Posted January 11, 2016

 

Sigh.  Another year...and yet another smorgasbord of depressingly awful films screened.

Even though it's a soul-sucking experience to have countless hours of one’s life wasted in a darkened cinema watching so many putrid films every year, I really dig writing these Worst Films blogs.  I really do.  They effectively allow me to exorcise my moviegoing demons that have stayed with me during any given year, not to mention that they further allow me to participate in a public service to inform you all of films that you should probably avoid at all costs.  Movies are an art form, sure, but they're also a corporate business, and most of these films mentioned pathetically seem to be either lazily cashing in on overused genre trends…or are just feebly trying to make a quick buck by nonsensically throwing just about anything on the screen and hoping it sticks.

I think that the ten worst reasons to enter a cinema in the year that was reflects many damning trends…and a few new frustrating ones.  Erotic-less erotic thrillers (three) made the cut, as did an overproduced sci-fi action thriller that had no business being as awful as it was considering the talent on board.  Lame and uninspired buddy comedies, as per usually, makes another appearance here, as does an egregiously misguided video game to movie adaptation.  Then we have the obligatory comedy sequel to a film that never required a sequel, followed by an even worse remake of an iconic comedy classic.  Lastly, we have arguably two of the most head-shakingly wrongheaded films of 2015 in terms of approach and execution.  One is a super hero reboot and the other is inexplicably directed by Cameron Crowe, but they both just as well could have been helmed by Ed Wood Jr..

I can’t see a reason to further elaborate on my wall-of-shame selections below.  Let the cold-hearted critical drubbing begin.  Here are the TEN WORST FILMS of 2015, followed by two dishonorable mentions lists.   

First up, my...

 
 

 
 

 

 
 

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY

 
 

In order for a film to receive a dreaded zero star rating from me it has to do one of the following: (a) It has to be artistically bankrupted in most respects and/or (b) I have to find the film’s inherent material morally reprehensible. 

I’m pretty sure that FIFTY SHADES OF GREY was a rare double threat offender in this regard. 

I have nothing against erotic fiction.  I really don’t.  The main sin of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY – the long awaited film adaptation of E.L. James’s first novel of the same name – was that it was neither erotic nor inherently dramatic.  It also begged the question as to how a kinky sex thriller steeped in sadomasochistic fetishes could be so unrelentingly…dull and boring.  At a punishing 127 minutes, FIFTY SHADES OF GREY was a pure endurance test of will, not made any more watchable even with its multiple sex scenes, which were populated by two lead actors (Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson) that never had a scintilla of on-screen chemistry whatsoever (Johnson did what she could with her lamentable part, but Dornan was just an emotionless, half naked mannequin most of the time).  That, and there’s just something inherently unsavory and – dare I say it – dirty about a male suitor that’s essentially a deviant sexual predator that uses women for trophy-like conquests.  

And yet...female audiences ate this film up.  And that saddens me to no end. 

 
 

HOT PURSUIT

 
 

HOT PURSUIT was as cringe worthy of a film to endure as just about any during 2015.  It was one of those paper thin and dime-a-dozen buddy comedies that inspired more gag reflexes than laughter in audiences.  The fact that it starred Reese Witherspoon – hot off of her Oscar nomination for WILD – made the film all the more shameful. 

Witherspoon is a very competent comedic actress when compelled to be with the right material and director.  Her co-star in Sofia Vergara also has strong comic chops, as displayed on TV in AMERICAN FAMILY.  Yet, the pairing of these two actresses made for a highly disagreeable gasoline on fire combination that never once made the road trip antics of their respective characters even remotely entertaining to witness.  Worse yet was that neither actress was really playing flesh and blood and believable characters here: Witherspoon played up to every lame brained southern law stereotype in the book to the point of it being head shaking, whereas Vergara had such a toxically dislikeable personality throughout the film that you have to wonder why any human being would want to spend 5 minutes alone with this person.  Thankfully and mercifully, HOT PURSUIT was just 86 minutes, but it just as well felt like 866 minutes of pure torture for me. 
 
 

ALOHA

 
 

Remember a time many years ago when the name Cameron Crowe attached to any film inspired limitless confidence in viewers? 

Most of the good will that critics and audience members have bestowed upon the writer/director are starting to fade rather fast, which was made all the more apparent with the release of ALOHA, which just may be Crowe’s most confused and slapdash effort of his career.  There was seemingly so much that was uncaringly crammed into this film’s story that one has to question whether the resulting effort was the product of an unworthy first draft screenplay.  The film’s lush Hawaiian settings were indeed magnificent to behold, but Crowe just used them as a backdrop for his strange menagerie of characters to populate a story that was utterly shapeless and without a definitive roadmap.  To this day, I still don’t know what ALOHA was trying to be about, nor do I really care at this point.  It was a haphazardly phoned-in Crowe effort that barely made me feel anything for anyone in it…and don’t get me started on Emma Stone playing a half Asian/half Hawaiian military lady.  Huh?  WTF?!
 
 

THE BOY NEXT DOOR

 
 

 

Oy vey.  Another FATAL ATTRACTION-esque, fill-in-the-blank-from-hell thriller.  In this fill-in-the-blank-from-hell case the film concerns a psychotic high school boy that begins an illicit sexual fling with his mid-fortysomething teacher that turns into a lethally dangerous relationship.  

Yeah.  I hated THE BOY NEXT DOOR.  It was terrible and silly.

Next.

 
 

HITMAN: AGENT 47

 
 

Oh boy.  Another year and yet another pathetically awful video game to film adaptation that was not even really trying hard to be good at all. 

I’m a passionate gamer alongside being a cinephile, so my hatred of HITMAN: AGENT 47 doesn't come from a place of misguided ignorance regarding the video game industry as a whole.  No, this newest iteration of the cinematic HITMAN franchise (coming off of the equally putrid 2007 Timothy Olyphant version, based on the Square Enix game series) was awful because it was just insipidly envisioned and executed.  With a lead character that was about as soulless as any that I’ve encountered in any recent action thriller (based on a video game character or not), featuring moronic plotting that had me asking far too many questions, and containing action sequences replete with B-grade computer effects that made the human characters look like rubber puppets and what you’re left with was a messy, hollow, and completely uninspired game-to-film adaptation that was barely worthy of a direct-to-video release.  

Also, note to Hollywood: When attempting to reboot an already lackluster first entry, don’t hire the same screenwriter that worked on that film to pen the new one.  Sheesh. 

 
 

THE LOFT

 
 

ERMAHGERD!  Yet another erotic thriller makes the list, this time of the murder mystery variety.  No kinky FIFTY SHADES OF GREY sexcapades here. 

Yet, THE LOFT – a film that audience members avoided like the proverbial plague, and rightfully so – committed arguably the same cinematic sins as the worst film of 2015 in terms of being an erotic thriller that was never sensual.  It also was a mystery thriller that was not particularly suspenseful or enthralling as a who-dunnit.  What’s even more inconceivable is that it was directed by Erik Van Looy…who…wait for it…already made this same film in 2008 as a Dutch-language effort.  The biggest issue with THE LOFT was that it never made me care.  Not.  At.  All.  Every male character here was either a duplicitous minded jerk, a being of pure evil, or a frightening combination of the two, which sure made engaging in the moral predicaments of these characters all the more impossible.  THE LOFT was empty and shallow and it made me feel equally empty and shallow as a person for having seen it.
 
 

VACATION

 
 

Remember the hilarious and endearing Chevy Chase starring, Harold Ramis directed, and John Hughes scripted 1983 original?  

But of course you do, and that film was precisely what I was both thinking about and yearning for all throughout watching this dreary, unfunny, crass, vulgar, and genuinely shameless cinematic reboot.  Now, the original VACATION film could hardly be described as a family film (for its time, it certainly earned its R rating,).  Yet, the characters of that film felt tangible and their family came off like a genuine family, so much so that it left you nostalgic for your own memories - painful or enjoyable - of your own treks down the holiday road with mother, father, and siblings in tow.  The family that occupies this new iteration never once - not for a solitary moment - felt as endearingly sweet and dysfunctional as the original Griswalds.  More disconcerting with this new film was the fact that the makers felt that upping the ante on puerile bathroom and bodily function humor was somehow progressive minded.  Ed Helms and Christina Applegate are talented comedians and were well cast here, but the script they were forced to trudge through should have been thrown in a raw sewage lake to rot.  Ironically, the characters of this film actually find themselves in a raw sewage lake, thinking its fecal matter is actually purifying mud.  

Go figure.  

 
 

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2

 
 

  

To be fair, I greatly enjoyed the first HOT TUB TIME MACHINE because of its willingness to fully embrace the sheer silliness of its inherent premise – men go back in time via, yes, a hot tub time machine to re-live their glory days as teenagers during the 1980’s – not to mention that it was grounded in nostalgia for an era that I grew up in.  There was a wink-wink level of self-deprecating humor to the film that was hard to dislike. 

There’s almost nothing to like about this criminally unnecessary sequel, which lost the first film’s biggest star in John Cusack and thought that it could coast by on the inherent charms of the remaining cast members.  Also gone in this sequel was the first film’s sly and subversive commentary on the decade of material excess.  Instead, HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 paraded its game and on-board cast members through a litany of unfunny gross-out gags and crass vulgarity.  Perhaps the most irritating element of this sequel was that it reduced the film’s likeable heroes to deplorable, self-serving, and obnoxious a-holes that truly stunted anyone’s enjoyment for round two.  

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE was a great in-joke movie.  HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 was just a sick joke of a movie. 

 
 

JUPITER ASCENDING

 
 

You just know that you’re in deep trouble when an elaborately expensive sci-fi film contains the line of dialogue, “Bees are genetically designed to recognize royalty.” 

Ouch. 

JUPITER ASCENDING just may be one of the best looking awful movies that I’ve seen in many a moon.  It was a would be enthralling and involving sci-fi saga from the Wachowski siblings, the same pair that, yes, bestowed THE MATRIX to us all those years ago.  The problem with this film was not with its conceptual design and visual effects (which were uniformly stellar and evocative); no, the real issue with JUPITER ASCENDING was that its plot was borderline incoherent and left me scratching my head out of self-loathing confusion.  Even when characters in the film talked and talked…and talked…in an effort to explain the convoluted web of plot particulars, the film still remained a distant and aloof mystery to me.  By the time Channing Tatum showed up as a – not making this up – intergalactic and genetically engineered half wolf/half man hero to save the day…even the sheer laughable preposterousness of his character didn’t elicit enough unintentional laughter in me to sustain my interest in JUPITER ASCENDING.   

What’s most depressing is that the Wachowskis will probably never be given a large budget to work with again in Hollywood after this colossal box office bomb.  They are indeed visionaries, but this film proved that no amount of money thrown at a large scale studio effort can save it from being bafflingly ill conceived on a premise and narrative level.
 
 

FANTASTIC FOUR

 
 

There has never – and I do mean never ­– been a more woefully mismanaged super hero film than FANTASTIC FOUR.  It was simply one of the most joyless, dull, and foolishly envisioned big budget adaptations of a comic book series that’s been placed on screen.  I’ve rarely seen such a botched opportunity to do justice to a super hero movie property, but FANTASTIC FOUR astoundingly and shockingly was a Thing-sized trainwreck on multiple levels. 

How could this have happened?  Director John Trank previously made the remarkably confident and inventive CHRONICLE (a super hero found footage film), but here he somehow managed to squander an amazingly assembled cast and vastly larger budgetary resources to make a new version of Marvel Comics’ iconic super hero series that was never once thrilling nor endearing.  The Fantastic Four has always been a series that has played up to the characters’ eccentric and inherent weirdness, but this film version never tapped into that and rarely made these colorful personas ring true.  And witnessing some of the strongest and most empowered young actors working today (like Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordon) utterly slum their way through these pathetically rendered roles was beyond frustrating.  Yeah, the qualitative writing was on the wall for this film when reports of production distress surfaced on social media, not to mention Trank’s infamous ramblings on Twitter regarding studio meddling days before the film’s release (very quickly removed after being posted) left a very bad taste in the mouths of most filmgoers as to the resulting film to come.  No matter which party was directly to blame for FANTASTIC FOUR, it emerged as an embarrassing mess for all involved. 
 
 

 

 
  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 2015

 
 

THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED: No Jason Statham = no dice for this lousy and desperate franchise extender.

 

THE LAZARUS EFFECT: A terrible horror thriller about scientists reanimating the dead that was ironically made up of too many stale and overused genre parts.

 

THE WEDDING RINGER: Every year lately seems to have one abysmally wretched nuptials comedy: this was 2015's offering.

 

PAUL BLART: MALL COP 2: Criminally unfunny sequel to the fairly enjoyable and lightweight original.

 

THE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT: This second entry in the mostly boring INSURGENT series was an even bigger cure for insomnia than its antecedent.  

 

SELF/LESS:  Most disappointing film of the year considering that Tarsem Singh was the director; his visual talent was no where to be found here.  

 

THE LAST WITCH HUNTER: Intriguing premise was done no favors by insipid scripting and an overuse of CGI overkill in this Vin Diesel powered horror thriller.

 

PAN: One of the most visually dynamic fantasies of the year was also dramatically hollow to its core.

 

PAPER TOWNS:  A reasonably well acted coming-of-age drama that was a bit too paper thin when it came to character dynamics.

 

PIXELS:  An incredibly nifty classic video game era premise was squandered by infantile humor and a completely phoned-in Adam Sandler performance.

 

SAN ANDREAS:  Umpteenth disaster porn action film was heavy on visual effects, but decidedly low on relatable human drama.

 

PROJECT ALMANAC:  Yet another found footage film that seemed to have an incredibly difficult time justifying its existence as a found footage film.

 

SEVENTH SON:  Not even the appearance of acting heavyweights like Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore could save this disposable and forgettable fantasy.

 

BLACKHAT:  Michael Mann has made some of the modern era's defining films, but BLACKHAT was far too banal and lacking in tension to be worthy of the director's high pedigree.

 

TAKEN 3:  I've been an apologist of this series since the beginning, but it was really hard to justify this third TAKEN entry on any concrete level.

     
  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 2015

 
  IN THE HEART OF THE SEA:  This film - based on a true story that inspired the writing of MOBY DICK - was a visual dynamo, but director Ron Howard rarely found time to populate it with well drawn characters.

 

VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN:  Even though this cinematic reboot injected some novelty into Mary Shelley's legendary novel, the resulting film simply ran out of creative gas the longer it progressed.

 

THE NIGHT BEFORE: The winning trio of Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie brought their A-game to this Yuletide comedy that was a few script re-writes short of achieving high hilarity.

 

THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY PART 2:  Coming off of two solid HUNGER GAMES sequels, MOCKINGJAY PART 2 felt padded and overly long.  

 

SPECTRE:  Daniel Craig is the definitive James Bond of our generation, but the newest 007 adventure regressively strayed away from the reboot series' established core elements.  

 

KNOCK KNOCK:  Keanu Reeves gave a wacko performance of go-for-broke intensity in this home invasion thriller, but logic was too cheerfully thrown out of its script.

 

ROCK THE KASBAH:  The director/actor duo of Barry Levinson and Bill Murray should have been a win-win here, but this Middle East showbiz satire lacked a sarcastic bite.

 

BATKID BEGINS:  A well meaning and noble minded, but achingly safe documentary about a disease-riddled child being granted his ultimate wish.

 

THE MAZE RUNNER: THE SCORCH TRIALS:  I greatly enjoyed the first MAZE RUNNER film as a retooled riff on THE LORD OF THE FLIES, but this sequel got too bogged down in contrived post-apocalyptic genre troupes.  

 

THE VISIT:  This found footage M. Night Shyamalan horror thriller was arguably his best film in years...which is ultimately not saying much if one looks at his recent resume.

 

A WALK IN THE WOODS:  Robert Redford and Nick Nolte were absolutely stellar in this otherwise mediocre travelogue film.

 

NO ESCAPE:  A fairly intense human survival thriller that never overcame its sensationalistic B-grade exploitation elements.  

 

AMERICAN ULTRA:  A slick and subversively funny action comedy that suffered from an identity crisis.

 

CHILD 44:  How could a post-war period drama featuring the likes of Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, and Noomi Rapace waste its cast so much in a confused screenplay?  I'm still asking myself that very question.

 

INSIDE OUT:  It pained me to place the newest Pixar film here, but INSIDE OUT simply failed to linger with me as the greatest entries from the acclaimed studio have in the past.

 

JURASSIC WORLD:  A staggeringly well mounted fourth film in the series from a technical standpoint, but it lacked modest logic on a story and concept level.

 

LIVE FROM NEW YORK!  A lively and involving, but ultimately very self-congratulatory documentary about the long standing late night variety show.  

 

ENTOURAGE:  Adaptation of the popular HBO series embraced its core fans while failing to give lay audience members a valid reason for caring.

 

TOMORROWLAND:  Brad Bird's lush and extravagantly rendered fantasy lacked a suitable payoff that did service to everything that preceded it.

 

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON: Overstuffed sequel to the popular original had simply too much going on in it that distracted from the whole.

 

THE AGE OF ADELINE:  Interesting mortality drama that was bolstered by strong performances, but weak execution of core ideas.

 

THE GUNMAN:  An action thriller with some noble themes that were lost in its muddled approach with the material.

 

DADDY'S HOME:  Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg hadve great chemistry in this otherwise mundane and forgettable family revenge comedy.

 

GET HARD:  Another Ferrell entry here, this time a prison-themed comedy, but it was as equally disposable as DADDY'S HOME.

 

UNFINISHED BUSINESS:  Vince Vaughn is great at playing motormouths with hearts of gold, but his performance good will was lost in this comedy that lacked inspiration.

 

FOCUS:  A caper film that utilized stars Will Smith and Margo Robbie to solid effect, but the film's payoff was kind of laughable.  

 

STRANGE MAGIC:  A George Lucas conceived animated musical that had some fresh ideas, but they never felt like they gelled cohesively together.

 

MORTECAI:  A preposterous caper comedy featuring a very game Johnny Depp that seemed awfully confused as to its overall tone.

 

JOY:  Jennifer Lawrence was dependably solid in this otherwise confused fact based drama from director David O. Russell.  

 

 
 
     
 

  H O M E