The 99% certainly got their due in the movies of 2012. Hardly a week passed where we didn’t hear the people sing, singing the song of angry men. The irony of so many giant wasteful blockbuster budgets being spent to deliver that message was hopefully not lost on anyone. But it is with some resignation that I submit these worst movies to you. Most of them products of the relative proletariat. I don’t feel guilty. These are the worst. It’s just too bad that they are. Because you can’t fight city hall with terrible movies.
1. Last Ounce Of Courage – Most people have a rule against politics and religion at Christmastime. This movie considers it an affront to American freedom if these things aren’t all mixed awkwardly together and forced down your throat. Last Ounce Of Courage doesn’t think anyone should be comfortable or happy at Christmas, least of all anyone who isn’t Christian.
Last Ounce Of Courage would have you believe that Christians are as universally persecuted today as they were in Roman Times. So it would only further this lunacy to point out the offenses to logic and the US Constitution that permeate the supposedly Christian message it puts forth. Fortunately, the more mundane offenses to basic movie making far outweigh anything else, so there is little reason to dwell on that potential trap.
In fact, it takes quite awhile to realize what the point will be. First, there was the September 14th release date (September 11th in one town you should probably never visit.) Then there is the title. Which suggests a lot of things, but none of them Christmas. So after a lot of laborious mourning a barely seen character and carefully dull family dynamics, when the Christmas issue arises, it seems like an oddly placed subplot at most. As it takes over the entire movie like metastasising pancreatic cancer, and is equated to the military’s struggle against terrorism, it never stops being a jaw dropping shock of awful, because it is always an insufficient and incongruous theme and thusly is always being propped up by some other painfully forced construct.
The most confusing of these is the villain, played with cigar-chomping self-satisfied mirth by Fred Williamson. His motivations for the destruction of Christmas in this tiny town (which somehow unquestionably represents the whole of the country when it comes to church and state being joined for life) are so unapologetically underdeveloped, they can really only be ascribed to the work of the devil. If you are suddenly concerned that the one black character in this movie has just been relegated to a manifestation of Satan, please know that this is not even among the top five off-putting things about Last Ounce Of Courage.
Reason To Watch It Anyway: It’s always a welcome surprise when somebody doesn’t seem to know what movie they are in. Even when the rest of what goes on around them isn’t awful (see Josh Peck in Red Dawn.) So to watch Jenna Boyd not only act better than everyone else in Last Ounce Of Courage (not a difficult feat), but act as if she is in the ABC Family production that Last Ounce Of Courage should have been (which is being gracious to it and/or insulting to ABC Family) is maybe the best example of this there has ever been. Still though, don’t watch this.
2. The FP – If an engineer designs a bridge that purposely doesn’t allow anything to cross it, the engineer may rightfully claim it to successfully serve any number of other purposes, but it will still be a bad bridge. Doing it on purpose, saying this bridge is so crazy you’ll laugh your way over it, that it’s funny because remember all those bad bridges you used to drive over when you were a teenager and didn’t know any better, that it is supposed to harken back to bridges from the 80s, none of this will ever make it anything other than the bad bridge that it was always intended to be.
The FP is only the first movie on this list that wants to be a terrible movie. So much so that it almost seems like playing into its hands placing it here. But while The FP (and its creators) might pretend not to mind being named one of the worst movies of the year, it (and they) will just assume I don’t get what they were going for. That I somehow missed the terribly subtle humor buried under overacting and a nonsensical premise. That these terrible things were done on purpose suffice as the only reason it isn’t terrible. Which only leaves them as the ones who don’t get it.
Reason To Watch It Anyway: You should be able to say something. A movie about a dystopian future where dancing is currency and/or a weapon (or whatever) should have a bright spot. But it doesn’t. The best I can do is direct you to a theater where everyone watching it will laugh hysterically at it because they believe they should.
3. A Thousand Words – No matter how you feel about Billy Crystal, it’s for the best Eddie Murphy backed out of hosting the Oscars. Because this is what happens when he doesn’t back out of things. Though perhaps he never expected anyone to have the opportunity to see A Thousand Words. He would have been right had he not made that brief strained comeback towards the end of 2011. But this was just the sort of window for which DreamWorks was waiting. Four years A Thousand Words was kept in limbo, hoping beyond hope that its star’s marketability would rise above sea level for just a brief moment. They thought they found that window. But it turned out to be a much smaller window than they could have predicted and were effectively nailing it shut it by allowing this to go public.
It’s a forgone conclusion that a movie finding its way out of the studio storage facility after four years will be and always was terrible. We see that plenty of terrible things are released exactly when they are supposed to be, so there must be something seriously wrong to warrant shutting it away. And there is. But it goes well beyond Eddie Murphy. His only sin seems to be not knowing what to say “no” to.
This is not to say he does anything of value in A Thousand Words. But then, A Thousand Words does not allow for that. It has found countless ways to render itself useless. This movie is only good at countervailing itself. It wants to have zero impact so it offsets any prospective plot point with another that will cancel it out.
The very premise robs Eddie Murphy of his voice, castrating him of any remaining potential he may have been hiding from us the past decade. A premise that by itself, while simplistic, isn’t so terrible (a man has only as many words left in his life as a tree in his yard has leaves), but is mishandled in so many disparate baffling ways, you can barely point out how ludicrous they are because the stupidity has too many layers. Jack (Eddie Murphy) is a literary agent, basically a salesman, and by virtue of doing his job is burdened with this curse. A curse, it is later revealed, was given to him by accident. So there’s no way for him to learn the lesson that he didn’t need to learn in the first place. Whatever happens to the tree, happens to him, so obviously that means it tickles when squirrels run on it and when it is sprayed with pesticide, he gets high. He can’t speak, so his wife (Kerry Washington) decides this means he doesn’t love her. Yet he can communicate in any number of wordless ways, so she walks out on a man screaming at her with his eyes (though in her defense, Eddie Murphy is screaming at everyone with his eyes, even us – see above.) He is told to repair his relationships as a way of reversing the curse, but the only reason any of them are in jeopardy is the curse in the first place. When it turns out it’s his dead absentee father that Jack needs to work it out with, something never mentioned before this reveal, he uses his last three words for forgiveness. Then he dies. But only temporarily. And so in the end, it’s unclear whether this curse was real or not or whether Jack truly forgives his father or not or whether Eddie Murphy was ever funny because from here it all seems impossible.
Reason To Watch It Anyway: Clark Duke is OK as Eddie Murphy’s assistant. I mean, not really, I just have to pick something.
4. Piranha DD – Like The FP, Piranha DD wants to be bad. More specifically, it doesn’t want to be good. It thinks that the path to having fun at the movies is paved with laziness. That the worst decisions are funnier because they are the worst decisions. It doesn’t want to have to try is the point. Because it is only in setting out to fail that it thinks it can succeed.
The first one wasn’t so different. It wanted to be a part of both worlds. To be a ridiculous adventure the way its less self-actualized predecessors (from the original Piranha to Anaconda) were, but also to be hyperaware of its place in that lineage. It couldn’t quite straddle that line, but at least one of its feet was on the side of being worthwhile.
This sequel has leapt clear across the line and left it behind. In its cloying self-awareness, it knows it is a sequel, so you are already on board and expecting something more. Unfortunately, in this case, that means more stupidity, more indolence, more idiocy. Which, in turn, leads to less of all the things that make movies watchable.
By virtue of the joke title alone, Piranha DD is looking to be rewarded for never meeting any of your most basic expectations. Without its transparent, even open, desire to be bad, it would still be terrible. It would probably still make this list. But its longing for your ironic embrace makes it all the more pathetic and detestable.
Reason To Watch It Anyway: Matt Bush is pretty good as the lovelorn mascot who is OK in a crisis. He is playing a real person amidst a literal pool of actors who ascribe to this idea that a terrible script isn’t enough. Bad dialog needs to be delivered poorly, lest anyone mistake it as an actor’s fault.
5. Oogieloves In The BIG Balloon Adventure – It is reported that producer Kenn Viselman had the idea for the “interactive adventure” that Oogieloves claims to be while watching an audience “interact” with Madea Goes To Jail. This makes a lot of sense since like Tyler Perry movies, Oogieloves knows it has an audience so desperate for content that it doesn’t have to be any good. It just has to hit a few specific notes and will weather the storm of criticism with a seawall made of money.
Unfortunately, the audience Oogieloves was counting on needs another, more passive audience to get it to the theater. And while parents are amazing people who can put up with all manner of thing those of us not among them cannot imagine, there is a limit. And Oogieloves went so far beyond that limit it became an interactive adventure simply trying to see it. Already regretting their collective decision to show it just two days after the release, theaters were canceling shows of it with abandon.
Catching up to this whack-a-mole screening schedule should have seemed like a victory in and of itself. But there’s really no way to not know what you are in for, even if you have no idea what an Oogielove is or looks like. Yes, it is for tiny children and so without one I should be unqualified to pass judgment. I understand this. I do not completely agree, but it is not disregarded entirely. Actually watching Oogieloves In The BIG Balloon Adventure, you cannot help but be offended on behalf of every tiny child out there. This movie is insulting the intelligence of beings who have barely yet had the chance to develop any.
Reason To Watch It Anyway: There are a lot of reasons. Embarrassing cameos that top each other in insanity. Milkshake drinking contests won by fish. A girl who loves squares. A vacuum cleaner named J. Edgar. And best of all a pillow who sleeps all the time and at one point dreams of himself sleeping. This last is a shockingly great joke buried in the weirdness. I don’t want you reading that and thinking it is somehow indicative of the rest of it. It is just Oogieloves bringing hope to stopped clocks everywhere.
6. The Devil Inside – The found footage format exposes at least as many flaws as it hides. And The Devil Inside cannot afford the exchange rate. From the opening 911 call, it is excruciatingly clear that it will always value its pallid attempts at shock over anything that might fall under the heading of competent movie making.
We are to believe that The Holy Roman Catholic Church (“the HC” as no one should ever refer to it) is distancing itself from its long history of exorcisms at just the worst possible time. But luckily two rogue priests aren’t going to let that stop them.
I’m sorry. Since you can’t hear my tone, I fear I may have just made The Devil Inside sound exciting. But long before you get to any of that, you have to watch some actors try and convince you they are real people talking about a real incident that the movie needs you to believe was an exorcism gone wrong even though none of the characters talking about it believe that to be the case. Then you follow a girl to The Vatican where apparently you can just walk around wherever you want to with a cameraman in tow. But watch out! A nun might have weird eyes and a dog might bark at you. Because this movie needs scares. Desperately.
Then the priests take the girl and her increasingly annoying cameraman to see the girl’s incarcerated mother, the victim of that prior failed exorcism. She does some crazy talking and the priests decide that’s enough proof for them. So they hatch a plan to try a do over exorcism. Which amounts to getting in a room with her and locking the door. What happens next doesn’t matter because it’s all awful.
It’s a little like the joke about the terrible food and such small portions to then attack the closing of The Devil Inside. It’s mercifully short, but only because it decides to pull the plug on itself seemingly mid-sentence. It’s the most terrifying moment every moviegoer dreads: the ambiguous ending. Then black. For awhile. Then credits. The slowest moving credits you’ve ever seen. So you can be sure to catch the name of every person who did this to you.
Reason To Watch It Anyway: N/A
7. Exit Strategy – When something like What To Expect When You’re Expecting fails (both critically and commercially), we can’t wait to point and laugh and damn it to the Rotten Tomato dungeon. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But to then give a pass to something just as, if not much more awful, just with a far lower profile, to even applaud it for its effort, is inexcusable. Especially when that effort has been applied toward making a low budget version of that higher profile awful thing.
Exit Strategy has so much wrong with it, it’s difficult to know where too start. And I think it had the same problem with itself. The gimmick tied to the title, wherein a man is taught the steps to extricate himself from an unwanted relationship (but still get to sleep on the couch) isn’t introduced until there is barely twenty minutes left in the movie. Up until that point, we are left to watch said unwanted relationship go from shruggingly banal to bizarrely intense. And all this without the benefit of a lead that has any setting beyond listless. We are meant to believe he wants out of this thing that has gone so horribly wrong, but we never believed he was in it to begin with.
This leads to maybe the most odious part of Exit Strategy. The girl is made out to be so crazy and the guy so apathetic that it seems as though it must be aiming to make some kind of commentary on this. That he will see how awful his motivations are, that actions speak louder than words, that maybe she’s not so crazy to want certain things from him, especially since he doesn’t seem to do anything at all. Ever.
But no, we really are meant to side with this selfish bore, who you want to call manipulative too, but can’t because that would involve some notion of activity on his part. We really are meant to see it as a triumph when, even after he sleep walks his way through terrible advice, he gets everything he wants without really compromising anything. Basically, Exit Strategy is an emotionally abusive boyfriend that will leave you wondering if maybe you’re the crazy one because you didn’t really believe you’d ever let someone like it into your life.
Reason To Watch It Anyway: It pains me (slightly) to say these things, because I know people involved in making this. That is why I made sure I saw it. I might not have known of its existence otherwise. That is a pretty narrow reason, I know, but it’s really all I’ve got for you on this one.
8. Jess + Moss – I got involved in a chess tournament once, despite having no idea how to play. I lost twice very quickly so in my final game I decided to not worry about winning because that was never going to happen, and so I made sure to move in as confusing a way as possible and (theoretically) last much longer. And it worked. My opponent had to consider, for at least a moment, that I knew something he did not. What I was doing made no sense and was impossible to predict and therefore, for a time, impossible to defeat.
Jess + Moss employs this same trickery. Even though you feel it being boring drivel right in front of you, it gives off this scent of something you are missing. Like it’s so far ahead of you right now, but if you stick with it, you’re all going to wind up in the same place and won’t that be exciting.
But exciting is one thing Jess + Moss will certainly never be. And it isn’t as if there is no place for lyricism or impressionism in cinema. But these can be crutches just as crude and annoying as explosions or sex are to the uninspired studio product this kind of movie is generally lauded for not being.
It didn’t take that long for my chess opponent to figure out I had no idea what I was doing. It was fun to watch him stew in confusion for a few minutes, but ultimately, he recomposed and took care of things the way he was used to. And so will you wise up to Jess + Moss and know it has nothing to offer you, that while technically playing by the rules, it has no true sense of what it wants to accomplish, that it knows this cannot end well, but wants to forestall your realization of that for as long as it can.
Reason To Watch It Anyway: It looks nice. Sometimes. Sometimes it seems to be going out of its way to disallow you to even see what’s going on, which is fine because even when you can see, you don’t really know what’s going on. Because nothing is ever going on.
9. The Man With The Iron Fists – Maybe it is possible to be too big a fan of something. RZA, director/star of this movie, has probably had to deal with just this sort of thing in his regular profession as a producer/rapper. I’m sure there are a host of people out there who consider themselves the biggest RZA fans in the world and make beats and raps that they think are in homage to him, that they sound just like what he would do if he weren’t busy making terrible movies. But odds are, they don’t sound anything like that. And if for some reason one of them had made a enough money and friends doing something else they were good at that they were able to hire Ghostface Killa to do some guest appearances on an album of such attempts at hero worship, The RZA could only cringe and try not to make any overtly public statements of embarrassment.
Yes, kung fu movies are, for the most part, bad. Even in their prime, they were cheaply produced fodder and there isn’t a whole lot to distinguish one from another. But there is an aesthetic that can make even the lesser of them entertaining. Liking them isn’t the problem. It’s thinking they can (or should) be reproduced in completely different circumstances. RZA’s friend and hype man Quentin Tarantino seems to defy this idea. But what his emulators cannot seem to grasp is that he uses the things he loves as springboards for his own creations. He makes new ideas out of old ones. With Man With The Iron Fists, RZA only paints over those old ideas. With something that might not even be paint.
And this only touches on the theory behind a tremendous failure. All the acting is terrible (exception noted below), mostly in a predictable fashion with snarling arrogant villains who just can’t keep their voices down or their motivations within reason. But the performance that puts this movie over the top is that of its supposed star. The RZA is so monotonous it seems like it must be a joke. If he wasn’t someone you already knew you would have no choice but to assume he was some sort of contest winner. He wants you to feel sorry for his beleaguered protagonist but seems embarrassed to show any pain when his regular old non-iron fists are taken from him. He wants us to cheer for him when he uses the titular iron fists, but he looks instantly bored with them. In fact, he looks bored with everything. And I guess I really can’t blame him.
Reason To Watch It Anyway: Russell Crowe is the only one acting well, but that might be because he has an actual character to play. But then, maybe he has a character to play because he’s a good actor? It’s impossible to tell which came first with Man With The Iron Fists, the terrible ideas or the terrible execution of those ideas.
10. Hyde Park On Hudson – Two years ago, with Morning Glory, his last attempt at directing, Roger Michell fascinated those few of us who watched with a bizarre mix of frenetic incompetence and plodding blandness. I said then that it seemed as if there was no director. That nothing was consistent nor cohesive and while you never knew what might happen next, you knew you’d hate it. Well, now it appears as though I could not have been more wrong. Roger Michell was definitely on set, directing his knickers off. Because Hyde Park On Hudson achieves so many of the same things, though goes about achieving them in new, unbelievably boring ways.
Daisy (Laura Linney) reads her diary over a bunch of haphazard scenes (ones in which she is usually standing around barely noticeable) and even when this quasi-narration does have glancing bearing on what we are watching, it is never about her. Only her impressions of her cousin, President Franklin Roosevelt. So when later, she takes a stand against him and then triumphantly backs off that stand for almost no reason, we are meant to feel something, I’m sure, but there’s no way to tell what that might be since we have no idea who she is.
President Roosevelt seduces women with his stamp collection. The King and Queen of England are informed of their schedule and situation only after they’ve been flown across an ocean and driven into the countryside of upstate New York. We are expected to laugh at the terrible jokes told by important people just like their subservients are doing in the movie. They go back to that stamp collection! Twice!
Despite a clear narrator (a relentless, oppressive narrator), there is an absence of point of view. One moment this is Daisy’s story, the next it is the King of England’s, then President Roosevelt’s. It begins as an American movie, then it is a British one. Then it is no one’s because who knows what it’s trying to accomplish.
The whole thing is leading to one moment, a famous one, involving hot dogs and the King of England. It was an important one for the world and the countries directly involved, but there is no set up for it beyond watching royalty turn their noses up at the notion that this is even a food. Such is the plight of Hyde Park On Hudson. It’s sure it’s shown up for something important, but it doesn’t really know what, so it’s just going to meander around in the country for awhile until somebody tells it it can go home.
Reason To Watch It Anyway: I like to imagine an Avengers-like team up movie with Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter dropping in on Bill Murray’s proficient FDR impression. This is not a reason to watch, of course, but if someone is inexplicably nominated for this, it will be your best bet in getting through it.
10. – 15.
Act Of Valor – Calling Act Of Valor one of the worst movies of the year feels a little like being Bill Mahr after 9/11. You’re not saying anything untrue, but it can’t help but sound like you hate your country. And maybe you do, if they’re going to force this sort of thing on you.
Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter – Don’t let the title fool you, it wants you to think it’s cool when Lincoln swings an axe. You won’t.
Rock Of Ages – The greatest trick Rock Of Ages ever pulled, was convincing the world rock was still alive in the 80’s so it could kill it all over again.
Casa De Mi Padre – ¿Esto es una comedia o una telenovela? ¿Otras culturas son divertidas, no? ¿Por qué no están riendo? Ay de mi.
Good Deeds – Tyler Perry makes a movie about how he’s too good for his own good and the only way out of it is to be even better.