1. Across The Universe – Last year it was pretty girls killing pseudo-vampires clogging up the worst of the year. This year it’s something that ought to be just as unsurprising a theme: musicals. But 2007 wanted to get more specific: musicals based on songs we already know and ostensibly love and otherwise would not have suspected could ever be ruined so utterly and thoroughly. And I’m not even including Sweeney Todd in that.
In this particular case, of course, it’s Beatles songs. Somewhere along the line, someone decided Beatles songs were too vague and elusive in their commentary on the era in which they were released that they needed to gather up every 60’s cliché and force them into an awkwardly cobbled together narrative to link them all together so we could finally understand them. And there’s no question you will understand them because let’s face it, Mark David Chapman’s sixth bullet was for subtlety. And Julie Taymor helped him load the gun.
Reason to watch it anyway: About ten minutes in, when there’s still a glimmer of hope that this could be some sort of strange ensemble piece, Prudence (T.V. Carpio) sings “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” from the stands during a football practice. And it’s pretty good. But there’s totally a crazy twist: she’s not singing it to a football player, she’s singing it to a cheerleader! I know, you didn’t think that sort of thing happened in the 60’s, but it did and I think this proves it.
2. Romance & Cigarettes – You know how you go to a concert and the guy behind you knows all the words to all the songs and wants to make sure you know he knows so he sings them into the back of your head? Yeah, that’s what this movie is, only you don’t get to pick the band. Writer/director John Turturro picked the band and it’s: James Gandolfini playing Nick Murder, it’s true, and no, that’s not a metaphor because there is no murdering, implied or otherwise, it’s just a name he came up with. Susan Sarandon as his overdramatic wife, whose membership in a church choir is apparently supposed to be a big deal but isn’t introduced until the end. Mary-Louise Parker, Aida Turturro and Mandy Moore as their daughters, and no, their ages are not addressed [in fact when Mary-Louise Parker calls James Gandolfini “dad” in the first minute or so you think it’s a joke. (It’s not.)]
So yeah, it’s a musical. Sort of. I mean, in addition to the muddled sing alongs, there’s also dancing from people you totally don’t expect to see dancing. Like garbagemen and police officers. Isn’t that crazy? And it’s mostly done in somebody’s backyard. I mean that literally, you spend a lot of time looking out into Jamaica Bay so you don’t risk seeing an actor you thought you liked doing something awful.
Reason to watch it anyway: Steve Buscemi and Elaine Stritch are pretty great in limited time, especially in the scene they’re in together. But really the only thing keeping it out of the absolute bottom is one line from Bobby Cannavalle, a neighbor who wants to marry Mandy Moore, to whom he, while kissing her for the first time, says, “I’m gonna make out with your whole family.” I know that won’t do it justice, but it’s worth that sacrifice to eliminate any hint that I might be suggesting ever seeing it yourself.
3. D-War – Four times, in two different languages, twice in the first ten minutes, one character says to another some variation of the line, “What are you talking about?” And the answer makes less sense than whatever jumbly junk came out of the other character’s mouth that led to that question being asked. Now some of that can be chalked up to translation issues. But more important than the writer/director being Korean is that he’s famous exclusively for playing a childish Magoo-type figure on TV. And now he’s made, by far, the most expensive movie in his country’s history and set it (mostly) in Los Angeles. This is like if someone gave Rob Schneider 14 billion dollars (not an exaggeration, that’s the comparable math) to write and direct a Big Foot movie and then when he said, “OK, but only about ten minutes is going to take place in America. The rest of it’s going to be in Seoul,” responded with a resoundingly confident, “Perfect!” Which would be convenient for Rob Schneider because it would allow him to reprise his Yunioshi-like character from I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry. But that’s another matter.
D-War, or, if you prefer, Dragon Wars (why one is singular and the other isn’t is yet another mystery this movie has graciously bestowed upon us), really is the best kind of bad movie. Two of the most bored by world destruction lead characters you’ve ever had the pleasure of being stared at by, helped on their way to their supposed destiny by a disguised Robert Forster who has told them both that they are the only ones capable of doing whatever they’re supposed to be doing (which not only isn’t true as he’s the one doing it, but kind of renders the disguises unnecessary) which could all be avoided if someone would just kill the main girl as they showed us was the only solution in the Korean flashback that starts the whole mess.
Reason to watch it anyway: It really is wonderful. Watch Jason Behr’s vacant stare when the black-armored villain whose digitally–altered voice comes from somewhere not near his body pretends to be just your run-of-the-mill customer at Robert Forster’s antique store. Watch said villain tear through an entire village of Korean women, searching for a red dragon birthmark 500 years ago and then wonder where he had his technology upgraded since in today’s Los Angeles, his gigantic dragons can find her wherever she goes. And watch South Korea lose over 1.5% of its gross national product on the whim of Korea’s Rob Schneider.
4. The Number 23 – From the moment in the trailer where Jim Carrey’s 15 year-old son proudly calls out the answer to the complicated mathematic conundrum known as 16+7=? it was fairly clear that this movie would be on this list. Add Joel Schumacher to the mix and all doubt was erased. And yet, it’s still shocking how bad it gets. Clever names such as Topsy Kretts, Cassanova Spark and Sirius Leary serve as clues to absolutely nothing. Buying a book you know your husband wrote about the murder he’s forgotten about and then getting all up in arms when it starts coming back to him. People killing themselves without hesitation in order to escape the horrors of the number 23. On screen, I mean. Not in the theater. That would be terrible. And understandable.
Reason to watch it anyway: Did I mention the author of the book in the movie is Topsy Kretts? I don’t know what else you want.
5. Good Luck Chuck – Now quick, how did you read that title? Was it a description of Chuck or was it wishing him well? Because the marketing team behind this movie never could make up their minds. It’s commonplace to see a movie pulled apart and mined for all the angles from which it can get advertised. But never before has there been a complete re-imagining of the title’s intended meaning. Dane Cook seemed to become so anathema in the months leading up to Good Luck Chuck’s release, that they decided to revolve a new campaign around Jessica Alba falling. Which in turn led to a new inflection. One that probably should have required a comma, but they weren’t willing to go that far. The weird thing is, they didn’t make the right decision. As terrible as Dane Cook can be (and is in this), Jessica Alba has found a way to be worse. Not even Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn could make me a believer in onscreen chemistry, but these two may have by proving its absence. They aren’t even looking near one another during pivotal scenes. It’s so amazing you barely notice Dan Fogler yelling yet another explanation of the plot every ten minutes.
I just said Good Luck Chuck had pivotal scenes. Clearly, I am not qualified to be doing this. But I know I’m still more qualified than they are to make a movie together.
Reason to watch it anyway: At the end they try to parody the romantic comedy cliché of catching the girl at the airport before she flies off with the wrong guy. In this case, she’s going to Antarctica, so this proves to be not only problematic but extraordinarily expensive. And it’s a pretty good idea, except a) you can’t fly to Antarctica on commercial airlines, and more importantly b) Dane Cook is the one doing it.
6. Primeval – You thought you had this one all figured out, didn’t you? You saw the trailer where people were getting killed in Africa, reportedly by some monster, and some Americans went to investigate and you assumed they’d uncover some semi-serious version of a Scooby Doo mystery involving a militia and propaganda, and that this would make some lame comment on all the injustices we’ve been ignoring as a nation. But they got you. It really is a monster killing people over there. A giant crocodile monster to be more precise. A giant crocodile serial killer monster to be even moreso. Because it’s targeting specific people and keeping their skeletons as trophies and was probably touched inappropriately as a little crocodile. So, you know, feel sorry for it.
Reason to watch it anyway: Witness the awesome power of Dominic Purcell’s unbuttoned shirt. You thought that was just a character choice on Prison Break, but no, apparently he has some very specific allergy that precludes him from having to button past his sternum. Or maybe he’s just lazy. Which would maybe explain his career choices thus far.
7. Happily N’ever After – When Steve Martin or Eugene Levy do their awkward hip-talk routine, it’s in front of people who they think talk that way. Which is why they do it. Granted, it isn’t funny, but at least it makes sense. But when an animated character in a world populated entirely by Brothers Grimm creations tries it, it’s simply a manufactured superfluous bit designed, I guess, just to put in a trailer. Because otherwise, it just doesn’t fit. And that’s all this movie seems to consist of. A bunch of shallow pursuits and sight gags (which are doubly unimpressive in animation, triply so in bad animation) that were so ineffective they couldn’t even be pieced together to make a trailer that anyone wanted to see.
Also, I don’t think the people behind this movie understand contractions.
Reason to watch it anyway: Patrick Warburton will always give you something somewhere along the way, but even he seems suppressed somehow. Freddie Prinze, Jr. is funny sometimes, but everyone is saying such ludicrously expository things it’s difficult for anyone to not just sound like they’re in a room somewhere shouting at a microphone.
8. Ghost Rider – There’s a scene towards the end, after Sam Elliot reveals that he’s also a Ghost Rider where he and Nicolas Cage, both aflame, ride together towards the bad guys. It’s silly, given their heads are on fire, but in the context of a Ghost Rider movie, it’s a pretty good moment. Then, when they get there, Sam Elliot tells Nicolas Cage that he’s on his own and turns around and goes away. Wait, what? But then why…? I mean, you guys were riding side by side, so you can’t even make the argument that Sam Elliot had to lead the way. And that about sums up this whole thing. Mark Steven Johnson seems to have had a list of things he wanted to put in a Ghost Rider movie and wasn’t going to concern himself with the logic of how to get to them. Sometimes though, it seems like he went out of his way to not make sense.
Reason to watch it anyway: The relationship between Johnny Blaze and Roxanne Simpson is at the mercy of however the plot happens to need it to be at any given moment, but in the beginning, before it has a chance to get manipulated, there is the scene where Johnny catches up to Roxanne’s news van on his motorcycle directly after a stunt and I think it was pretty good. If only because it seems like it didn’t fit in with the rest of this movie.
9. Shoot ‘Em Up – I guess, since this isn’t at the absolute bottom, Shoot ‘Em Up may have somehow been better than expected. Although it’s more likely everything below was just that much more horrendous than I could have thought possible. But just the news that Michael Davis, purveyor of the most gloriously terrible work since Ed Wood, was not only going to make an action movie, but an action movie with a budget and two Academy Award nominated actors, was laughable enough. The product of said news really couldn’t be expected to live up to that. But I think it did. Sure, in incorporating the hero/villain dynamic Mr. Davis had to abandon his surefire technique of the steadfast lead and egregious best friend having indescribably awful and awkward dialogue. But that’s more than made up for by both (the cleverly named) Mr. Hero (Clive Owen) and Hertz (Paul Giamatti) amusing their respective hangers on with wholly unprompted diatribes about forcibly ironic stuff. It’s as if Michael Davis found a copy of a stand up routine he wrote for himself in eighth grade and somehow grafted the action movie he saw the same day over top. If I wasn’t so exceedingly repulsed with the infantile progression of every scene, I might be impressed.
Reason to watch it anyway: Oh, who are we kidding. Everyone’s impressed by Michael Davis. Most notably and most especially, Michael Davis. There’s so much terrible to revel in, it can’t be condensed to just one thing. Unless that one thing is the answer to the repeatedly self-asked question, “You know what I hate?”
10. Nancy Drew – It begins in River Heights, with ostensibly Nancy Drewish happenings: Nancy (Emma Roberts) talks two burglars out of an accidental hostage situation with a lemon square. It sort of feels like you just missed something the way it starts with Nancy already confronting the burglars. And it’s stupid, especially when the burglars apparently forget everything that just happened seconds later, but as a way of introducing everything, it’s not so terrible. Her friends and the police show up and we can see that this is a common occurrence. Then her father (Tate Donovan) shows up and says something to the effect of “no more mysteries and also we’re moving to Los Angeles.”
You know, Los Angeles, where the cops are jerks because they won’t work with a spoiled 15 year old and the other kids are jerks because they don’t realize that your perfectly constructed retro clothing is cool and the ghosts are jerks because they just won’t leave you alone until you find their offspring and/or killer. None of this seems to bother Nancy at all though, she’s much more preoccupied with hiding from her father the fact that she’s investigating things to concern herself with anything else. So Nancy figures out some stuff and gets targeted by somebody who doesn’t like it and gets run off the road and gets bombs left on her front seat (which she promptly throws into manhole, which maybe back in River Heights don’t contain a lot of important public works related infrastructure, but probably would cause some trouble in crazy Los Angeles.) Turns out this mystery is some sort of watered-down Black Dahlia deal and if Nancy figures it out, the ghost’s daughter (Rachel Leigh Cook) will get her inheritance. To help with this high stakes endeavor, Nancy’s friend from River Heights shows up to help with any corners of the movie that might be missing some boring. Seriously, how did Eric Roberts have such a dull child? Doesn’t seem right. Anyway, things are fine in the end. But then, things never didn’t seem fine the whole time, so I’m not sure how I’m supposed to tell the difference.
Reason to watch it anyway: This isn’t really a good reason, but somewhere in the middle, Nancy walks onto the set of a period mystery movie starring Bruce Willis and directed by Adam Goldberg. She corrects some anachronistic dialogue and Bruce Willis pretty much invites her to take over for Adam Goldberg as director. Nancy says “no thanks” and walks away. Because of course, she has more important things to do.
Freedom Writers – Oh, the misunderstandings! White teacher and class full of myriad stereotypes will never get along. Maybe if they bond over Miep Geiss, things will get better. Oh, but then they’d have to read Diary Of Anne Frank together. Oh, they do? Well, problem solved then, I guess. As long they collectively agree to leave their like-minded stereotypical peers behind and think like regular white people though. Or else this really isn’t going to work out in the long term.
Norbit – I don’t feel as if I can say anything new here. I want to say I expect more from Eddie Murphy and Brian Robbins, but at this point, I really can’t. It feels a little like I wandered into a community theater, and all the townspeople around me are laughing, but I’m never going to figure out why. And I don’t want to. I just want to get out of that town.
War – If not for its “twist” ending, War would simply be a major disappointment. But when it turns out that the menacing villain is really a guy you barely got to know before you thought died in the first few minutes but really had Face/Off surgery and a few years of villain training instead, you transcend to a dizzying plateau of terrible.
Rush Hour 3 – Rush Hour movies were never good, but at least they weren’t painful, just amazingly bland. But this… this is just recycling the things you sort of tolerated the first time around. But in France. Like a greatest hits CD from a band that never had anything that qualified as a hit in the first place. Or maybe they did, but in France.
P2 – Usually, I really like the first third of this sort of horror movie. The part before it inevitably gets dumb and bloody and screamy. But anything that got Rachel Nichols to stop her awkward monologuing was (theoretically) a welcome change here. Unfortunately, that change doesn’t work out so well. Wes Bentley is funny for the first couple of minutes though. Then he gets all wacky/crazy and ruins it.