Posted January 12, 2015

 

Watching truly awful films is a horribly arduous, endurance-testing ordeal, but writing about these very films is such a sublime pleasure.  These reviews seem to write themselves.  

2014 was my tenth year writing and posting film reviews online and, with every year during the past decade, there were films that were genuinely worthy of my parting with $11 of my hard earned money to see them.  Conversely, though, there always remains some steadfast stinkers that populate the movie world as well that made me think what I did with hours of my life in darkened cinemas with complete strangers.  2014 was no exception in this regard. 

I’ve see some alarming and damning movie trends happening lately.  Young Adult fantasy literature is being churned out into mournfully craptacular films faster than I can even write about them.  Adam Sandler continues to be paid ungodly amounts of money to star and produce an endless series of puerile comedies.  Lousy films based on good graphic novels seem to be regrettably ruling the day.  Michael Bay still continues to make exceptionally bloated and terrible films that make billions of dollars.  Famous A-list movie stars – some being multiple Oscar nominees and some even Oscar winners – continue to lend their good names and reputations to films that they have no business touching with a proverbial ten-foot pole. 

I’d like to think that I have great variety in this year’s compilation of the worst reasons to enter a cinema.  There’s a Biblical themed thriller, a comic book adaptation, a spectacularly unnecessary remake, a fantasy involving vampires and werewolves not named TWILIGHT, an ancient historical epic based on true events, and, yes, yet another wrongheaded TRANSFORMERS and Melissa McCarthy film.  I love the movies.  Always have…always will.  Yet, these ten films mentioned below made me question my cinematic love affair, so consider yourself warned in advance to avoid them at all costs.

Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

First on the list is 2014's single worst film, followed by nine other very worthy and deserving candidates (in random order):

 

 
 

 
 

 

 
 

LEFT BEHIND

 
 

You know that you’re in trouble when your awful film is a remake of an already criminally awful Kirk Cameron starring vehicle…and it happens to be even more dreadful than the B-grade/direct-to-video film the preceded it. 

I don’t have the foggiest idea who the audience was for the Biblically-themed Rapture drama LEFT BEHIND.  It certainly will not win over any person of strong and committed faith, seeing as the resulting film is so soul-suckingly terrible and mediocre that Christians will arguably leave the cinema praying to the heavens for a refund.  LEFT BEHIND is not for atheists, for obvious reasons, most of whom will probably just endure the film by maliciously mocking its borderline bargain-bin/amateur levels of production design, plotting, and acting.  Hell, this film will certainly not win over any fans of Nicolas Cage, seeing as the only potentially valid reason that the Academy Award winner and multiple nominee would allow himself to be a part of such drivel was by having a sinfully large paycheck placed in his hand.  His performance – or lack there of – in LEFT BEHIND is kind of the dagger to the hearts of those that are still pathetically willing to give the struggling actor a second chance of cinematic redemption.  JOE – a wonderful indie drama that Cage was sensational in earlier this year – was a positive step in the right direction for his stalling career.  LEFT BEHIND – which was released afterwards – all but tainted the goodwill he re-established with that film.  

God help you all that decide to bravely - or perhaps idiotically - suffer through screening LEFT BEHIND..

 
 

WINTER'S TALE

 
 

If it were not for the existence of LEFT BEHIND then WINTER’S TALE would most surely be the single worst film of 2014.  It attained the impossible of having some of the industry’s most respected multiple Oscar nominated actors – people of intelligence, grace, and wit that I’ve respected for years – collectively embarrass themselves for 130 minutes.   

On paper, WINTER’S TALE (directed without apparent purpose or even a modest game plan by Oscar winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman) had ambitiousness and a semi-intriguing love story.  It’s a supernatural yarn that spans multiple centuries (adapted from the 1983 Mark Helprin novel), but Goldsman’s overall handling of the dense and sprawling narrative was so confusing, so chaotic, and so haphazardly conceived that the entire film felt like it was being made up as he went along.  And those poor deluded actors!  WINTER’S TALE featured Russell Crowe, William Hurt, Colin Farrell, Jennifer Connolly, Will Smith, and Eva Marie Saint, to name a few, performers of such a high pedigree and class that unfortunately were forced to play really, really idiotic characters (Farrell looks positively befuddled every time the film calls upon him to ride a flying horse, just one of the film’s many shockingly inept visual effects).  WINTER’S TALE was a film of eye-bulging preposterousness that came off as so unintentionally funny that it almost bordered on pitiful self-parody.  

 
 

BRICK MANSIONS

 
 

BRICK MANSIONS is the single most puzzling remake that I’ve seen.  

It’s also the most inexcusably unnecessary one to boot. 

This film had no reason for existing.  At all.  Nope.  Sorry.  BRICK MANSIONS was inexplicably the brainchild of Luc Besson, who based it on…wait for it…his very own 2006 scripted/produced Euro-action thriller DISTRICT B13.  Besson adapted his own DISTRICT B13 for BRICK MANSIONS, got one of the original actors from the first film to appear again (reprising is own role), and even action scenes and beats were methodically copied from the first film, minus clarity, editorial finesse, and cleanly rendered choreography.  The one difference in this film is that it starred the late Paul Walker as the other lead, which marks this film being his last.  BRICK MANSIONS was an excruciatingly sad end-of-career black mark for Walker, but the film’s biggest sin is that it simply made me angry and frustrated.  The film is artistically bankrupt and without any tangible merit. 

 
 

TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION

 
 

  

It’s the fourth TRANSFORMER film from director Michael Bay.  

That is all. 

Next.

 
 

I, FRANKENSTEIN

 
 

I’ve never seen a more wrongheaded and poorly executed graphic novel adaptation as I, FRANKENSTEIN, which also happened to tarnish the very literary legacy of Mary Shelly’s creation in the process.  The film is a unique double-threat cinematic offender. 

This movie bored me senseless within its first 15 minutes.  It wasted the considerable performance talents of Aaron Eckhart, who played Frankenstein’s monster that – for reasons the film never fully relays or explains – managed to live on well beyond the 19th Century and emerged in the modern day to wage war on a whole new slew of monstrosities that want to cripple mankind.  The overall look of Eckhart’s monster is laughable – he looks less like a 200-year-old beast made up of parts of other dead humans as he does a scarred-up and grungy GQ cover model.  That, and Eckhart grunted, groaned, and murmured his way through the expository heavy dialogue with the flat tenor of an actor that desperately wished to be whisked away from this mess of a film.  Beyond that, the film was so displeasingly dark and murky looking that watching it through 3D glasses was akin to viewing a non-2D film with mud smeared over your eyes.  I, FRANKENSTEIN was a punishing assault on the senses, to be sure. 

 
 

LUCY

 
 

LUCY was perhaps the single most disappointing film that I had the dubious pleasure of seeing in 2014, mostly because of the fact that the people behind and in front of the camera are industry folks that I greatly admire.  LUCY was directed by French filmmaker Luc Besson (making a second appearance on this list), who made two of my favorite films from the 1990’s in LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL and THE FIFTH ELEMENT and starred the typically wonderful Scarlett Johansson.  LUCY should have been a proud return to form for Besson to the sci-fi action genre, but instead it was a film of such jaw-dropping ridiculousness that I found myself asking way, way too many questions about its decidedly wacky premise. 

LUCY, to keep things short, concerns a woman that – via reasons far too complicated for me to explain – has been given the ability to access 100 per cent of her brain power, which eventually – for reasons never adequately explained – gives her superhuman abilities that would make Neo from THE MATRIX blush with envy.  I have no problem with a strange and out-there premise in a film, just as long as it fully embraces its inherent stupidity.  Mournfully, LUCY not only did such a laughably horrible job at its own world building, but it also made the categorical error of trying to be both a B-grade Eurotrash action flick and a would-be contemplative, thoughtful, and ideas-driven science fiction tale.  The film built towards a humdinger of a laughable climax – that hoped to inspire awe and wonder in the same way 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY did regarding the nature of time and space – but by this point I found myself laughing with scornful derision at LUCY.  

Besson’s film was an unendingly dumb one that wanted to be smart.  You simply can’t have it both ways. 

 
 

BLENDED

 
 

BLENDED, to be fair, was twice as good as the recent crop of monumentally wretched Adam Sandler comedic ventures (like GROWN UPS 2, JUST GO WITH IT, and JACK AND JILL), all of which were placed on of my WORST OF THE YEAR lists for several years running.  

Granted, seeing as I've given his last three aforementioned films zero-star ratings, that’s not saying much for the quality of BLENDED, a new “comedy” that reunites Sandler with his THE WEDDING SINGER and 50 FIRST DATES co-star Drew Barrymore, an actress of such limitless good will and charm that seems to be pathetically slumming it when paired with her co-star.  The two played a pair of down-on-their-luck parents (one’s a widow and one’s a divorcee) that – after a blind date – manage to miraculously – wouldn’t ya know it! – end up on the same trip to Africa…journeying to the same part of the country…to the same resort…and even – what are the odds?! – end up having to share the same suite at the luxury hotel.  The fact that BLENDED was written at the level of a third-rate TV sitcom on autopilot is not surprising here, but then the film felt the need to play up to every racist and stereotypical subtext of African society for the purpose of eliciting juvenile laughs.  BLENDED was like a nastily unfunny travelogue picture from hell.

 
 

VAMPIRE ACADEMY

 
 

  

How could a film that combined the esteemed and established talents of the director of MEAN GIRLS (Mark Waters) and the screenwriter of one of the finest black high school comedies of the 1980’s (Daniel Waters) become one of the worst Young Adult Fantasy book adaptations…perhaps ever? 

One of the most alarming trends in Hollywood over the last few years in the wake of the success of the TWILIGHT series is how studios haphazardly greenlight, produce, and rush to the cinemas not-ready-for-prime-time adaptations Young Adult fiction.  Based on Richelle Mead’s 2007 book, VAMPIRE ACADEMY is about…yes…a school for teenage vampires.  The film tried, I think, to be a sly and subversive mish-mash of HARRY POTTER and TWILIGHT, but the resulting effort was so wrongheaded, so lazy, so terribly acted, and so borderline disinteresting that it made Stephanie Meyers’ tales of bloodsuckers looks positively Shakespearian by comparison.  I’d be willing to argue – with merit – that I have not seen a blander movie about undead creatures than VAMPIRE ACADEMY, a would-be franchise starter that barely made it out of the gate running.  I’ve read that there’s even a Kickstarter campaign to get a sequel out, seeing as this first film was a box office bomb and that no studio, in hindsight, would ever dare fund a follow-up.  Let’s seal the coffin on this plan and stop it from happening.

 
 

TAMMY

 
 

I don’t get Melissa McCarthy.  I really don’t.  She’s a wonderfully talented actress that just happens to let her talents fester in the same regurgitated comedic role over and over…and over again.  You know the type: the toxically dislikeable, foul mouthed, throw caution to the wind, and authority defying slob.  

Her role in TAMMY was certainly no different, but this time her titular character was perhaps so detestable, so crude, so corrosive mannered, and so lacking in a scintilla of affability that I was left wondering why I was supposed to care for this person in the slightest.  The film – directed by McCarthy’s husband, Ben Falcone – was an abysmally unfunny and mind-numbingly predictable family road trip comedy that paired McCarthy with Susan Sarandon, the latter playing McCarthy’s grandmother despite only being 24 years her senior.  Incredulous casting of Oscar winning A-listers aside, it’s kind of shocking how much clout McCarthy has been giving during her recent career take-off in terms of making just about any kind of film she wants.  You’d at least think that the star would want to make a comedy about a character that’s not beyond social redemption.  The script found ridiculously ways to make you fall in love with the loveable loser that is Tammy, but most sound minded people will just want to run for the theater exits to get the hell away from her.

 
 

POMPEII

 
 

And the award for the silliest historical film of recent memory goes to POMPEII, and it's probably the only film that I’ve screened during my ten years as a critic that had most of the audience slowly and sarcastically clap as the film concluded and the end credits rolled by. 

This film is, yes, about the infamous Roman town-city that was destroyed and buried under nearly twenty feet of ash after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.  POMPEII was also directed by action schlock-meister Paul W.S. Anderson, who places in the film characters so stiff and rigid that they might as well have been made of cardboard.  Mix in some groan inducing dialogue, dismal attempts at forced love story that feels like it was awkwardly trying to harness TITANIC, and a whole lot of mindless CGI spectacle and what we were left with is a film that was all mindless eye candy and not much more.  When Vesuvius did erupt in this film you wanted it to decimate its way through POMPEII’s witless and disinteresting characters.  I doubt that this was Anderson’s original intent.

 
 

 

 
  Well...that felt good.  My TEN WORST list is complete...but I'm not done yet!  Here's a few more films that were not terrible enough to make the TEN WORST, but were easily forgettable all the same.  Consider these:  
 

CrAiGeR's NEGLIGIBLE FILMS OF 2014

 
  RIDE ALONG: Criminally unfunny cop/buddy cop film with Kevin Hart and Ice Cube. 

 

INTO THE STORM: A pathetically one-note disaster picture that was all CGI mindless sound and fury signifying nothing.   

 

ENDLESS LOVE: An endlessly redundant and unnecessary remake of the 1981 Franco Zeffirelli film.

 

NEED FOR SPEED: Proof positive - yet again! - that Hollywood has failed to produce a thoroughly watchable film based on a popular video game series; star Aaron Paul looked embarrassed throughout this mess.   

 

THAT AWKWARD MOMENT: A cliché-ridden, woefully conventional, and head-shakingly contrived romcom that wasted the esteemed talents of actors Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan.  

 

HERCULES:  A lavish, big budget Hercules film featuring the always charismatic Dwayne Johnson should have been a win-win scenario, but instead this Brett Ratner directed endeavor failed to capitalize on its star's brawny talents.

 

VIDEO GAMES: THE MOVIE: A well intentioned, but ultimately hollow documentary exploring the history of video game culture.  

 

EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS: Ridley Scott returning to the sword and sandal historical epic genre should have elicited a finer end product than what was on display here; technically immersive, but dramatically flaccid. 

 

MONUMENTS MEN: How could a World War II/reality-based drama directed by George Clooney and staring the likes of him with Bill Murray, John Goodman, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, and Jean Dujardin emerge as such a forgettable bore?

 

WHEN THE GAME STANDS TALL: Fact-based football drama dealt out a lot of feel-good, greeting card sentimentality without probing its subject matter much. 

 

THE NOVEMBER MAN: A spy genre film that featured the former 007 Pierce Bronson; it seemed to have no idea what kind of spy film it was trying to be.  Jason Bourne?  James Bond?  A combination of the two?  It frankly had no idea. 

 

THE ZERO THEOREM: Director Terry Gilliam returned to his dystopian sci-fi roots, but his new film never fully cemented itself beyond the cult status of BRAZIL and 12 MONKEYS. 

 

HORRIBLE BOSSES 2: A horrible follow-up to its much better workplace revenge comedy antecedent. 

 

THE GIVER: Yet another entry in the already depressingly long line of Young Adult literary adaptations; it had a strong premise that never fully explored it. 

 

SEX TAPE: A mostly unfunny sex farce that should have been erased from theaters altogether. 

 

MALEFICENT: Disney re-imagined its own SLEEPING BEAUTY classic this past year, but despite featuring an on-point and game performance by Angelina Jolie as the titular villain the film was surprisingly dull and lifeless.

 

DIVERGENT: Shailene Woodley is one of our most dependably strong young actresses working today, but she was giving very little to do in this tediously exhausting and listless post-apocalyptic fantasy film.

 

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: This series reboot had CGI turtles, was produced by schlock and awe filmmaker Michael Bay, and featured Megan Fox as the least plausible investigative news journalist on screen...ever. 

 

NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM: SECRET OF THE TOMB: Question: Unnecessary sequel OR unnecessary-est sequel?  The latter.  

 

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

CrAiGeR's MISSED OPPORTUNITIES of 2014

 
 

THE ART OF THE STEAL: An agreeable heist/caper flick with a solid cast...but kind of instantly forgettable after watching it.

 

NOAH: A flawed Biblical film that reached for greatness, sometimes attained it, but mostly left me scratching my head while pondering its peculiarities.

 

TRANSCENDENCE: As a contemplative sci-fi opus about artificial intelligence, TRANSCENDENCE simply didn't explore its themes as compellingly as it should have.

 

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2: An overstuffed and overpopulated sequel to the wonderfully refreshing 2012 series reboot. 

 

A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST:  Seth MacFarlane's screwball western farce lacked discipline and a keen eye for when to hold back and when not to.

 

JERSEY BOYS: Clint Eastwood's typically refined and poised skills behind the camera didn't seem up to the task of adapting the popular Broadway musical.

 

THE EXPENDABLES 3: PG-13-ifying the EXPENDABLES cinematic universe was not a grand idea for this third entry in the action franchise.

 

PALO ALTO: Based on the short stories of James Franco, this high school coming of age drama was a bit too aimless and haphazardly constructed.

 

DRACULA: UNTOLD: This pseudo Dracula mythology reboot boasted strong production values and a decent title performance by Luke Evans, but its world building needed more embellishment.

 

ST. VINCENT: Bill Murray truly shined in this indie dramedy, but the film around him was too deeply manipulative and saccharine. 

 

DUMB AND DUMBER TO: This sequel to the popular 1994 original did manage to score a few hearty comic zingers, but it was a follow-up that was perhaps twenty years too late.

 

WISH I WAS HERE: Writer/director Zach Braff's long gestating follow-up to 2004's GARDEN STATE had strong performances, but the scale of the film's story seemed outside of Braff's reach this go-around.

 

THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES: Even though this was the swiftest of THE HOBBIT TRILOGY entries, the film nevertheless suffered from the unnecessary narrative bloat and excess of the two previous entries. 

 

ANNIE: Well intentioned and likeable new iteration of the musical franchise suffered from stiff song and dance numbers.

 

INTO THE WOODS: The big screen adaptation of the beloved Broadway musical had a game cast and inspired art direction, but the tenacity and bite of the stage musical was largely absent here.

 

UNBROKEN: Director Angelina Jolie has the instincts and soul of a solid filmmaker, but her WWII POW camp drama failed to adequately develop its fact based storyline and characters with any solid dimension.

 

INHERENT VICE: Aimless, messy, and convoluted plotting sort of polluted this invigoratingly well acted Paul Thomas Anderson film.

 

AMERICAN SNIPER: Clint Eastwood's fact-based account of the most lethal marksman in American military history was a thematically hollow effort.

 

 

 
 
     
 

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