Is this the worst summer of blockbusters in a recent age or is it the best? Are “Man of Steel" arguments worth losing friendships over? Is "Southland Tales" a masterpiece as posited by generation revisionism or is it the mess critics took it for initially? Will you dare to give your money to villain mensch Adam Sandler over hero Guillermo del Toro? Debate rages on in 2013 over a variety of topics as is par for the course in the opinionated world of movie criticism and discussion. And yes, as we glance down at our watches, we realize it’s basically the midway point of the year. We already looked at what a handful of us thought were the Best Film Of The Year... So Far, and so in the Peter Travers school of thinking, we thought it might be worthwhile to look at the worst films of the year so far on a Wednesday hump day.
While “Best” was examined by a few core Playlist members (despite what you think of the hive mind, consensus is difficult to achieve around the water cooler), we thought we’d approach our Worst So Far list a bit differently and let each writer speak for themselves so you know where they stand (frankly, some of us don’t want to be standing next to Erik when you throw tomatoes at him). And so, that’s the drill: a quick, down and dirty look at what each of us (or those that participated anyhow) feel is the worst movie of the year so far.
“White House Down”
Okay, before I dive into this, I should qualify that “White House Down” is the worst movie I saw so far this year... the whole way through. “Identity Thief” probably would have beat it to the punch if I was able to make it through the first half, but life is too short for a movie that screechingly awful, and I bailed out before it was over. But back to Roland Emmerich’s latest explosion fest. In my review, I laid out pretty clearly every reason why this movie is dismal entertainment, but even more than the few supporters of “The Lone Ranger,” this movie had a pretty decent bunch of folks behind it giving it a thumbs up, with their justifications mostly amounting to: “But the movie knows it’s dumb, it’s just having fun within the cliches of the action movie! It’s a popcorn movie!” If only. I’ll grant that Emmerich does on occasion acknowledge how asinine the plot of the movie is, and relishes his leads (the thoroughly wasted Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx doing their best in non-roles) spitting out the cornball dialogue (if James Vanderbilt is getting $3 million for scripts like this, I’ve gotta get an agent). But these brief respites of self-acknowledgement at the silliness of the enterprise are thoroughly drowned out by the rest of the movie which takes every ridiculous development completely seriously. If Emmerich really wanted to take the piss out of his own movie, he wouldn’t have spent as much time as he does on the turgid government-coup-World-War-III plot that is not only mind-numbingly dull but mind-numbingly stupid. As for popcorn entertainment, if having your flavorless, derivative mash of a movie spoon-fed, burped up, and spoon-fed again over two plus hours of tedious runtime, is a cinematic escape for you... Well, you need to see more, and better, movies. “White House Down” is never self-aware enough to be clever, and it’s so cobbled together from parts of nearly three decades worth of action films, that it never feels remotely fresh or interesting. Emmerich may have impressively blown the fuck out of stuff in the past, but he’s never been more anonymous as a filmmaker, here seemingly content to let as many bullets fly as possible hoping volume will equal spectacle (it doesn’t)... As much as “The Lone Ranger” didn’t work, at least there was an attempt at authorship, and some interesting ideas explored and presented even if again, they didn’t quite cohere. In this film, I’m supposed to give it a pass because it passes a ludicrously low quality bar with A-list stars and a big budget? Sorry, not happening. - Kevin Jagernauth
It was almost a Rorschach test to see how demented and damaged contemporary audiences were when “The Purge” was announced, presenting the hook of a single night where all crime was legal. What’s insidious was that director James DeMonaco knew exactly how to play their audience, dangling the carrot of lowered unemployment and crime rates in a “New” America where the Purge has wiped the slate clean. However, the film begins with upsetting (possibly real?) surveillance footage of people being gunned down, shot in alleys, killed indiscriminately by killers who wielded weapons like toys. The line had never been so perfectly drawn: that could be you, America, and wouldn’t it be awesome? Not a moment in “The Purge” honestly addresses the morality of such a decision (nor does it ever genuinely explain how such an idea is presented by politicians and passed into law), but it does raise the specter of the haves using the night to pursue the have-nots, suggesting unemployment and poverty rates have dropped due to a smaller presence of the unfortunate, chased like dogs by richer people who can afford such ordinance. Such is the plight introduced by the nondescript white preppies who torture the family in “The Purge,” who use the words like “birthright” and “entitlement” to describe their desire to kill a homeless black ex-soldier. “The Purge” is another horror film that pretends to be horrified at the very idea it’s pushing, just as the “Saw” films discussed justice and retribution but simply believed in guiltless bloodletting, but it also does so by pursuing a dubious, ugly racial agenda, one where the homeless black man turns out to be heroic enough to silently do the right thing, but not heroic enough to actually merit a name in the credits, as he walks away having protected the way of life of an upper-crust white family. It’s lip service to nothing but hate and violence, pushing a non-violent agenda in its climax, but not without a few stereo-assaulting head-smashings, and the promise of even more racially-motivated violence to come next year. A radio report at the end of the film reports that it was “the most successful Purge yet,” and the film is just stupid enough that there are zero clues in the text to actually describe what the hell that means, or who it incriminates. - Gabe Toro
“Violet & Daisy”
While I must admit Chan-Wook Park’s cartoonish and tonally misguided “Stoker” still lays close to my heart as one of the worst films of the year, I believe I’ve given it enough of a paddling. And so I fully admit the impetus for this list was my mildly appalled reaction to “Violet & Daisy,” a fairy-tale like hitman film from Geoffrey Fletcher, the Oscar-winning writer behind “Precious.” Screenwriters making their feature-length directorial debuts has been an ugly road in recent years (we recently look at this phenomenon in this feature). Dustin Lance Black and “Virginia,” Mitch Glazer and the stunningly ill-conceived “Passion Play,” and William Monaghan’s “London Boulevard” all suggest that none of these guys should quit their day jobs and the same can be said for Fletcher’s debut, “Violet & Daisy.” Like a painful and dated version of “Pulp Fiction” meets “Betty & Veronica” Archie Comics, Alexis Bledel and Saoirse Ronan star as teenage assassins who crack wise, snap bubblegum and casually eliminate their targets with cocksure irreverence. Now “Violet & Daisy” wants to be Quentin Tarantino with high school girls, 20 years after that fact, which already is as wretched as it sounds, but then the plot gets even stranger. The girls are essentially going to quit the hitman life, but then their favorite pop idol Barbie Sunday’s (played by Cody Horn in photographs on the cover of Teen Beat-like magazines) show is canceled, they decide to do one more hit to raise money to keep her on the air. Their last target (James Gandolfini, in a role that’s sadly beneath him) and his existential willingness to die complicates their job and the girls soon find themselves on path of self-examination that crosses with killers, guns and each others. A would-be crime fable, “Violet & Daisy” is an utterly uninvolving mess. So much so that it’s shocking to think Fletcher is an Academy Award winner. “What is he thinking?!” crosses your mind every few minutes of this ridiculous fiasco and it’ll be a wonder if he ever has an opportunity to direct again. This is the worst completely misguided indie film since "Hick." - Rodrigo Perez
There is nothing worse than a 13-year-old boy (except maybe a 13-year-old girl, coming from someone who once was one). Placing an unsympathetic adolescent at the center of your big-budget sci-fi film is a cinematic crime roughly on level only with casting the largely untalented Jaden Smith as that 13-year-old. But it isn’t the younger Smith who deserves much of the blame for M. Night Shyamalan’s “After Earth.” As the icy (and enigmatic!) General Cyper Raige, his father Will somehow manages to be less charming than his son, which is a feat in itself for the usually magnetic actor. The elder Smith is also responsible for the film’s story, which follows the young Kitai Raige as he tries to save himself and his injured father after their spaceship crashes on a futuristic, deadly version of Earth. Smith gets extra demerits if he also came up with the characters’ names, which sound like something out of particularly bad fanfic. There should at least be some nerd joy derived from the technology when you set a film this far into the future, but I was too busy puzzling over the universe’s biggest plot holes and required leaps of logic to get excited over the Raige family’s fancy knives. I may have gone to a high school that taught Creationism as a science class, but even I could recognize that the earth’s evolution was a bit fast– and impossible. “After Earth” tells its unlucky audience that the planet evolved to kill humans with plane-sized eagles and giant baboons, but we’ve been gone for a millennium. How would that specialization happen in our absence? There are more issues, but I wouldn’t want to put more thought into dissecting the film than Shyamalan and Gary Witta put into writing it. - Kimber Myers