The Weekend Warrior’s “Terrible 25” of ’06

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We got the best (in this author’s humble opinion) and now, the fun part: the worst. I think some people must read my reviews or my weekly previews column and assume I like or love every single movie, but no, that’s far from the case, and as hard as it was narrowing my favorite movies down to 25, it was even harder to do the same with the bad movies, because there were so many different levels of bad, ranging from incompetence to misguided intentions, and there were a number of surprises and disappointments in here, even for me, and enough to spill-over into a few dishonorable mentions.

A couple notes before we begin:

I’ve gotten a bit of flak for admitting that I sometimes walk out of movies before they’re over, but rest assured that I’ve done that less than ten times this year out of the almost 300 movies I’ve seen (some of them twice!) and never when I knew that I was going to review the movie; three of those movies ended up on my year-end worst list. While Anthony Minghella’s Breaking and Entering should be somewhere on the following list, it doesn’t really come out until January 26, so it has a one-year reprieve. I’d love to include Lee Daniels’ Shadowboxer again this year, because contrary to my prediction, it actually got a theatrical release (Daniels distributed it himself), but it was on last year’s Terrible 25 list, so it seemed mean to include it again, even if it was well-deserved to be included as the worst movie two years in a row.

25. The Last Kiss (DreamWorks) and The Lake House (Warner Bros.) — Yeah, you have to love it when Hollywood tries to remake an esoteric foreign film with hot stars like Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock or Zach Braff, and ends up making something so abysmal that no one ever bothers to check out the originals. Sure, everyone loves romance, but what the f**k were these movies going on about? The Last Kiss had Braff moaning about turning 30 (oh, poor baby) and cheating on his pregnant girlfriend Jacinda Barrett with Rachel Bilson (but who can blame him really?) and then feeling guilty about it. (It also had story arcs for the rest of the cast with only Tom Wilkinson and Blythe Danner delivering. It was so obvious that the movie was trying to be “Garden State 2” that they hired Braff as the film’s music supervisor. (And The Pursuit of Happiness director Gabrielle Muccino wouldn’t even talk about this remake when asked!) Now, The Lake House is a very different type of adult romance movie involving a time-spanning romance between the Speed co-stars. Good luck trying to make any sense of it. Anyone who has read comics or science fiction could see the flaws in the movie’s time-travelling logic pretty easily. Either way, these two movies should have learned something from Swept Away and allowed the originals to stand on their own.

24. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning (New Line) and The Hills Have Eyes (Fox Searchlight) — The movie that started all the bad horror remakes got a prequel and the hack director of High Tension butchered a Wes Craven horror movie that wasn’t so great in the first place. Sure, “TCM:TB” had a few worthwhile moments about the origins of everyone’s favorite Leatherface, but the fact that it was set in the ’60s and tried to tie it into a Vietnam era anti-war storyline with four of the best-looking, bad-acting young actors wasn’t a good sign. Likewise, “Hills Have Eyes” had a few good moments, but really, how could someone screw up something so easy like killer mutants living in the desert? Even worse was the misogynistic abuse of women in both movies, something that should have been thrown out with the ’70s originals.

23. American Dreamz (Universal) — Political humor is so easy in this day and age, so it should be even easier for a smart writer like Paul Weitz (About a Boy, American Pie). So he came up with a premise about the President being a judge on an “American Idol” like reality show to up his approval rating and a musical-loving terrorist commissioned to blow himself up on the show… Well, you can see how this might not work. It’s not like he had a bad cast, reusing many of the actors from his previous movies, but the political humor was really obvious with Dennis Quaid doing his best George Bush impression and Willem Dafoe being a cross between Dick Cheney and Karl Rove. Sadly, Robin Williams’ Man of the Year wasn’t much better.

22. Miami Vice (Universal) — Yeah, yeah, Michael Mann is a cinematic God, we all know that, so what happened with this follow-up to the excellent Collateral which brought Mann back to his television producing roots? Maybe it was the combination of Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx that grew tiring or the inconsistency of the film’s look due to the use of digital cinematography or Gong Li trying to act in English. (Li, we love you, but you should learn a lesson from Penélope Cruz.) After 15 minutes, I was already confused and bored, but my desire to leave was killed by the fact the were too many people to climb over on either side of me. The only thing really good about the movie is that it has a couple cool shoot-outs, but the other two hours just didn’t cut it.

21. Beowulf & Grendel (Union Media) — Sure, the original 9th Century poem on which this Icelandic film was based defined the term “epic” but with some of the worst production values seen on film this year, like a bad high school film with cheap make-up and effects, this one never stood a chance. It had a fine cast and everything, but seeing the likes of Gerard Butler, Sarah Polley and Stellan Skarsgård running around in budget costume shop outfits made it hard to take it seriously. Let’s hope Robert Zemeckis has better luck with his animated version of the ode.

20. Kill the Poor (IFC Films) and The Tenants — Finding an apartment in New York can be difficult and living in one can be harder, which is why having to sit through not one, but two bad indie character dramas about the interaction between tenants in slum-like buildings got both of these barely seen indies on the list. At least The Tenants, based on a Bernard Malamud novel, had a decent performance from Snoop Dogg of all people, but his odd passive-aggressive relationship with Dylan McDermott’s writer in the movie was aggravating. Still, it was better than the Daniel “Lemony Snicket” Handler-penned InDigEnt film Kill the Poor starring David Krumholtz, which was released by IFC Films early in the year after sitting on the shelf for years. Accuracy aside, neither showed that a movie about living in New York was a worthwhile endeavor.

19. Bubble (Magnolia Pictures) — Whoever complains about Steven Soderbergh’s The Good German for being dull or contrived, at least that retro-thriller had decent writing and acting rather than a bunch of regular non-acting types from West Virginia partially improvising a story about a love triangle and a resulting murder involving workers at a doll factory. I actually watched this movie twice, once at the New York Film Festival and again a few months later just to make sure I didn’t miss something. I didn’t. This is like a really badly-produced spin-off from “Law & Order” that just gets sillier as it goes along, and though KFC manager Debbie Deobereiner does a decent job playing the spurned Martha, the movie is so poorly conceptualized that it’s hard to even enjoy it for its gorgeous HD digital cinematography.

18. Waist Deep (Rogue Pictures) — R ‘n’ B singer Tyrese starred in this crime-drama that was all over the place, but it was badly shot and edited, and his character was so unlikable, even compared to the film’s actual bad guy (the big screen debut of rapper The Game) that I was surprised when the movie actually did decent business. Maybe this type of urban crime film just isn’t my thing, but really, were we supposed to expect much better “from the director of ‘Glitter'”?

17. 10th & Wolf (THINKFilm) — One can easily blame movies like Good Fellas and TV shows like “The Sopranos” for this movie existing, but it’s surprising how badly this crime-drama–the directorial debut of Crash co-writer Bobby Moresco–falters. Oddly, James “Cyclops” Marsden isn’t bad as a Marine returning home to Philly and trying to reconnect with his Mafia connected friend, played by Giovanni Ribisi in a completely over-the-top Brando impression. At least his stereotype Italian accent wasn’t nearly as bad as that of Piper Perabo or Leslie Anne Warren.

16. Crossover (TriStar Pictures) — Anthony Mackie is one of the most talented young actors and he obviously has some athletic abilities from the number of sports movies he’s been doing recently, but this movie about street ball would probably have been better if it actually showed more than 5 minutes of the exciting basketball derivation. Instead, it dealt with a pair of friends and how a slimy bookie played by Wayne Brady uses them and breaks them up. While it wasn’t a terrible story, it didn’t seem very realistic, and it was so driven by its rags-to-riches clichés that it fell flat compared to this year’s other sports movies.

15. The Quiet (Sony Classics) — Okay, so you have a movie starring Elisha Cuthbert and Camilla Belle from Jamie Babbit, the openly lesbian director of But I’m a Cheerleader, and we don’t even get one make-out scene between the two of them? Sure, it’s fun hearing ultra-cutie Cuthbert saying “f**k” a lot and talking dirty, but how much better would this movie have been if there were more nudity from its hot young stars rather than a wash-your-eyes-out-with-lyme topless scene from Edie Falco? (Great actress, never ever had any desire to see her ta-tas.) Oh, and the story is about Belle playing a seemingly deaf-mute girl terrorized by Cuthbert, who’s having incest with her father. Yuck.

14. Firewall (Warner Bros.) — Harrison Ford has been in some of the greatest movies of the ’70s and even a few good ones in the ’80s. Maybe he has a few in the ’90s, not that I’ve bothered to see many of them, but 21st Century Ford? Even he should be able to find better scripts than this poorly-written cliché-driven techno-thriller, which involves his family being kidnapped until he uses his computer skills to steal from his own bank. There are a lot of laughably bad moments, but my favorite one is where the evil Paul Bettany tries to threaten Ford by feeding his kid cookies.

13. The Oh in Ohio — I love Parker Posey; I would follow her to the ends of the earth (if not for that nasty restraining order) but this indie flick, in which she plays a woman who can’t have an orgasm… until she hooks up with a poolman played by Danny DeVito. Well, let’s just say that “credible” is not the first adjective that comes to mind. It made me wonder how they got the money to turn this script into a movie, especially with all the starving kids and homeless people who could have done so much more with that money. Really, the only thing worthwhile here is the amount of skin shown by “The O.C.” star Mischa Barton as a horny student that Parker’s college professor husband (the usually excellent Paul Rudd) has an affair with. (And that was about as believable as Rachel Bilson falling for Zach Braff in The Last Kiss.) This was a movie that left me with one burning (and still unanswered) question: “How bad does a movie have to be for Heather Graham to remove her name from the credits?”

12. Wassup Rockers — Larry Clark is best known for his controversial 1995 indie movie Kids, and after making such classic bad movies as the Cinemax mainstay Teenage Caveman, he tried to recreate that magic in South Central L.A., as he followed seven Latino skateboarders who play in a hardcord band, as they drink, skate, sleep with hot young nymphettes and get into all sorts of trouble. The movie just gets more and more ludicrous as it goes along, the funniest part being when the boys arrive at a posh L.A. party and they’re seen as the “hot new thing to have” by the clueless elite. (Oh, and there’s a horrendous and highly embarassing cameo by Janice Dickinson on top of that.) All I could think while watching this was how cool these guys might be as a Saturday morning cartoon show ala “The Archies” or “Josie and the Pussycats.”

11. Inland Empire (Absurdia) — I’m going to get sh*t for the this, but honestly, if I hadn’t walked out of David Lynch’s “magnum odious” after two hours, it probably would be even lower on my list, maybe even the #1 worst movie of the year! After an hour of watching Laura Dern wandering around looking scared and confused–and boy, we really knew how she felt–I knew I was in trouble, but I gave it another hour, and it just got weirder and worse. (And that’s not even counting the talking bunny-head sitcom that keeps popping up at odd times.) I did return for the last ten minutes of the movie and a Q ‘n’ A with Lynch and his stars (neither who could explain the film), and listening to them talk about the movie, made me wish that I could have seen that movie instead, since it sounded so much better than the two plus hours of the one that I saw. Still, I have to give big ups to the pretentious snobs who could find anything of meaning within this three-hour mess to see it more than once.

10. You, Me and Dupree (Universal) — Okay, okay, someone’s going to give me crap again, ’cause I walked out of this movie, too. I went with a friend because we couldn’t get into Superman Returns in IMAX, and since I knew that I didn’t have to review it, I decided to walk when I knew I couldn’t take it anymore. (I’ve watched what I missed on DVD since my first viewing and I don’t feel bad at all.) It’s a pretty lame high concept premise of Wilson being a house guest in the home of newly-married Matt Dillon and Kate Hudson, and it’s further proof that Owen Wilson is only as funny as the actors he’s teamed with… and guess what, kids? Matt Dillon is exactly the same! (And on top of that, this movie ended up breaking Kate Hudson’s happy marriage to Chris Robinson!)

9. When a Stranger Calls (Sony/Screen Gems) — The best advice ever given to me by someone when it seems like you’re about to get into an argument with no possible winners was, “Hang up.” That was what I felt like doing while sitting through this awful remake of a horror movie that wasn’t too good to begin with. Most of the movie, we watch far-too-talented-to-be-in-two-bad-movies-in-one-year Camilla Belle acting scared as she wanders around a big house by herself, getting calls by a stalker played by Tommy Flanagan (and even he seemed to be slumming), before the movie goes off in a completely different direction from the original. Director Simon (Tomb Raider) West effectively made a horror movie that would only scare 13-year-old babysitters.

8. See No Evil (Lionsgate) — I bet John Cena is glad that this movie came out during the summer, because no matter how bad The Marine would be (no, I didn’t even see it), there was no way it could be as bad as this initial WWE Film starring professional wrestler Kane as a vicious religious-based killer who takes his victims’ eyes. Surprisingly, he was the best actor in the bunch, maybe because he didn’t have to say any of the poorly-written lines.

7. The Protector (Weinstein Co.) — Fans of Asian cinema have gotten used to Harvey Weinstein f**king with them–like how about that two-year delay for Hero?–but this one took the cake, as his newish company took the already bad follow-up to Tony Ja’s Ong Bak, and released an even worse version, full of bad edits, inane dubbed dialogue, and a new soundtrack by The RZA, which basically was a couple R ‘n’ B tunes used to replace the original score to try to make it seem more hip. Frankly, I’m surprised Thailand didn’t declare war on the U.S. over this one.

6. Material Girls (MGM) — What can possibly be worse than a movie starring Hilary Duff? How about a movie starring Hilary AND older sister Haylie Duff? Yeah, that’s pretty terrible, but it was an even worse premise involving the girls taking over their father’s cosmetics company, being put out of business, then having to get real jobs and deal with not being rich. Yeah, it’s a pretty typical teen girl premise, but in the hands of the Duff sisters, it was so annoyingly vacant that it made the Olsens’ New York Minute seem like high brow art.

5. Basic Instinct 2 (Sony/MGM) — A Terrible 25 list wouldn’t be complete without at least one bad sequel, so all hail the mighty Sharon Stone for making one of the worst sequels of the year. After fourteen years, she returned as mystery writer Catherine Tramelle, this time causing trouble in England with her panty-less behavior (which suddenly became the trend with everyone from Lindsay Lohan to Rinko Kikuchi leaving their panties at home). Who knows if that was really the now 48-year-old Stone’s body in the nude sex scenes, but just thinking about it makes me semi-nauseous, as the movie sunk the erotic thriller genre to a new low. Sadly, this movie’s lack of success hasn’t put off the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis returning to the characters and franchises for which they’re best known.

4. The Shaggy Dog — Speaking of horrible remakes, what were Disney and Tim Allen thinking by ruining a classic like this one? On paper, it probably seemed like a good idea: kids love Tim Allen, kids love dogs, kids love talking animals and the original movie is a Disney classic, but something happened in this Brian Robbins production that waylays the cast he put together, including Robert “Doing it for the Bucks” Downey Jr. (who’d get hairy himself in the faux-biopic Fur), playing the typical Disney bad guy.

3. Battle in Heaven (Tartan Films) — So you know those Three Amigos from Mexico who’ve been making all those great movies this year, right? Well, there’s a good chance they’re fans of their fellow Mexican director Carlos Reygadas. After all, he’s one of those cutting-edge politically-conscious directors whose art consists of holding the camera for an excrutiatingly long time on people during mundane scenes. Unfortunately, many of those scenes involve watching hot young thing Anapola Mushkadiz having sex with a grossly obese man (her chauffeur driver). Later, we see him having sex with his equally obese wife in a scene that is likely to put anyone that missed Basic Instinct 2 off erotic films (let alone sex itself) FOR LIFE. (Looking over my notes, I found this funny quip coining the movie as “‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’ in a fat suit.”) There were many more reasons for me to get mad about this movie, but mostly, it was dull, pretentious and mostly incoherent even with subtitles. I wouldn’t force my worst enemy to sit through this “art film,” even if they owed me money.

2. Shem (HP Releasing), The Tollbooth (Castle Hill) and When Do We Eat? (THINKFilm) — For all the bad things said about Jews by Mel Gibson and Borat in the last year, nothing made me feel worse about my own Jewish heritage than these three independent movies, which completely missed the mark in trying to chronicle the Jewish experience, whether it be done humorously or more serious. The Tollbooth and When Do We Eat? involve Seders and Jewish family gatherings, made even funnier when For Your Consideration featured a movie-in-a-movie called “Home for Purim,” which had almost identical situations. (At least Tollbooth earns points for starring “The Practice” cutie-pie Marla Sokoloff.) Shem is by far the worst disaster of the three, and the one likely to never be seen by anyone, as it follows an arrogant and unlikable young man, played by Brit heartthrob Ash Newman, as he travels across Europe, trying to find the grave of his Jewish grandfather, sleeping with everyone–man, woman or beast–along the way. (Kind of like Everything is Illuminated if it were made for Cinemax.) I kind of feel bad about including Shem and The Tollbooth, since they were super low-budget films made by women filmmakers, but what can I say? Bad is bad, and they were two of the most misguided and incompetently made films this year. (In the same vein, the Spanish film Only Human and the bar-mitzvah themes of Keeping Up with the Steins would get dishonorable mentions, though at least they were watchable.)

1. Tideland (THINKFilm) — While this probably isn’t the worst movie ever made–heck, the production design and cinematography alone are quite inventive–it’s sad that the #1 worst movie of 2006 comes courtesy of my #1 favorite director of all time, Terry Gilliam. I’d heard that the movie was bad from its premiere at the 2005 Toronto Film Festival (I wasn’t able to see it there), but I didn’t believe it. I then had to wait over a year before THINKFilm picked it up and screening it for critics. Essentially, the story follows Jeliza-Rose, a creepy girl with a vivid imagination played by Jodelle Ferland, the girl from Silent Hill, who talks to her collection of doll heads and then has them respond in creepy voices (like the kid in “The Shining” i.e. “Redrum…redrum” for an entire frickin’ movie). Within a half hour, it was pretty obvious that things weren’t going well, particularly with Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Tilly giving suitably outlandish performances as her junkie parents. When Bridges dies of an overdose, Jeliza-Rose seems oblivious, curling up on the lap of his corpse until a neighbor comes along to mummify him. (Think Weekend at Bernie’s without the comedy factor.) If that isn’t weird enough, add a mentally-challenged/autistic character that probably would have been played by Tim Blake Nelson if he didn’t have better taste. As this character starts palling around with the girl, you get this really bad feeling about it, but even as you sit there thinking, “No, they won’t go there…” THEY GO THERE! I really wanted to walk out of this movie after half an hour, but I stuck with it as it got worse and worse, making me feel even more repulsed as it went along. And yet, I still feel guilty for when the film’s publicist asked me for my reaction and my response was, “Has anyone said that they liked this movie?!”

And the saddest thing was that this was my favorite director, Terry Gilliam, wasting his visionary talent–still pretty evident from the film’s amazing look–on such an awful and repulsive story with very little to no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I was one of the few people who liked The Brothers Grimm, maybe because it had been so long since we saw a movie from Mr. Gilliam and I was so glad to have him back. This movie was like a spit in the face to the fans who stuck by him. Here’s hoping that Tideland is only a minor speed bump on his road back to greatness.

Dishonorable Mentions (not even worth writing more about):
Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker
Click
The Da Vinci Code
Dirty
Employee of the Month
Imagine Me & You
Land of the Blind
Pulse
Running Scared
School for Scoundrels
Trust the Man
Typhoon
Ultraviolet

Here’s hoping 2007 isn’t as bad, knowing full well it could be worse. Happy New Year!