Posted January 18, 2019

 

I almost considered not writing my annual worst films blog this year.  

Someone on social media made a relatively valid point of mentioning to me that it would be a more productive usage of my time and energy to celebrate excellence in cinema and not wretchedness.  Plus, there's also the notion of needlessly kicking a bad film while it's already down.   

I get all that. 

Still, though, going to the movies is expensive.  Quite expensive, actually.  It's especially expensive for families.  And when movies are artistically bankrupt and inexcusably awful, I think they deserve to be called out, in one form or another.  When modern studios spend ridiculous amounts of money on some movies that probably shouldn't have made it past the early inception/pre-production phase...that frustrates me...and angers me to no end.  And these are the same studios that want your hard earned money and time to make a profit on these ultra terrible endeavors.  I'm a busy guy and value my time and money (a lot of which I do spend on going to the movies).  When studios fail audiences they should be held accountable.  Bad cinema shouldn't be ignored and swept under a rug.  And talking about bad movies is what will allow the art form to mature and evolve...for the better.   

Hopefully, at least.

That, and seeing the below listed ten movies...made me furious afterwards.  Some of them instilled in me feelings of worthlessness, and who among us wants that in escapist entertainment?  So, consider these these yearly posts a deeply cathartic experience for me.  Yes, I'm kicking these movies well after their down, but most of them deserve such treatment...and those of you that haven't seen any of them should be warned ahead of time to avoid them like the proverbial plague. 

My TEN WORST FILMS OF 2018 offers up an eclectic mixture of overt mediocrity.  Wrongheaded sequels, as they always do, make an appearance here (with one sharing a trend of its two predecessors also making my list for the worst films of their respective years).  There's putrid effort involving potty mouthed puppets, an abysmal murder/mystery thriller, an amateur fact based crime drama, a horrifically wasteful post apocalyptic sci-fi film, an ultra rare appearance of a Clint Eastwood directed drama, and one of the most needless and ill timed remakes of all time.  Oh, and the single lousiest Sherlock Holmes movie ever makes the dubious cut.   

So, let the mud slingin' begin.  Below are nine reasons why you should have avoided the cinema last year (in random order), but listed at the top is the single most terrible offering of 2018. 

 
 

DEATH WISH

 

 
 

Everything about Eli Roth's remake of the 1974 Charles Bronson starring original was not only insensitively timed and wholly unnecessary, but it also emerged as a thoroughly sleazy movie as well. 

This remake wanted to have its cake and eat it too in yearning to have thoughtful commentary about guns, gun violence, and vigilante justice, but it ultimately only ended up joyously celebrating its main "hero's" unrelenting carnage in sickeningly graphic detail by somehow making him come off as cool.  DEATH WISH also committed an unpardonable sin of bad taste in coming out weeks after the Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in Florida that left many teenagers dead via being gunned down by AR-15's (a weapon that Bruce Willis' vigilante brandishes with lethal enthusiasm).  This one-man revenge porn effort had no time for sobering discourse of its subject; it was all about embracing its protagonist's unrelentingly blood letting, justice seeking spree.  Roth appeared motivated by slimy B-grade luridness with DEATH WISH, and considering the real world gun related tragedies that have hit our world pre and post release of this film, there was something just puerile about a story featuring a white man of rich privilege hunting down and blowing away minorities.   

I could not think of another movie more wrong and inappropriate in the year that was - or any year, for that matter - than this.  
 
 

THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS

 
 

One joke premise movies usually never work as they rely on the initially funny angle of their premise to lead the charge, and all without carrying it forward to successful and hilarious fruition.  THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS is just such a lazy one joke premise film, but it never even generates any ample interest in its core concept - a hard boiled detective comedy that's set in an alternate world where people exist with puppets...and puppets that aggressively talk and act dirty. 

What makes Brian Henson's approach in THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS all the more nauseating is that he took a brand that his father made famous and believed that imparting it with raunchy and hard R-rated material would somehow make it all cutting edge and subversive.  This pathetic approach is so myopic, because any character talking dirty (whether made of flesh or felt) for the sake of scoring tawdry laughs isn't inherently funny at all, nor is it progressively minded.  Considering Henson's famous lineage and the band that he inherited from his papa, what he did with his puppet characters here - having them act outrageously and mindlessly shouting obscenities - showed a fundamental lack of conceptual imagination.  

THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS featured mature content, but it wasn't mature, or sophisticated, or imaginative.  It was just a lewd one joke premise that wore itself out awfully thin very early throughout its mercifully short running time.  

 
 

THE HURRICANE HEIST

 

The very specifically titled THE HURRICANE HEIST contained, yes, a hurricane and a heist, both strangely homogenized together to form some semblance of a meaningful cinematic whole.  

And yes, it didn't work at all.   

I don't dislike silly movies with preposterous premises, and this Rob Cohen (THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS and xXx) directed effort certainly delivered on stupid...in massive dosages...but it never once attained that joyous level of so bad, it's good infamy, mostly because the resulting movie never once fully harnessed its ludicrousness.  Like a strange hybrid of the semi-serious catastrophe scares of TWISTER and the horrendously laughable vibes of SHARKNADO, THE HURRICANE HEIST emerged as one of 2018's most forgettable and - pardon the pun - water logged turds; it made last year's GEOSTORM look as scientifically credible as INTERSTELLAR.
 

DARK CRIMES

 

Jim Carrey has become an iconic comedic actor over the course of his long career, but he's often overlooked for being a thanklessly decent and nuanced dramatic actor when given the right material to sink his teeth into.  

2018 marked a return for the rubber faced Canadian funnyman to dramatic film waters in the Poland set detective thriller DARK CRIMES, and, on a superficial positive, the role he inhabited in it could not be anymore diametrically different than his recent film roles.  That's good.  What's not so good at all is that DARK CRIMES could not have been a worse dramatic film vehicle for Carrey to jump into, seeing as the underlining story built around him was one of the most aimless and thoroughly unpleasant in recent memory.  The actor, to his credit, fully and deeply committed to this film's unrelenting darkness as the story's disgraced Polish detective, but DARK CRIMES would have been borderline unendurable without Carrey at the helm, which is probably why the film went direct to VOD in North America after a terrible reception during its international release in 2016.  You know an American studio is in trouble when it can't market a Jim Carrey film to the masses.   

 

GOTTI

 
 

The opening paragraph of my original review for GOTTI read as follows: 

"GOTTI is the BATTLEFIELD EARTH of fact based mob dramas.  It simply has no business being as categorically awful as it is." 

(SHIVERS) 

I drew the BATTLEFIELD EARTH comparison because of the fact that John Travolta appeared in that putrid sci-fi thriller, and he appears in GOTTI as the titular Italian American New York based Mob boss that was - during the height of his criminal prowess - the most powerful and ruthless mafia figures in The Big Apples' history.  The sad part here is that Travolta was not altogether bad as the Dapper Don; he crafts a modestly layered and lived in performance.  Also, there's a sprawling and epic crime drama to be made from Gotti's life under the right directorial hands. Unfortunately, director Kevin Connolly (yup, E from ENTOURAGE) made one of the most amateurishly scripted and pathetically edited mob films...perhaps ever.  GOTTI was so thematically tone deaf, so idiotically handled, and so utterly disposable as a genre effort that I thought of something the late Gene Siskel suggested as a question to ask naive filmmakers about their bad films: "Is my film more interesting than a documentary of the same actors having lunch together?"   

In GOTTI's case: Hell no.  
 
 

\FIFTY SHADES FREED

 
 

 

This was the third and - THANK GOD ALMIGHTY!!! - last film in the FIFTY SHADES trilogy, and one that finally put a nail in the coffin of this series that was on critical life support within the opening few minutes of its franchise introductory installment.  

 

That is all...moving on...

 
 

MORTAL ENGINES

 

MORTAL ENGINES was one of the great masterful technical triumphs of 2018.  

Seriously.

Produced and co-written by THE LORD OF THE RINGS' Peter Jackson and directed by Oscar winning VFX artist Christian Rivers, this post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller contained absolutely stupendous effects, art direction, and production design; its entire $100 million-plus budget definitely showed on screen.  And MORTAL ENGINES contained an absolutely bonkers, yet inspired premise - after a massive global cataclysm, the remaining cities of the world have been mounted on giant motorized wheels and chase down smaller cites to devour and assimilate them - that showed initial promise.  But the absolute creative demise of this film was that it failed to make me care...about anyone or anything in the story.  Hopelessly awash in Young Adult genre troupes and being more monumentally dull than it had any business of being, MORTAL ENGINES was as exhausting as it was wasteful.  It emerged as a flashy and ultra expensive VFX highlight reel...and not much else. 

 

THE 15:17 TO PARIS

 
 

The near 90-year-old Clint Eastwood has made some of my favorite films of all time, not to mention that he has miraculously maintained an impressive consistency as a prolific filmmaker at a time in his life when most his age should be residing in retirement homes.  In short, the legendary director/actor has very little to prove. 

Having said all of that, I don't have the foggiest idea what compelled him to make THE 15:17 TO PARIS the way he did.  As a deeply noble minded endeavor that tried to chronicle a very recent real life story of ordinary heroism triumphing over terrorism, there's no question that this story should be told.  Alas, Eastwood made the cardinal blunder of not casting actors, but instead the actual real life heroes to play themselves, which regrettably sticks out in beyond obvious ways throughout the film.  THE 15:17 TO PARIS isn't the first film to use real people playing themselves to recreate history (see ACT OF VALOR), but the non-actors Eastwood assembled here to re-tell their thrilling story of bravery is replete with horribly wooden line readings, a lack of dramatic urgency, and a paradoxical lack of on-screen chemistry.  Simply put, Eastwood's creative stunt didn't pay off, and THE 15:17 TO PARIS hurt as a result and became the acclaimed filmmaker's most unforgivably terrible film of his career.  

 
 

HOLMES & WATSON

 
 

I knew that HOLMES & WATSON was the worst SHERLOCK HOLMES film of all time when it featured a scene very early on of the young sleuth-in-the-making being tricked on a school yard by bullies...to kiss a donkey's anus.   

Later on, another character is covered in horse excrement... 

Then there's a scene of the adult Holmes projectile vomiting... 

Is this what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had in mind when he created the most well known detective in all of fiction?  Now, I'm no prude.  I like comedies.  I especially like spoofs of classic genre efforts.  And the thought of getting the dynamic comedic duo of Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly - so sensationally amusing together in TALLADEGA NIGHTS: THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY - to play Holmes and Dr. John Watson respectively would be enough to get any comedy film fan salivating at the prospects.  Mournfully, HOLMES & WATSON was such a desperate and painfully unfunny comedy on all conceivable levels that I was left befuddled as to why so many talented performers (which also included Ralph Fiennes, Rebecca Hall, Hugh Laurie, Rob Brydon, and Steve Coogan) decided to lend their good names to this filth, outside of a paycheck with many zeroes on the end.  When the last Robert Downey Jr. SHERLOCK HOLMES film had more laughs than one featuring Will Ferrell - and the former was not a comedy - that's ultimately damaging and telling.  

 
 

JURASSIC PARK: FALLEN KINGDOM

 

I fondly recall years ago what it was like to actual witness living and breathing dinosaurs come lovingly to life on screen in Steven Spielberg's original JURASSIC PARK.  I think I speak on behalf of most filmgoers in saying that when that 1993 film premiered and ushered in a VFX revolution in Hollywood I was struck with legitimate awe and wonder in its sights.     

The problem with nearly all of the subsequent JURASSIC PARK sequels - including 2018's JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM - was that the aforementioned and ethereal wow! factor was all but gone.  The fifth film in this franchise continued its woeful creative devolution, made even worse by the fact that it was the most off-puttingly absurd and laughably scripted sequel of the past year.  Even the usually assured hands of acclaimed director J.A. Bayona at the helm couldn't save JURASSIC PARK: FALLEN KINGDOM, and the film's complete unwillingness to push the series' storytelling template forward in dynamically unique ways all but undermined the director's talents.  Worst yet - and unlike great science fiction films - this sequel never challenged viewers with thought provoking ideas and themes about cloning creatures of the distant past, mostly because, deep down, it only wanted to be about dino on human carnage and mayhem.  Franchise fatigue has never reared its ugly head as much as it did here.
 
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 2018

 
  FOREVER MY GIRL: A walking cliché factory of a romcom made all the more disagreeable by wasting the fine talent of star Jessica Rothe.

I FEEL PRETTY: Another fundamentally broken romcom from last year, and one of noble intentions made all the more lousy by its questionable execution.

MILE 22:  Director Peter Berg usually makes well oiled thrillers (see PATRIOT'S DAY, DEEPWATER HORIZON, and THE KINGDOM), but here he over-directed the crap out of this Mark Wahlberg starring vehicle. 

THE PREDATOR: How could a PREDATOR sequel be so wrongheaded on so many unfathomable levels with writer/director Shane Black at the helm?

MUTE: A colossal Netflix Original sci-fi misfire from the usually talented Duncan Jones. 

PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING:  A sequel so depressingly bland and uninspired that I had to pinch and remind myself while watching it that I should care.

PROUD MARY: I'm all for female driven and led action films (we need more of them), just not as instantly forgettable as this.  

THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX: This latest CLOVERFIELD inspired tie-in Netflix film worked better as a marketing stunt than it did as a movie.

RAMPAGE: This Dwayne Johnson led video game movie adaptation lacked a sense of legitimate intrigue its set pieces.

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY:  The lowest grossing film of the Disney helmed STAR WARS franchise proved that audiences had very little interest in the continued saturation of this once classic brand.

WINCHESTER:  Despite a commendably assembled cast, this fact based horror thriller was mechanically rendered and on pure genre autopilot. 

SKYSCRAPER:  Another entry from The Rock, this time a fairly unimaginative hodgepodge of elements from a dozen other DIE HARD clones. 

LIFE OF THE PARTY: Instead of serving up something fresh, star Melissa McCarthy and husband/director Ben Falcone just offered up stale leftovers with this unfunny college comedy.

FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD: Eye popping visual candy was on abundant display in this second HARRY POTTER prequel-sequel, but J.K. Rowling's overstuffed and meandering screenplay did it no favors whatsoever.
     
  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 2018

 
 

THE COMMUTER: Another in the annual Liam Neeson takes names and kicks ass action thriller lacked a decent payoff from its compelling premise. 

12 STRONG:  Admirable intentions from this compelling reality based 9/11 war drama could not override the film's lack of execution sophistication.

READY PLAYER ONE:  One of the most jam packed pop cultured referenced films of all time - based on Ernie Kline's popular futuristic sci-fi novel - lacked the iconic Steven Spielbergian magic of old. 

THE MIRACLE SEASON:  This film had an incredibly moving and inspirational true sports story to tell, but the prosaic handling of its delicate material failed to leave a lasting impression.

TAG: A mostly funny screwball comedy about, yes, the game of tag, but this film's screenplay was simply too busy and ill focused. 

GRINGO: This Nash Edgerton crime film never fully came together as a business satire/comedy or a pulse pounding drug thriller. 

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP:  This so-so sequel to the hugely enjoyable original was an MCU entry of - cough, cough - tiny returns. 

THE FIRST PURGE: This PURGE franchise prequel entry had its B-grade grindhouse pleasures, but it was hardly worth the price of a theatrical admission. 

HEREDITARY:  This supernatural horror thriller was a huge critical darling in 2018, but I found that its final act never achieved the high level of fascination that its opening two thirds did. 

PEPPERMINT: Even with my decades old crush on Jennifer Garner I still couldn't bring myself to recommend this paint-by-numbers revenge action thriller.

LIFE ITSELF:  Not to be confused with the Roger Ebert doc, this Dan Fogelman drama was incredibly ambitious in approach, but lacked disciplined follow-through.

VENOM:  Despite the characteristic method acting infused weirdness of Tom Hardy on full display, this adaptation of the popular Marvel Comics anti-hero lacked a cohesive tone. 

HALLOWEEN:  This HALLOWEEN soft reboot/sequel had an awful lot going for it in terms of paying homage to the iconic John Carpenter original, but it seemed unwilling to take the series into newfangled territory. 

HOTEL ARTEMIS:  Writer/director Drew Pearce assembled a fine cast in this intriguing futuristic sci-fi thriller, but it couldn't find a manner of bringing everything together to pay off handsomely.  

HUNTER KILLER: A dime a dozen nuclear sub thriller that mostly squandered its grade A cast.   

THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB:  Claire Foy made a more than commendable Lisbeth Salander, but the latest entry in the DRAGON TATTOO film franchise lacked the dark and oppressive bite of its predecessors. 

THE FRONT RUNNER:  Jason Reitman's fact-based political drama - following Gary Hart's failed Presidential campaign in the late 80's - was a bit too one-sided in its sympathetic portrait of the man.

CRAZY RICH ASIANS: Crazy rich wealthy people porn masquerading as a novel romcom, this pioneering effort (the first Hollywood film in over 25 years to have a mostly all Asian cast) felt riddled with overused genre contrivances. 

THE MULE:  Although it was a pleasure to see Clint Eastwood return in front of the camera in a starring role after a long absence, this drug trafficking drama was mostly mundane.     

BUMBLEBEE:  This Michael Bay-ified TRANSFORMERS series prequel was a huge qualitative step up from the previous entries, but it still failed to be more than meets the eye.    

 

 

 
 
     
 

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