Posted December 23, 2009

"Every bad movie is depressing.  No good movie is depressing."

- Roger Ebert

There are many films every year that soar well above atrociousness and then miraculously attain new heights of transcendent horridness.  Alas, with every wondrous year that sees many films of limitless appeal and entertainment value there still remains a solid crop of others that fester in a cinematic wasteland of shame.  

People have so often asked me whether I take more pride in offering up my compilations for the BEST films of the year or the WORST films.  Upon quick reflection I always seem to respond more favorably to the worst lists.  Why?  Consider it a form of critical revenge on my part: I simply love to remind people at the end of each respective year of the ten reasons why Hollywood has continued to shamelessly rob patrons of their hard earned money and, most importantly, their limited time.  The great films become greater the more times you see them; the truly awful ones are terrible upon first viewing and never make you want to revisit them.

As was the regrettable case in 2008, I saw enough stinkers in 2009 to make not one, but two WORST lists.  That’s a stunning and shameful indictment of the movies themselves, if not of some of the millions of people that paid top dollar to see them.  Sometimes I wonder if my finger is so inordinately off of the pulse of populist tastes; my single worst film going experience of the year was also the most widely seen and became the 9th highest domestic grossing film of all-time, which depresses me to no end.  Either I am a pragmatic and level headed person that spares no expense at deservingly drubbing mediocre efforts that the masses love…or…I am a hard nosed and impersonal nihilist that's completely ass-backwards wrong.  

Now…my ego does not allow me to acknowledge the latter as a viable answer. 

My wall of shame list contains many frequent wrongdoers from past years, like sequels, movies based on toy lines, movies based on video games, movies predominantly featuring professional wrestlers in starring roles, movie comedies with big name stars that are comically dead-on-arrival, audience insulting romcoms, and, in some cases, movies that have Oscar winning and nominated performers that brazenly spit in the faces of their audiences with their participation in mournfully odious pay check efforts.  Seriously, I ask the question yet again…whom are they trying to fool? 

In closing, I begin the list with the single worst reason to go to the movies in 2009 and then follow that pick with nine other dubious choices that are in random order of ineptitude.  I see no beneficial reason to place these other nine films into a discernable rank, seeing as I consider them all equal offenders.  Sometimes I often lament on overlooked films that are stupendous, but not widely seen; these ten films are films that beg viewers to overlook them.

So...let the mudslinging begin.  Here are my...

 

 
  First on the list is 2009's worst reason to enter a theatre, followed by nine other worthy candidates:  
 

 
     
 

TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN

 
 

The above image represents the only decent thing to look at throughout all of TRANSFORMER 2’s brain-hemorrhagingly awful two and half – yup, two and a half – hours. 

To directly quote my original review back in the summer of ’09, “This film left me utterly speechless” and was one that pummels viewers into shocking submission and, ultimately, is something to watch in stunned incredulity.”  I have always been acutely critical of Michael Bay’s penchant for eye-stabbing visual and editorial overkill, and TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN takes his bloated, massively expensive, and explosion-and-edit-every-millisecond aesthetic style to all new tortuous levels.   It’s one thing to have to endure, say, 90 minutes of hyperactive and incomprehensibly nonsensical action spectacle, but at the abortive length of 149 minutes, Bay (and his partner in crime, Executive Producer Steven Spielberg…for shame!) have delivered an excruciating assault on the senses.  Yes, the CGI visual effects are rock solid, and the mammoth budget is on screen, but at what cost?  The human actors are wretchedly reduced to screaming, blithering, and flabbergasted puppets, character development is borderline DOA, and the any scintilla of emotional resonation in the story is all but drowned by this Bayian self-indulgent ego trip from hell.  

And, what were they thinking with those two would-be hilarious robotic side characters?  Remember these Tranies?  They came in the form of Chevy concept cars that had gorilla-like proportions, large lumbering limbs, short legs, big ears and noses, and were adorned with two gold plated buck teeth, and…oh…they enunciated with a jive-like, inner city lingo. Mindless, nihilistic, audience accosting action filmmaking is one thing, but engaging in blatantly offensive African American stereotypes for the sake of cheap laughs…. that’s a whole new low for summer tent pole blockbusters.

 
 

THE PINK PANTHER 2

 
 

Now...play along with me here:

Your name is Steve Martin, one of the more respected comic minds of your generation, and you decided to all but destroy what notable and decent reputation you had by utterly stomping on the grave of Peter Sellers by assuming one of his greatest, most iconic movie roles in a remake of THE PINK PANTHER.  The critics all but ravaged your film, which could easily be described as a cinematic train wreck and one of the most ill advised and fiendishly redundant remakes of all-time.  So, what do you do to reclaim what morsel of dignity and pride you have left?  You make yet another Inspector Clouseau comedy that yet again makes a complete mockery of the memory and genius of Sellers.  

There is not one single, solitary reason for THE PINK PANTHER 2 to exist, other than to demonstrate what I once believed was the impossible:  Have a film with both Steve Martin and John Cleese that emerges as one of the most aggressively unfunny comedies in recent years.  If the first PINK PANTHER remake was an act of supreme vandalism, then this newer, but even more shallow and hollow attempt at harnessing Seller’s legacy can now be simply considered artistic sacrilege. Steve Martin is no dummy (he’s an accomplished screenwriter, playwright, novelist, and musician, not to mention that – twenty years ago – no one could top him on the level of cheerfully absurdist humor) but his feeble comic turn in PINK PANTHER 2 reaches a whole other spectrum of foolhardy, misguided and spiteful minded artistic self-indulgence.

 
 

OLD DOGS

 
 

At what point did Robin Williams become so astoundingly unfunny in the movies?!  Lame, ham-infested, and unmercifully laugh-free comedies like OLD DOGS positively answers that odd question.  I am not sure what is worse in this 88 minute comic dead zone: Seeing Williams’ sheer embarrassment from scene to scene where he lets what notable legacy he had as a master screen funnyman get all but destroyed, or seeing John Travolta – one of our most appealing, amiable, and entertaining performers – overact something perversely in career killing moments involving everything from binge eating to being covered in doggie do.  Sometimes I come out of films that are so utterly lacking in any redeeming quality that I become really jaded as to the mindsets of the performers involved.  Other than a big, fat payday, I’m just incredulous as to why Williams and Travolta would appear in this dreadful Walt Disney family comedy and, in the process, have all of their finer instincts as actors be reduced to ruins.  Very few films are as spectacularly determined at egregiously telegraphing and hammering home one infantile joke and sight gag after another as much as OLD DOGS.  

 
 

ALL ABOUT STEVE

 
 

This deplorably unfunny, would-be rosy and feel good romcom begs audiences to find humor in a deluded, fanatical, and socially retarded female stalker.  The film involves a fiendishly introverted and sex starved woman that spends most of her time preying on a man that she just about had a one night stand with in his van.  After the man has all but given her the most obvious of signs that he is not interested in her, she obsessively concludes that this is the man of her dreams and will stop at nothing to follow him all across the country in order for them to be together...forever.  Now, if ALL ABOUT STEVE had the genders reversed, female audience members would have vehemently picketed the film in front of the theatre afterwards for the its vile and nauseating attempts at making a potential date rapist the subject of light hearted guffaws.  Yet, it was a somewhat revolting sight to see women in the audience at the screening I was at rolling over with laughter at the sight of Sandra Bullock’s abominably unstable and crazy stalker unleash herself upon her unfortunate male prey.  But wait…the film appeases its haters by turning this mental nutcase into a misunderstood chick with a heart of gold.  ALL ABOUT STEVE is a romcom that’s not funny, not romantic, and never achieves a modest degree of believability.

 
 

STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI

 
 

If you decided, after watching the insipid Jean-Claude Van Damme 1994 STREET FIGHTER film, that you never, ever wished to enter a cinema with the words “street” and “fighter” up on the marquee, then this new film is not required viewing.  Of course, perhaps knowing that this STREET FIGHTER-redux was helmed by the maker of such wall of shame efforts like DOOM, EXIT WOUNDS, ROMEO MUST DIE, and CRADLE TO THE GRAVE would have given viewers enough pause to avoid it.  STREET FIGHTER: THE LEGEND OF CHUN-LI focuses on, of course, Chun-Li as she engages in an exploitation/revenge storyline, but the film very quickly becomes so unattainably unwatchable in so many unmentionable ways: The script is trite, meandering, and is downright permeated with endless martial arts action sequences that look more like stunt men rehearsing than a viable finished product.  The editing is choppy and haphazard and the stunt set pieces look sluggish and repetitive.  The production values as well look curiously muted and embarrassingly low rent.  And, it contains dialogue that deserves worthy placement among the worst of Ed Wood Jr.: My personal favourite is courtesy of a unpardonably terrible Neil McDonough as the villain: 

"He has been the milk of my business, but even milk has an expiration date.”   Ouch.

 
 

UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS

 
 

Few film trilogies have been as pitilessly unmemorable as the UNDERWORLD saga, which has concerned a fantasy storyline depicting a centuries-old war between lycans (werewolves) and vampires.  Now, you would think that they would be a compelling and thrilling story to be told featuring these two titans of the movie monster world, but the first two UNDERWORLD films and now the third, a prequel called UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS, feels even more paint-by-numbers and needless as its predecessors.  Although the film spares us of Kate Beckinsale (a luminous presence, yes, but she was never once credible as a night stalking, blood sucking/kick ass action heroine) and instead injects the more satisfyingly hard edged and tough Rhona Mitra, this prequel's overall origin arc regarding its monster mash is rarely gripping or, for that matter, scary.  And for pure, unadulterated camp value, seeing Brit-thespian greats like Bill Nighy and – WTF!!?? – Michael Sheen perform their respective hero/villain roles to screaming, salivating, hissing, and grizzled imperfection is a dubious sight to behold.  Here’s hoping that this film gives the UNDERWORLD series its final stake through the heart.

 
 

12 ROUNDS

 
 

Hey…John Cena…2006 called.  Your film from that year, THE MARINE, blew and now it wants to remind you that your latest effort, 12 ROUNDS, blows even harder. 

I will spare you of a lengthy diatribe here and instead will offer up one simple equation to potentially help Cena starve off any more filmmaking endeavors: 

Professional wrestlers turned charisma free actors + WWE-backed financing + washed up action directors (Renny Harlin) + a weak sauced DIE HARDian script = an indefensible direct-to-video worthy stinkfest.
 
 

THE INFORMERS

 
 

THE INFORMERS is great insofar that it has copious and gratuitous Amber Heard nudity.  

Okay, now that I have your attention, I will honestly say that her baring her ample assets throughout most of THE INFORMERS is perhaps the only reason to see this horrible film about horrible people that made me feel horrible for 98 minutes.  The film is based on a series of seven short stories by Brett Easton Ellis (whose past work has been appropriated to the big screen in the form of AMERICAN PSYCHO, RULES OF ATTRACTION, and LESS THAN ZERO) and is supposed to be a satire, I think, about yuppie 1980’s excess.  Along the way, we get a truly dreary and depressing cattle call of superficial, pitiful, and unethical  a-hole characters that try to eek out an existence in early 80’s L.A.  Whether the film focuses on rock stars, newswomen, movie executives, child kidnappers, blond bimbos, etc., there is rarely a moment when you feel emotionally invested at all in anything that transpires.  The acting is stillborn (Billy Bob Thornton looks like he’s about to break out into self-loathing tears at any moment throughout the film), the direction is clunky and amateurish, and the script is shapeless.  The only thing that could have made this rancorously undisciplined film more tolerable would have been even more glimpses of Heard’s deeply satisfying naked visage. Oh well.

 
 

BRIDE WARS 

 
 

Gee, what’s more funny that seeing two ruthlessly materialistic and conceited bitches engage in juvenile catfights for 90 minutes over the right to have one single day be their wedding day?  Uh…lots of things.  BRIDE WARS is yet another female-centric chick flick that ridiculously and ironically makes women look like anything but assertive, intelligent, and dignified. Do female audience members really enjoy sluggish and idiotic romcoms that make their gender look like fanatical and impulsive bimbos engaging in kamikaze-sabotage missions to ruin each other’s respective parties?  I am not altogether sure what bizarre, alternate earth that the characters from BRIDE WARS are from, because there is not one instance here where its personas act in accordance with common sense.  The film’s central dilemma: two lifelong friends who have dreamed all their lives of picturesque and idealistic wedding days have had – dear God in heaven!! – both of their respective weddings planned on the same day due to a scheduling glitch!!!   Noooooooooooooooo!!!.   At least that’s what I was screaming when I quickly fled the theatre when the end title credits rolled out.  That, and I find it so difficult to believe that a beautiful, talented, and assured Oscar-nominated actress like Anne Hathaway (so scarily good and natural in RACHEL GETTING MARRIED) would reduce herself in dribble like this.

 
 

ANGELS AND DEMONS

 
 

ANGELS AND DEMONS is a real, knee slapping howler, and I don’t think its intent was to be rip-roaringly funny throughout, seeing as it was supposed to be a suspenseful, intriguing, and solemn religious thriller.  Of course, this Ron Howard directed sequel to THE DA VINCI CODE (in turn based on a insanely popular book by Dan Brown) induces much migraine-induced headshaking and incessant giggling from all of its outlandish plot developments.  This may be one of the first films ever to involve, let me recall, an American symbolist; a secret, centuries-old God and church-hating organization plotting to destroy the Vatican; the death of the Pope; the kidnapping of four Cardinals who all hope to become the next Pontiff; scheming and manipulating members of the Swiss Guard; a clue-a-minute scavenger hunt that takes place all throughout the churches and art museums of Rome; a beautiful and intelligent anti-matter scientist and, last but not least, an airtight, nano-composite shelled antimatter bomb that threatens to destroy all of the Vatican.  ANGELS AND DEMONS, to be blunt, is one of 2009’s dumbest films: Howard’s direction is on pure, audience-placating mode and is easily his most passionless, and Tom Hanks looks like he’s positively cringing with apathy during most of the film’s parade of laugh-inducing thrills.  Sometimes, there is nothing more unforgivable than a film with high pedigree talent that aims so high and then flounders so low.

 
 

 

 
  Ahhh...I'm glad I got that all off of my chest.  My TEN WORST is complete...but I'm not done yet!  Here's a few more films that were not altogether bad enough to make the TEN WORST, but were disagreeable all the same.  Consider these:  
 

CrAiGeR's NEGLIGIBLE FILMS OF 2009

 
 

OBSESSED: Not much to obsess about in this pitifully rehashed version of FATAL ATTRACTION; even Beyonce Knowles harnessing her inner Pam Grier near the film's sensationalistic finale cannot save this film.  

 

CROSSING OVER: A well intentioned bad film with a stellar, all-star cast and a multi-character storyline that tries to echo CRASH and TRAFFIC; strains far too much credibility throughout, not to mention that it trivializes real world dilemmas.

 

LAW ABIDING CITIZEN: Criminally awful revenge/exploitation film that is "biblical" in its attempts at straining all known rules of logic and earth bound common sense.

 

GAMER: Another Gerard Butler-starring dud, an obsessively gory futuristic parable that preaches a message about society's incessant lust for brutality...and then it offers up 95 minutes of sadistic and mindless carnage; should have come with a reset switch.

 

THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE:  Takes appealing and likeable lead actors and has them meander through a loopy and unpardonably ridiculous time travel plot; quickly unravels really early on when you even modestly dissect it's temporal paradoxes.

 

UGLY TRUTH, THEAn inanely inspired romcom that forces us to believe that Katherine Heigl has such poor luck with men that she has to enlist in the services of a male chauvinist pig.  Yup.  Sure.  Uh-huh.  Gerard Butler crapfest Number 3 from 2009.

 

THE PROPOSAL: My proposal for you is to instantly skip this mindless and perfunctory rom-com with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds; it's stuck on "Idiot Plot" from scene one and never recovers.

 

HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOUHow insultingly shallow is this film?  Well, it advertises itself as understanding the modern female date scene psyche, and then it treats its female protagonists as stupid and blindly naive.

 

NEW IN TOWNYet another shallow, lame-brained, and mindlessly predictable romcom, this time with Oscar-winner Renee Zellweger looking positively embarrassed throughout.

 

THE BLIND SIDE: Far too many filmgoers have definitely been blind sided by the cheery, PG-rated glow of this true-life inspirational sports film, but THE BLIND SIDE is well-intentioned, but nonetheless whitewashes Michael Oher's life.

 

TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON: Shirtless werewolves battling diamond glistening and dreamy vampires for the affection of a sullen and moody teen actress.  If you are an adolescent female, teen-heartthrob-lovin' fanatic, then this is required viewing.  For all others, collective insert two fingers into your throats and proceed to vomit at will.

 

AMELIAThis Hilary Swank starring biopic had Oscar bait written all over it, but this portrayal of one of the 20th Century's greatest aviation pioneers wallows in clichés and unfeeling and stilted performances.

 

SURROGATESA poor man's AVATAR, featuring a futuristic society where impersonal and lazy people interact with one another via robotic doppelgangers; a half baked and terribly underdeveloped premise.

 

G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA Although twice as good as TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN, this is still the second silliest and most disposable Hasbro Toy film adaptation from 2009, featuring a Dennis Quaid so stiff he's practically an action figure.

 

HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF BLOOD PRINCE:   Yet another HARRY POTTER film that slavishly hammers out repetitive and tedious storylines that fail to progress this whole saga triumphantly forward; borderline sleep inducing for non-fans.

 

FANBOYS: A somewhat modestly amusing homage to STAR WARS geekdom, but the film spends too much time holding up these Lucas fundamentalists to hero worship when it could have humorously mocked them a bit more.

 

PUSHIntriguing super hero inspired premise that is like a mish-mash of X-MEN and THE MATRIX, but the whole film is too flimsily executed and disinteresting.

 

OBSERVE AND REPORTA dreary, depressingly dark, and macabre comedy that thinks it's a whole lot more uproariously hysterical then it's TAXI DRIVER themed storyline lets on.

 

MONSTERS VS. ALIENS: A clear-cut example of how not to properly harness 3-D: with a plethora of in-your-face, gimmicky "wow" shots and a genuine disdain for story and characters.  This was more of a fun house attraction than a movie.

 

INKHEART Does anyone actually remember this shoddy family fantasy from earlier this year?  I barely could.

 

GHOSTS OF GIRLFRIENDS PAST A lovely and spirited Jennifer Garner wastes her adorable screen presence playing opposite of the perpetually shirtless him-bo that is Matthew McConaughey; the latter-mentioned actor is in definite need of a career intervention.

 

FAST AND FURIOUS:  A fast and furious paycheck film for Vin Diesel and Paul Walker; car porn for sure, but this series needs to be retired to the scrap yard. 

 

THE LOVELY BONES:  Peter Jackson's adaptation of the Alice Sebold novel has wondrous visual splendors with its depiction of the afterlife, but those very scenes undermine and trivialize the darkness and depravity of its earthbound story of the rape and murder of a young girl. 

 
     
  And finally, here's a dishonorable mention list of films that I felt were more disappointing than terrible.  Consider these:  
 

CrAiGeR's MISSED OPPORTUNITIES of 2009

 
 

COUPLES RETREAT : Vince Vaughn and his SWINGERS hetero-lifemate Jon Favreau were not money enough to save this forgettable romcom.

 

FIGHTING: See Channing Tatum sullen.  See Channing Tatum furrow his brow.  See Channing Tatum brood and pout.  Oh...yeah...see Channing Tatum fight...a lot.  Okay, don't see FIGHTING.

 

FUNNY PEOPLE:  A grade-A writer/director and comedic talent cannot save this bloated and longwinded dramedy from its own vanity-filled excesses; an unusual misfire for the typically assured Judd Apatow.

 

JULIE & JULIA: Meryl Streep is an absolute dynamo inhabiting the role of one of the most famous culinary maestros of the last 50 years, but this film spends too much time mirroring her indelible career and accomplishments to those of another less indelible and less accomplished Internet blogger.

 

NINE: Oh my, Cruz, Kidman, Hudson, and Cotillard...the film's opulent and sexy eye candy is a delicious treat, to be sure, but Rob Marhsall's musical follow-up to 2002's CHICAGO has lackluster and forgettable song and dance numbers. [added January 1, 2010]

 

SOLOIST, THEStunning and virtuoso production design and direction cannot overcome this film's cliché-ridden and manufactured melodrama.

 

STAR TREK J.J Abrams robust, colorful, flashy and exceedingly action packed reboot of STAR TREK was fun, to be sure, but its predilection towards gee-whiz escapism and visual thrills owes more to STAR WARS and regrettably less to the fundamentals of Gene Roddenberry's thoughtful and inquisitive sci-fi creation.

 

SUNSHINE CLEANING Even though this film features two of my absolute favourite actresses around in Amy Adams and Emily Blunt, it still could not find a middle ground between being cute and bubbly and dour and solemn.

 

TAKING CHANCEToo vague, too mechanical, and too enigmatically rendered, this HBO-film about how the military deals with fallen soldiers and their families back home was compelling, but oddly unmoving.

 

TAKING WOODSTOCK: Ang Lee is one of most varied and proficient directors working today, but his take on one of the defining moments of Rock history seems lamentably incomplete.

 

X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINEWolverine is an undeniably cool looking X-Men character, but he's a mutant persona that has the least interesting origin story, at least if this film has anything to say.

 

YEAR ONE: Harold Ramis has starred in and has directed some of the funniest screen comedies I have ever seen, but his ancient civilization/Bible satire fails to score consistent and hearty chuckles.

 
 

 

 
 
     
 

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