Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Six Bad Films

I rented six films which, according to Rotten Tomatoes and Metacric, are among the worst ever made. It is not that they are the cheapest (like Plan 9 From Outer Space) or the most disappointing (like The Phantom Menace) or even the most painful to watch (the 3D Jonas Brothers Experience currently holds that title). So what makes a movie the 'worst'?
It is unfair to call B-movies 'bad'. They are achingly underfunded, and often run with the B-film subculture, which has its own weird little conventions. There are likewise films which induce groans, like Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo (clip), but which are lovingly crafted and suffer only from the passing of fashion; they are not bad, merely dopey, and cycle back into kitsch (notable among these: Surf Nazis Must Die).

These films are well-funded, with recognised stars and directors. They had everything going for them except for needling fatal flaws which, over the course of the film, made you think, W...T...F...? How could THESE people make a movie turn out like THIS? It is the pleasure of schadenfreude and the delicate delight of sadism which make us watch what we hate. It drove these films to critical and commercial failure, and it hung around their creators' necks like millstones for years to come. This is what a bad film is: it is a thunderous fall from grace.

Swept Away
Guy Ritchie directed his wife Madonna in this awkward little theatre of cruelty. Her character begins as Cruella de Ville's less-nice sister, barking orders at underlings on a Greek cruise. After piling this theme on like a pooper scooper in an elephant stall, she is set adrift with a hardy fisherman who, upon being washed up on a desert island, proceeds to enact the Mediterranean version of Neanderthal discipline. Madonna responds wonderfully, at times bursting into song. Her aged and overmuscled physique inspires gagging at several points, though having her flailing huffily on a beach is a pleasant relief from hearing her tortuous attempts at dialogue.
Suggested improvement: Madonna is slapped with a large fish halfway through each line.

Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever
Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu are scraping the bottom of the barrel here. It's not that they're bad, but everything else is off: the script, the editing, the directing, the action sequences. What makes you cringe is not that it's a badly-made movie, but that you've never seen good actors made to look so bad. It's a death by a thousand cuts as the little mistakes, mistimings, zigzagging plot and funny angles combine to reduce what could have been an average actioner into an embarrassing shambles.
Suggested improvement: Upgrade to porn film.

Howard the Duck
George Lucas, flush with success from the Star Wars trilogy, spent many millions on this comic book adaptation which was aimed at precisely no segment of the market. Although I found it in the Family section, parents would be horrified to see a half-animatronic middle-aged duck make several creepy passes at teenage girls and dive into (occupied) strip club hot tubs. With a personality halfway between Ferris Bueller and a pet rock, Howard is stultifying as a lead; any momentum the film generates grind to a halt when you realise, yes, you are looking at a puppet being passed off as sentient. Appropriately for the Boy-George-style cultural backdrop, the film suffers from a serious identity problem.
Suggested improvement: Howard cooked in second scene; replaced with LOLcat.

Battlefield Earth
John Travolta stars as an 8ft Star Trek alien whose people have enslaved the human race in this adaptation of Scientology founder, L. Ron Hubbard. The plot begins like The Planet of the Apes and ends nearer Independence Day. The film overshoots on 'deadly serious' and lands in 'camp' -- certainly the Coneheads outfits don't help much. There is plenty of red meat for the skeptic: I gave up around about when a squadron of cavemen learned to fly jumpjets. It's not a badly-made movie, but the cumulative effect is one of high regret.
Suggested improvement: Plot replaced with Scientology manifesto.

Who makes a movie about strippers that runs over two hours? Paul Verhoeven, that's who. The Dutch flaneur of American popular culture also directed Starship Troopers, a film that works on a few levels. Showgirls just has the one: ambitious bitchy girl gets chewed up in the greasy cogs of Las Vegas. It's both unpleasant and dull, offering neither revelation nor titillation. Star Elizabeth Berkeley seems to be too distracted by a rabid desire to shed her Saved By The Bell image to make any serious attempt at depth, or at a second facial expression.
Suggested improvement: Crossover with 'The L Word'.

Halle Berry came to this role straight off her (not particularly deserved) Oscar win, so the superhero schtick is a stark contrast. There's not actually much wrong with the film beyond a few dopey lines and costumes, though the grrrrrl-powa theme was played out even when the Spice Girls were doing it. Combined with Benjamin Bratt's casting, you have a flick which was five years too late. Greater crimes have been committed in cinema; Catwoman is a mere misdemeanor.
Suggested improvement: Blaxsplotation makeover. Afros and knife fights.

There were two DVDs I rented but couldn't bring myself to watch:

The Wicker Man
2min YouTube link below of the best/worst parts.
Nicholas Cage, why?

Heaven's Gate
If you can sit through 4min of a rollerskating fiddler, you're a better man than me.

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