars like André Leon Talley berate the filmmaker for being moronic, an inept interviewer and for having his cell phone go off in the middle of the interview (no, really). Excruciating and painfully shallow all around, though perhaps destined for a new life once college kids and graduates of advanced irony get a hold of it.
In some ways, Jonathan Liebesman's "Wrath of the Titans" is better than its predecessor, the already-not-very-good "Clash of the Titans." Some of the monsters are kind of fun, at least, and there's a somewhat inventive scene set in an ever-shifting labyrinth. In most ways, however, it's a sequel of diminishing returns. Revolving around a story that's not so much a plot as one of those Japanese video games where you walk across a field fighting randomly-generated creatures by picking things from a menu, it sees demi-god Perseus (Sam Worthington, no longer even trying to not be Australian) on a quest to rescue his father (Liam Neeson) from Hades (Ralph Fiennes) and Ares (Edgar Ramirez). It's Joseph Campbell Hero's Journey bullshit through and through, mostly grim and humorless, bar appearances from new gods Diet Russell Brand (Toby Kebbell, seemingly the only actor actually conscious during filming) and Wallace-from-Wallace-and-Gromit-dressed-as-Dumbledore (Bill Nighy). And despite the prestigious returning acting talent of Fiennes, Neeson and Danny Huston (given lines this time around!), the veterans perform their scenes like dinner theater Shakespeare performers who are improvising their lines because they're too drunk to remember what they should be saying. Perhaps none of this would matter if the film delivered on the action and spectacle front, but it certainly doesn't. Liebesman imports three things from his dreadful "Battle: Los Angeles" -- shaky, borderline-unwatchable camerawork, nonsensical editing where almost no shots lead organically into the next, and a complete lack of interest in human beings. By the time a mulleted Worthington is repeatedly punching a minotaur in the cock, you'd mistake it for an ill-conceived sequel to "Your Highness," if your eyes hadn't glazed over 45 minutes earlier. Fortunately, the audience weren't fooled twice, and the film made almost half what 'Clash' did, hopefully killing this franchise stone dead.
Honorable mention: “Breaking Dawn 2”, "Big Miracle," "Underworld: Awakening," "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance," "A Thousand Words," "American Reunion," "The Three Stooges," "Madea's Witness Protection," "Savages," "The Apparition," "The Possession," "The Tall Man," "The Cold Light of Day," "House at the End of the Street," "Silent Hill: Revelation 3D," "Fun Size," "Playing For Keeps."
For all The Playlist's year-end coverage make sure to follow all our Best Of 2012 features.
"Atlas Shrugged Part II"
In fairness, no one on staff actually saw this. But come on. Look at that trailer.
- Gabe Toro, Oliver Lyttelton, Rodrigo Perez, Katie Walsh, Drew Taylor, Kimber Myers