Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Worst Films of 2008

There's value in observing what makes films successful and what makes them fail. Sometimes it's easier to learn from bad movies than it is from the good ones. Explaining what works can be more difficult to pin down than spotting the techniques that lead to cinematic disaster.

There's value in finding what you like, what you don't like, and why you have those likes and dislikes. I'm an introspective sort anyway, so to me it's helpful to understand why certain things speak to me and other things don't.

High-mindedness aside, if I wasn't a critic, I would not have subjected myself to most of the films making my worst list, but I believe there is an obligation to keep up with what's out there, even if that means visiting the dregs of the cinema.

1. COLLEGE (Deb Hagan, 2008)

Although COLLEGE has its roots in raucous higher education comedies, what it really wants to be is SUPERBAD minus the affection for the characters. COLLEGE double majors in raunch and degradation of the trio of high school friends and actors portraying them. It's humiliation as career move for former Nickelodeon star Drake Bell and squeaky clean AMERICAN IDOL finalist Kevin "Chicken Little" Covais. The filmmakers are all too happy to dish out the indignity. For as much disdain that COLLEGE possesses for its characters and actors, it is equally as contemptuous of its audience. Nudity and vulgar depictions of hard partying and hazing are apparently all COLLEGE thinks viewers want. Original or funny jokes don't matter. Being offensive is one thing; COLLEGE makes you feel dirty for having watched it.

2. MEET THE SPARTANS (Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, 2008)

MEET THE SPARTANS, a feature-length parody of 300, isn't terribly different from VH-1's BEST WEEK EVER, except for the lack of self-conscious irony and smugness. It stands above (or below) the culture and takes potshots at easy targets. The triumvirate of celebrity bad girls are mocked, Spartans are totally gay for each other, and reality TV judges are self-absorbed clowns. Burn! Writer-directors Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer have made a career out of pop culture-mocking time capsules with exceedingly short shelf lives. Maybe there wouldn't be anything so wrong with the disposability of their movies if they were funny.

3. ZOMBIE STRIPPERS (Jay Lee, 2008)

Like so many exploitation movies, the title ZOMBIE STRIPPERS is more enjoyable and memorable than the actual product. Unsurprisingly ZOMBIE STRIPPERS is poorly acted, written, directed, edited, and lit, but it is so tedious to watch that this might be the first movie that would be improved if Uwe Boll were calling the shots. At least the oft-derided director would have dropped the pretense of shoehorning in political subtext in an attempt to bring class to such a trashy film.

4. AN AMERICAN CAROL (David Zucker, 2008)

Writer-director David Zucker has been coasting for a long time on early career, exclamation point-punctuated creative successes (AIRPLANE!, TOP SECRET!, and POLICE SQUAD!), so objections to his latest so-called comedy are not primarily political. He hasn't made anything worthwhile since THE NAKED GUN, and AN AMERICAN CAROL'S recycled silliness keeps him on the schneid. Sure, jokes based on meager Republican talking points don't do the film any favors, mainly because putting ideology first is rarely funny. As unworthy of debate as the film's flimsy grandstanding is, AN AMERICAN CAROL isn't particularly inflammatory except for a tasteless invocation of 9/11. Reasonable people can disagree about issues facing the nation, but AN AMERICAN CAROL'S comedy style and politics are sorely missing that kind of thoughtfulness.

5. NOBEL SON (Randall Miller, 2007)

The nasty, self-satisfied NOBEL SON comes straight from the mold of mid- to late-1990s Tarantino imitations dominating video store shelves. Like so many of its theatrical and direct-to-video brethren, NOBEL SON is fueled by perceived cleverness rather than actual wit and innovation. Lots of "style" is imposed with little effect on this glib exercise in plot convolutions and hateful characters.

6. THE WOMEN (Diane English, 2008)

MURPHY BROWN creator and THE WOMEN writer-director Diane English aspires to present strong women, but this miserable lot come off as fragile, helpless, and sorely lacking an arsenal of witty retorts that their counterparts in the 1939 original possessed. Rather than a funny, empowering look at modern females, THE WOMEN serves laughless reinforcement of many of the old stereotypes.

7. MAX PAYNE (John Moore, 2008)

A video game adaptation slathered with action scenes and film noir atmospherics might sound like potentially brainless fun, but the mind-numbing repetition, emotionless performances, and needlessly complicated plot make MAX PAYNE earn a title promising extreme suffering.

8. MAMMA MIA! (Phyllida Lloyd, 2008)

In a classic example of mistranslating material from stage to screen, first-time movie director Phyllida Lloyd calls for her actors to deliver broad performances that reach the last row of the auditorium. For a medium dominated by close-ups, and a shot selection Lloyd often favors, the over-the-top acting style quickly becomes overbearing. Usually it is a joy to watch Meryl Streep practicing her craft, but in MAMMA MIA! it's embarrassing to see her mugging and flouncing about like a skittish teenager. ABBA's songs are as insanely catchy as always, perhaps maddeningly so, but if that's all MAMMA MIA! has to offer, one would be better served by their greatest hits CD than the mostly amateur hour singing in the film.

9. DISASTER MOVIE (Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, 2008)

Friedberg and Seltzer's DISASTER MOVIE is their "better" 2008 parody, meaning that they provided a more solid framework for stringing together sketches and I actually laughed a few times. Hip fave-turned-backlash recipient JUNO takes a few well-deserved licks, but other than that it's the same old toothless humor that might be called juvenile if the film could reach the intellectual standard of playground taunts.

10. FOUR CHRISTMASES (Seth Gordon, 2008)

Apparently Hollywood believes nothing gets folks into the holiday spirit like movies about how much scorn people deserve. CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS, SURVIVING CHRISTMAS, and DECK THE HALLS are some examples with little to no good will toward men or filmmaking prowess. (At least the crude and misanthropic BAD SANTA has the charity to donate laughs.) This joyless affair with Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn as family-avoiding grinches employs Christmas gatherings more for MEET THE PARENTS-like possibilities, but whatever the aim, FOUR CHRISTMASES couldn't be more unappealing in spirit and cinematography.


  1. Glad I was able to miss seven of your ten worst films. Dodging the agitating estrogen-infused MIA and WOMEN would have been smart, but hindsight is always 20/20.

  2. The problem with THE WOMEN and MAMMIA MIA! isn't that they're female-oriented movies but that they're bad movies. (I'll insist that both films sell women short to the point of being insulting.)

    We probably could have gotten by with skipping THE WOMEN for the show, but like it or not, MAMMA MIA! was a hit and a well-known quantity that merited the airtime, if not the couple hours spent in the theater.