The Ten Worst Films
Finding ten awful films for 2001 was all too easy. For 2002 I actually
had to struggle to complete the list. Could it be that the overall film
quality improved last year? I think so. In all fairness, I did avoid
some of 2002's more stomach-turning offerings, such as Jackass,
The Hot Chick, Swept Away, Serving
Sara, and Pinocchio. Hey, any year has it's turkeys.
It just seemed as though there were less of them in 2002, and more films
to actually enjoy.
So this time I had to look harder, even going into foreign and independent
films. But I got my ten. Some confused, some irritated, some frustrated,
and they all made me wish for my time back:
10. The Scorpion King (dir. Chuck Russell)
With a plot and atmosphere lifted right from the Conan movies, The
Scorpion King makes you appreciate Arnold Schwarzenegger. For
all his faults, "Ahnuld" exudes a sense of purpose and determination.
The Rock has the build and the look, but not much else. He lacks the
screen presence to become a legitimate action hero. And as The Rock
goes (or doesn't), so goes the movie. Other than some attractive women
there's nothing there. With a guilty pleasure action film I can forgive
a recycled, patched-together story if I get tight pacing and exciting
action scenes, but The Scorpion King has neither. The
fight sequences in particular were mundane and pedestrian. The
Scorpion King is no guilty pleasure; it's just guilty.
9. Late Marriage (dir. Dover Koshashvili)
My old Hebrew school teachers would gasp at me including an Israeli
film on this list, but I had no choice. Every scene in Late Marriage
drags on forever, as does the entire film. Lior Ashkenazi plays Zaza,
a thirtysomething bachelor whose meddlesome parents try desperately
to fix him up with a "nice girl." Our hero loves a divorced
mother who is unacceptable to his parents. Zaza acts so excruciatingly
passive he makes Bartleby look like General Patton. His parents grow
more annoying as the film progresses. Lili Koshashvili, as Zaza's mother,
mumbles her lines with all the expression of Steven Seagal on Valium.
How did she get her job? She's the director's mother. Critics heaped
praise on Late Marriage, and I can't figure out why. Maybe
it's the old "If it's foreign, it must be good," mentality.
Let Late Marriage remind us that just because a film isn't
from Hollywood, doesn't mean it's not junk.
8. Unfaithful (dir. Adrian Lyne)
Unfaithful wastes a career performance from Diane Lane,
who is brilliant as a loving, conflicted and adulterous housewife. If
Lyne had built the film around her he could have had something worthwhile.
Instead he pairs her with the handsome but bland Oliver Martinez, who
plays a character straight from a cheap romance novel. Worse yet, the
second half shifts away from Lane and to Richard Gere as the cuckolded
husband. Lyne (perhaps trying to echo Fatal Attraction)
turns the film into a clunky thriller that goes nowhere. Gere again
demonstrates his innate ability to suck the life out of any film (Chicago
being a notable exception). Lyne displays the sexy flash that has become
his trademark, but fails at simple storytelling.
7. Possession (dir. Neil LaBute)
LaBute's films used to simmer with viciousness. He capably moved away
from that with the sweet, charming Nurse Betty. But perhaps
he's strayed too far. With Possession, LaBute delves into
the type of staid, stodgy romance best left to the Merchant/Ivory team.
Possession alternates between two plot lines. The first
is a 19th century romance between famous poets Randolph Ash and Christabel
LaMotte. The second is a modern day love story between two scholars
who gradually discover Ash and LaMotte's affair. The older tale has
some interest due to the sparks between Jeremy Northam and Jennifer
Ehle. Unfortunately, Possession spends more time with
the modern story and suffers from Aaron Eckhart and Gwyneth Paltrow
having zero chemistry. LaBute tries but fails to evoke tension and anticipation
in the search for historical papers. Possession quickly
becomes dull and monotonous. Let's hope this was just a misfire and
that LaBute returns to form soon.
6. Scooby-Doo (dir. Raja Gosnell)
Why turn Scooby-Doo into a live-action film? So we can see Freddie Prize,
Jr. one more time? The cartoon was never a classic but always had a
certain kitschy charm. That's all gone as none of the actors brings
anything to the table, save for Matthew Lillard's dead-on spot as Shaggy.
The computer generated Scooby-Doo doesn't even look like the original.
The haunted island story provides little opportunity for laughs, concluding
with a lame, effects-heavy climax. Unfortunately, audiences showed up
for Scooby-Doo meaning we're in for many copycats. What's
next: a live-action Smurfs? Stick with the cartoons.
5. Pumpkin (dir. Anthony Abrams and Adam Larson Broder)
The New York Times accurately called Pumpkin "Tod
Solondz lite." Solondz makes brutal satires of upper/middle class
suburbia, cultural hypocrisy, and interpersonal cruelty. Pumpkin could
have been a nice uplifting tale about Carolyn, a shallow sorority girl
whose life is transformed when she falls for a handicapped boy. Pumpkin
could also have been a Solondz type effort. The film tries to be both,
and succeeds at neither. It's too ironic to be inspiring or moving,
and it's too hokey to be an effective satire. Matters aren't helped
by the horrible miscasting of Christina Ricci as Carolyn. Ricci is at
her best as the misfit, not the homecoming queen. Pumpkin
also gives way too much screen time to Kent, Carolyn's annoying preppie
boyfriend. The result of all of this is an unconvincing, unamusing film.
4. Men in Black II (dir. Barry Sonnenfeld)
Five years elapsed since the first Men in Black. You'd
think Sonnenfeld and his team would have used that time to produce a
decent script. Men in Black was a brilliantly constructed
film that built up the comic situations and drew from the chemistry
of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Men in Black II feels
rushed and thrown together, as if the story was written in one night.
It takes the film way too long to get Smith and Jones back together
and when it does, it's so late that they can't develop the repartee
they had in the first effort. The film has a scant few genuinely funny
moments, but too many of the jokes fall flat. Smith and Jones only agreed
to appear in Men in Black II for $20 million apiece, and
after watching this film, you can understand why.
3. John Q (dir. Nick Cassavetes)
John Q is proof that there's no such thing as a can't miss film.
It has a compelling hook - a man whose insurance won't pay his dying
son's medical care holds an ER hostage. He demands that doctors perform
the operation that will save his son's life. John Q also
has an all-star cast including Denzel Washington, Robert Duvall, James
Woods and Ray Liotta. How can you possibly screw this up? Easy. First,
ignore all moral complexity by providing two-dimensional characters:
the angelic son, the steadfast friend, the smarmy doctor, and the evil
hospital director. Even the hostages fit simple stereotypes, including
the black cool guy and the scummy abusive boyfriend. Second, fill the
story with obvious plot mechanics that you can see from a mile away.
Finally, add in a generous helping of preachy dialogue, in case anyone
in the audience might possibly miss the point. Throw it all together
and you have John Q, a film meant to be thought-provoking
and uplifting that's instead dumb and insulting.
2. feardotcom (dir. William Malone)
A horror movie where you feel like one of the victims. Everyone who
visits the "feardotcom" website suffers a horrible death.
Naturally, instead of staying away, websurfers keep logging on (much
like the teenagers who keep coming to the summer camp in the Friday
the 13th movies). The mindless story plays second fiddle to "boo"
scare tactics, and Seven-ripoff visuals. Don't look for help from the
actors. Stephen Dorff and Natascha McElhone, as the lead investigators,
phone in "When does the check clear?" level performances.
Stephen Rea (who should stick to Neil Jordan films) chews the scenery
as a third-rate Hannibal Lecter-wannabe killer. Feardotcom
also features graphic torture scenes in brutal detail. A more talented
filmmaker could imply torture through suggestion, deft camerawork and
sound, but there's no such subtlety here. These scenes feel increasingly
sickening and sadistic as the film lumbers on. In feardotcom, those
who logon to the website suffer their darkest fears. That must mean
if I logged on, I would need to see the film again.
1. Rollerball (dir. John McTiernan)
Who would have imagined that Planet of the Apes would
have such a brief reign as the worst remake of the decade? The original
Rollerball, from director Norman Jewison, was one of
many 1970s sci-fi dystopia films. Set in the future, rollerball (a combination
of roller derby and basketball) is the most popular sport. Huge corporations,
which control the game and the planet, tweak the game to maximize violence
and viewers. Against all of this is Jonathan E. (James Caan), rollerball's
Michael Jordan, who truly loves his sport. The first Rollerball
was a real examination of sports' role in society, corporate influence,
and where it could lead. Much of it seems all the more prescient today.
The remake has none of this - no thought, no commentary, and barely
a story. The new film is set in a present-day fictional nation. The
emphasis is on the visceral thrills and nothing else. Instead of Caan,
who projected both earnestness and weariness, we get Chris Klein, who
projects . . . nothing. Even the film's (and McTiernan's) calling card,
the action scenes, fall woefully short. The cuts are so quick it's hard
to tell who's doing what. For reasons known only to him, McTiernan filmed
one entire sequence in night vision. McTiernan used to be one of the
premier action movie directors, but needs to get his fastball back.
Staying away from remakes would be a good start.
January 31, 2003
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