There is a movement, probably mostly unconscious as far as it pertains to movies, to strike down anything upon which money is spent. To mark as the worst anything the least bit bloated. As if the act of spending money should make the spender of the money somehow more adept at producing something that seems worth said spent money. The disappointment becomes the result, when these are clearly two separate things.
Transformers 2 is the prime example of this if we’re limiting things to movies released in America in 2009 (and we are.) Even delusional defenders of the first calamity of this franchise were forced to admit defeat at the hands of one Michael Bay. And it seems their retaliation came in the form of exaggerated claims that it was the worst thing they’d ever seen. Transformers 2 is a mess, to be sure, and a bloated one at that (in terms of both expense and length), but it does not come as close as it seemingly would to the worst movies of 2009.
1. The Lovely Bones – There’s never been a movie like this before. Big stars have gotten together and made terrible things. Some live in infamy to this day. Others are mercifully forgotten footnotes in their hopefully unfettered careers. But none of them have ever been as bizarrely bad as The Lovely Bones.
Peter Jackson has spent so long in a literal fantasy land that he has apparently forgotten what the real world looks like. And what it sounds like. And probably what it smells and tastes like too, if this is any indication. Which might be a barely valid excuse had there not been a second tier to the terrible world he created in this. The horrendously termed “Inbetween” in which (kind of?) dead Susie Salmon (like the fish, you see, not like the other thing to which you might think salmon could refer) resides for most of the movie is as simplistic and dull as the rest, only realized in special effect form that wasn’t even interesting when they used it over ten years ago in What Dreams May Come.
But The Lovely Bones is not content with failures simply of plot and acting and dialog and other such banalities. It manages to ruin every aspect of the movie making process. Brian Eno’s score is mostly just bad and incongruous, but in a few glaring instances, becomes laughably obvious and weird, giving away plot points almost a full minute before the movie gets around to them. There are times where the lights are clearly visible in the background. There are camera angles that seem to be begging you to question them, even if you aren’t normally attuned to that sort of thing.
The Lovely Bones’ greatest feat, however, comes in its ability to be both excruciatingly dull and unceasingly, gloriously, fascinatingly terrible simultaneously. It doesn’t give you a chance to wonder why everyone is suddenly so sure that Susie is stuck in some pastel limbo, or why she is stuck there in the first place, or why half the characters are even involved in this story because its constantly topping itself with the weirdest scenes you’ve ever seen that you can’t even grasp where the movie is supposed to go. And so you can’t be too surprised when it doesn’t get there (but you are! It’s amazing!)
From Susan Sarandon’s babysitting montage to the skeevies-inducing safe rolling marathon to the ultimate throw-yours-arms-up-in-disbelief scrapbook discovery, The Lovely Bones is the most perfect mess you could never purposely recreate. Even if you had your very own Inbetween.
Reason to watch it anyway: There’s no reason not to watch this. There has never been a more watchable worst movie of the year. There is absolutely nothing not fascinating about it. Even with all this warning, you will still be astonished. And yet, you will also be bored out of your mind.
2. Grace – I had ever been so sure I had seen the worst movie of the year as I was when twenty minutes into Grace, a still-born baby turns out to be a vampire. Not knowing that was the point of this movie was one of the most ridiculous plot turns I have ever witnessed. An entire theater seemed to take a collective step back and rethink their decision to be in the room.
There’s terrible acting, to be sure, some amongst the most amateurish you will see on a big screen. There is horrible production: everything seems to take place in rooms that are too small to accommodate the scene’s participants and one scene where the light from outside a window swallows both actors whole. And there is overwrought dialogue: “She’s teething!” And there are gaping logistical holes, present only so that the dramatic elements closing them would eliminate can continue. But it all pales in comparison to the pretentious pandering in almost every scene.
Before any hint of supernaturalness is introduced, the movie seems as if it will simply be a one-sided discussion of the benefits of midwifery over pre-natal hospital care. Grace’s mother (Jordan Ladd) watches a channel that apparently is not bound by any FCC standards because all it shows are vegetarian propaganda videos of slaughterhouses. Midwife (Samantha Ferris) likes to scratch her desk drawer with her fingernail, and the movie seems to think it somehow meaningful to start scenes with this practice. Despite her advancing age, Grace’s grandmother (Gabrielle Rose) is intent on producing her own breast milk (and does, which is just as supernatural as a vampire baby.) There’s also some lesbian subplottery that would seem sort of offensive it wasn’t so awkwardly handled.
Reason to watch it anyway: Besides The Hangover, this is the movie I’ve seen most this year. Though really only to see people’s reactions to it. So the reason to see it then, is to torture your friends with it afterward while you watch them watch it. That seems like a worthwhile endeavor, doesn’t it?
Realistically, there’s not a high ceiling of hope for this sort of movie. The best it can hope for is funny and forgettable (The Proposal, Raising Helen). Only a select few ever achieve more than that (Kate & Leopold, The Devil Wears Prada) and are rarely rewarded for it. But The Ugly Truth goes beyond the standard cloying traditions of the girl who’s wound too tight formula. It has all of those (she falls out of a tree spying on the guy she thinks she wants) and more (kid finds the remote control to her vibrating underwear), and presents them all with a burrowing sense of obligation, it also misses the points it is trying to make even as it tries to make them. It’s a dizzying accomplishment.
There’s not much it can do with its leads. One (Gerard Butler) is a lost cause, always sounding as if someone is standing on his chest when he speaks and posing like he can’t find the thing upon which he wants to lean. The other (Katherine Heigel) has been at least OK in things before. But it isn’t shocking to see her go overboard with her attempt at a serious journalist who stumbles in the face of pretty much everything. The real tragesty lies in the abhorrent failure of the people around them (Bree Turner, Cheryl Hines, Nate Corddry, Yvette Nicole Brown, Tom Virtue, John Michael Higgins) who are infinitely better than this and are unilaterally pulled down by this whirlpool of disaster.
A movie like this shouldn’t be able to be this bad, even when it fails. It’s such a safe bet, such a tried, if tired, formula, that it seems like even the worst examples are still passable as products of the framework. The Ugly Truth destroys that notion and leaves no trace of itself behind. It may have killed an entire genre. So far (When In Rome) things don’t look good for a recovery.
Reason to watch it anyway: If you don’t, you’ll never truly appreciate the idiocy involved in Katherine Heigel’s public statement that Knocked Up was sexist.
4. Skills Like This – When a good review of a movie makes you hate the movie, it could just be the mark of a terrible reviewer. When that good review can’t manage to say one positive thing about the movie beyond “Director Miranda shows real skill here,” there’s probably something else at work. And when you have to turn to reading reviews of a movie you already know you hated, but can’t remember much about it beyond the lead actor’s hair, you have one of the worst movies of the year.
There’s a guy who robs banks by putting a gun to his own head and there’s a bank teller that falls in love with him for no reason. There’s a guy who gets obsessed with a child’s bicycle and a reserved guy who can’t believe any of this is happening. And it’s all so much more boring than I could ever make it sound. Yet, it’s shot in that hyper-stylized, zip camera and whoosh sound way that implies a lot more movement than there ever actually is.
Really, Skills Like This shouldn’t be on this list. It shouldn’t have been released in theaters (and barely was.) And it certainly shouldn’t have been released in 2009. It seems like it was thrown together by somebody who just walked out of Bottle Rocket and didn’t understand quite why he liked it so much. It’s actually so anachronistic and silly, it almost seems a waste to direct so much attention to it, no matter how negative. But that sort of mercy sentimentality is what allows Dane Cook to get famous and Jay Leno to take back The Tonight Show.
Reason to watch it anyway: Don’t watch this. You’ll never see it by accident, so why would you seek it out? Maybe if you’re really desperate to see something that’s been filmed in Denver.
5. The Final Destination – These movies were never great. They’ve even been pretty bad. But there was always something you could point to and say, “Hey, they thought that through and even though it maybe got messed up on its way to the screen, I appreciate it.” This one not only never had anything close to that moment, not only had nary a second that wasn’t screaming for your approval, not only couldn’t have chosen two leads less charismatic, not only couldn’t have embarrassed Mykelti Williamson more, it couldn’t even follow its own rules. There are three whole movies that while they play around with them, set up and live by basic tenants that tie them all together. But the makers of this installment played some weird game of telephone with the creators of the first one and spewed out a bunch of stuff no one had ever heard of before. It’s so off, it almost seems at first as though the characters in the movie are assuming things and are going to eventually find out that they are very very wrong and are going to have to deal with that and learn from it and for that moment you are left with little choice but to consider the idea that someone did something kind of brilliant with a Final Destination movie because the alternative is to be left with the realization that these characters are making up the rules of the movie and BEING RIGHT ABOUT THEM. Which is just about the dumbest thing you could ever conceive. So dumb, in fact, that you wouldn’t conceive of it. You’d leave that to the makers of The Final Destination.
Reason to watch it anyway: I can’t think of anything. I’m sorry. If you’ve seen the other three you should feel obligated? Krista Allen’s really pretty? People watch movies for these sorts of reasons, apparently.
6. Old Dogs – I suppose the only surprise here is that this isn’t higher (or maybe lower, whichever you think of as worse) on this list. From the dumbfounding poster to its proud proclamation of “from the director of Wild Hogs,” no one could have assumed it would be anything less (more?) than the worst movie of the year. Except, you know, the multitudes who went and laughed hysterically (and at least one who cried, for serious), of course. And that is what really fuels the hatred for a movie like this, that so many people who have no interest nor obligation in defending their taste will buy it on DVD and watch it forever. Just like they did with (the far superior, though that’s not saying much, or anything) Wild Hogs.
But before you fall into despair over this fact, keep in mind this amazing thing that happened in the theater when I saw Old Dogs. Halfway through, amidst all the laughter and applause and foot stomping by mostly everyone present, a kid turns to his father, who is counted among those laughers and foot stompers, and says, kind of angrily, “I haven’t laughed once.” And so there is hope. It is not necessarily a falling in with the teachings of one’s parents or peers that leads one down the path towards appreciation for the awful comedy that rules America. We can get out of this hole into which we’ve allowed ourselves to be dug. Don’t give up. And don’t wait for DVD to see things like The Invention Of Lying anymore. You’re not helping.
Reason to watch it anyway: I really can’t say there is one thing that stands out as good among bad, or even bad among bad. But taken as a whole, the world in which Old Dogs exists is a kind of dreamland where jet packs are common and transferrable and two highly successful sports marketers fill in for one of their assistants on his botched low level assignment.
7. Street Fighter: The Legend Of Chun Li – It’s unfortunate, considering the ancestry of the titular character, but this entire movie feels as if it was mistranslated from its original Asian language because it’s rare that you will have any idea what is happening or what is supposed to be happening. I wish this could be meant as some sort of amazing endorsement, that you’ll feel as if you are watching a live action Japanese animated movie, that you’ll be able to chalk some of the weird things people do or say up to cultural ignorance if you bother noticing them at all. But the action, that is at the very least the secondary point of making a Street Fighter movie (the first being the built in audience that will of course put down their gaming mechanisms en masse and come to a theater), is among the worst things about this. Major characters that even I know I’m supposed to be excited to see are vanquished in seconds, sometimes through barely any fault of the protagonist.
And then there’s whatever is going on between the sparsely placed action scenes. Somebody kidnaps somebody else and leaves his daughter alive to keep the somebody else in line, and this apparently works for at least twenty years. And this somebody is also apparently a really evil guy, and achieved this mystical evil by first proving himself worthy of mystical evil by killing his pregnant wife. But then didn’t feel there was anything else all that evil to do I guess and decided just to smile smugly at people his minions are detaining.
I’m also not sure the people behind this quite know what the word ‘legend’ means.
Reason to watch it anyway: Chris Klein as Charlie Nash. This is one of the most bizarre self-aware performances you will ever see. Let him be your guide as you wade into this drudgery that otherwise takes itself all too seriously.
8. The 4th Kind – This movie starts with Milla Jovovich introducing herself and telling you that everything you are about to see totally happened and there’s video evidence and everything. The background looks like a SyFy original movie about some haunted woods and Milla Jovovich has never taken herself so seriously. But pay attention because you might not hear her important message (that could have been explained with a line or two of text) over your own laughter.
Maybe there wasn’t quite enough “real” footage to actually make a movie out of. Just enough to show it along with the filmed bits, as if to pat themselves on the back for recreating things so amazingly well. Which wouldn’t be admirable even if they hadn’t made the whole thing up to begin with.
And so this already plodding and unsurprising movie is constantly interrupted by a woman who sounds like she had a stroke telling the camera everything we just managed to sit through. Or worse, what we’re about to sit through. As Steven Seagal so eloquently wrote in Hard To Kill “Anticipation of death is worse than death itself.”
But The 4th Kind isn’t as merciful as Steven Seagal. It will never kill you. Because it put itself in a position where it wants you to believe things you’ve seen a million times in a million different things before are finally being exposed, but can’t actually expose anything because these things don’t actually exist. So it can’t ever really end. It can only leave you wondering why you didn’t just watch any Resident Evil movie over again so you could still be in love with crazy Milla Jovovich.
Reason to watch it anyway: Will Patton is pretty grumbly and incomprehensible and seems totally annoyed with all of Milla Jovovich’s antics, which is both in character and easily interpreted as his being annoyed with the whole movie going on around him. So that’s pretty great. And in the beginning, before she gets involved herself, Milla Jovovich is awesomely bored by her patient’s boring stories of boring boring.
9. Let Them Chirp Awhile – A lot of movies are made every year that are so inept, just technically, that there’s no way to judge them on anything else. The actual substance is probably just as terrible, but you can’t know that for sure because of everything else that’s gone wrong. Most of these movies are never seen by anyone not somehow involved in the making of that movie unless some limited distribution is manufactured by someone very rich and stupid. And all those movies are probably worse than anything else I could list here, but since I am largely unable to see them, I can’t know that. I’m not even sure I would be able to rank them below the ones you see here because it wouldn’t seem an even playing field even though it totally is and their failure is more than well earned.
Let Them Chirp Awhile puts me in a precarious position then, because it is one of these technically inept movies. The kind in which the sound editing is more noticeable for being bad than that of whichever movie will take home the Oscar in that category could ever be noticed for being good. The kind in which no one thought it was maybe too noisy to shoot on the streets of New York City until well after the scene was finished. The kind in which you can’t even guess what a certain shot was meant to do, never mind whether or not it succeeded.
But in this particular case all of these things (and more) almost seem like conscious choices. A long tracking shot of the backs of two walking peoples’ legs while they converse isn’t something you do by accident, nor is it the first way you think of to overcome those aforementioned street noises. Jaw-droppingly bad acting by people not exactly known for it (Justin Rice, Brendan Sexton III), the abandoning of plots almost before they could even be called that, and meta-pretentious writer problems just round this painful piece of confusion out.
Reason to watch it anyway: An apparently ageless Zach Galligan is supposed to be the villain, but you’ll almost certainly be on his side by the end of his graceful portrayal of an egotistical playwright. And there’s a cameo from Anthony Rapp (playing himself) that leads to the only truish, if overacted, moment in the movie.
10. Halloween II – Every other movie I saw this year, almost two hundred of them, seemed to at least be trying to tell a story. Even the ones who failed so miserably at it that they are lower on this list. Even the dumb arty ones who think it’s something to brag about if nothing happens in them. But not Halloween II. This movie is only interested in testing your endurance. How many mechanical killings can you watch in less than two hours? What if we make them all exactly the same? Does that change your guess?
Some of it is deliberately gross or bloody or both, but none of it is terribly difficult to watch in that you really couldn’t care less who is getting their head sawed off or their spine cracked apart. I suppose that is the reasoning behind the endless string of cameos by vaguely familiar actors: maybe there’s some kind of built in likeability for these people, saving time on doing anything with the characters they may or may not be playing. But even if such sympathy was never a concern, there’s still no excuse for every scene playing out the same way. You would think if the draw is the spectacle of killing, which clearly director Rob Zombie takes pride in infusing with some sort of distorted and completely invented-in-his-own-mind-and-his-own-mind-alone realism, then one of them would be in its own way, dazzling. Or at least inventive.
And none of this even begins to touch on the subject of the franchise being represented. Halloween has long since lost its ability to claim any sort of sanctity, even if you believe in such a concept as it pertains to movies. And of course that supposedly tragic loss to the superfluous 80’s was the drive behind this relaunching of it. But there is absolutely nothing here that comes close to capturing that lost genre-defining concept. Rob Zombie seems to have not only abandoned everything but only the most basic points of the original, but also anything he himself grounded in the first installment of his own regime.
Worst of all is the fact that the way things look in “a Rob Zombie film” seem like they could easily make any comparable modern horror movie ten times scarier than they tend to be. He definitely has something that is all his own, but so far, he’s only applied to things we’d all rather he kept to himself.
Reason to watch it anyway: Brad Dourif is pretty good as a sheriff who is trying to make life livable again for two teenage victims of the first movie, including his own daughter. But he lets them sleep in rooms with Charlie Manson posters and ominous graffiti on the walls, so I can’t imagine he’s doing such a great job. There’s also a comedy sketch inserted inexplicably (but welcomely) in the middle where Chris Hardwick and Weird Al make fun of Dr. Loomis. If Malcolm MacDowell wasn’t playing a cartoonishly megalomanical version of that character, it might have even been funny.
My Life In Ruins – Sometimes it seems like this movie is saying that most people aren’t funny and we have to find a way to live with them constantly trying to prove that they are, which would be brilliant if it didn’t ever turn out that this movie is equally as guilty of that notion it has absolutely no idea exists.
Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans – Not surprising that this series stayed terrible after its original people up and left. But it isn’t comforting either that there’s more than one person who can make a movie about werewolves fighting vampires dull and stupid.
Miss March – I don’t know who The Whitest Kids U Know are and I would have liked to keep it that way. I assume Hugh Hefner would feel the same if he knew someone tricked him into being in this movie.
New In Town – I know I said this sort of movie is hard to mess up this badly, but maybe they’re just getting worse. Or maybe the city mouse/country mouse scenario has finally reached its limit.
My Bloody Valentine 3D – There are so many flashbacks in the first five minutes, it seems like it’s more a sequel to a movie that never happened rather than remake of a movie that was never very good to begin with.