Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Worst Films of 2009

Bad films? I've seen a few. Out of everything I saw in 2009, the following list represents the films that lie at or below approximately the fifth percentile. Tread carefully.

1. NEXT DAY AIR (Benny Boom, 2009)

Benny Boom's extraordinarily tedious crime comedy NEXT DAY AIR doesn't even reach the benchmark of a cut-rate Guy Ritchie movie. There's not much to this story of improperly delivered drugs and the violent, supposedly hilarious hijinks that result. The shifts between stoner comedy and blood-spattered action are difficult to reconcile, particularly in the grim finale.

2. MISS MARCH (Zach Cregger and Trevor Moore, 2009)

It isn't news that movies are often generated as product rather than art, but even by the lowest of standards MISS MARCH is a pathetic example of a film as corporate brand extender. In the sex comedy a high school square on the verge of losing his virginity awakens years later from a coma to find his former classmate and dream girl is a Playboy centerfold. MISS MARCH is a comedic dead zone, which is bad enough. Worse yet, it exists as little more than a feature-length pitch for Playboy's brand of softcore erotica and lifestyle aspirations.

3. SURVEILLANCE (Jennifer Lynch, 2008)

Even if there were no blood connection between SURVEILLANCE writer-director Jennifer Lynch and her father David Lynch, the film would play like a pale imitation of her parent's work. The comparisons are hard to avoid when the younger Lynch evokes the same hyperreal atmosphere and tone, uses similar stylistic flourishes in sound design and visual strategies, and casts actors familiar from her father's films. Although SURVEILLANCE is gory and transgressive, which would presumably maintain marginal levels of interest, it's boring to a fault.

4. OLD DOGS (Walt Becker, 2009)

The old dogs of the title may refer to the not quite senior citizen leads, but it's a more apt description of the shopworn and laughless jokes occupying this woofer of a comedy. The threadbare screenplay is stitched together from the worst and most clichéd ideas to emerge from--and should be discarded during--a brainstorming session. OLD DOGS' embarrassingly broad performances, including but not limited to Robin Williams and John Travolta, contain more ham than a grocery's meat department at Easter. It's one thing to make an attempt and not succeed, but OLD DOGS doesn't muster genuine enthusiasm to give its best shot. OLD DOGS needed to be put down before a frame was shot, especially when letting it linger on and become this product is thoroughly humiliating for everyone involved.

5. Horror schlock: THE COLLECTOR (Marcus Dunstan, 2009), THE FINAL DESTINATION (David R. Ellis, 2009), FRIDAY THE 13TH (Marcus Nispel, 2009), HALLOWEEN II (Rob Zombie, 2009)

Deficiencies in storytelling and formulaic execution plague any number of horror films, especially the seemingly endless stream of sequels and franchise reboots. The first FRIDAY THE 13TH is not a masterwork by any stretch of the imagination, but the 2009 edition completely lacks one thing the 1980 film had going for it: the element of surprise. This version tries to drum up scares through cranked up noises on the soundtrack but rarely utilizes the hockey-masked killer's presence in such unexpected ways. HALLOWEEN II continues Rob Zombie's defiling of a franchise already with its share of low points. THE FINAL DESTINATION is essentially scraps and rehashes of the first three films with the waning novelty of 3-D. Although THE COLLECTOR isn't based on preexisting films, its paucity of plot--the entirety is practically all first act--hardly qualifies it for being called original. Perhaps the biggest problem with all of these horror films is a simple one: they aren't scary.

6. AMELIA (Mira Nair, 2009)

AMELIA fails on almost every level, but at least star Hilary Swank resembles Amelia Earhart. OK, the production design is nice too. An unflattering portrait of the famous aviator intended as tribute, AMELIA is a prime example of the biographical film as a wiki movie and all the negative connotations that brings. The superficial journey skips through history as a series of bullet points. Although the film takes a potentially interesting angle on Earhart as something of a public relations creation, it winds up getting bogged down in a romance whose complexity is also underdeveloped. Of all the films among my worsts of the year, this is the biggest missed opportunity, especially since AMELIA has the seeds of being a far more fascinating film than it is.

7. ALL ABOUT STEVE (Phil Traill, 2009)

Sandra Bullock's tireless, stalker-like behavior as the main character in ALL ABOUT STEVE suggests that it ought to be a horror film rather than the dreadfully unfunny romantic comedy and anti-mass media screed it is. The inability of Bullock's Mary to decode social cues and her ceaseless cheer are intended as cute quirks, as though she's an innocent venturing into the world for the first time. Bullock plays Mary as a sweet savant with no concept of how demented she is. Twinkly tics and all, Bullock's performance is an irritating one, to say the least. It's as if Poppy, the optimistic main character of HAPPY-GO-LUCKY, wandered into this movie and lost all self-awareness.

8. I LOVE YOU, BETH COOPER (Chris Columbus, 2009)

I LOVE YOU, BETH COOPER hopes to combine the sweet underpinnings of '80s John Hughes comedies and SUPERBAD'S zany and provocative ways, but the resulting mess is a film with unlikable characters in a go-nowhere storyline. The ugly and unfunny teen romp leaves me wondering if anyone involved with the production ever was or has ever known adolescents. I LOVE YOU, BETH COOPER plays like a hysterical response to lurid news reports of sexting and the like than an emotionally genuine portrayal of teenage hopes and fears.

9. NEW IN TOWN (Jonas Elmer, 2009)

Ditzy city slicker Renée Zellweger gets a tedious education in small town virtues in NEW IN TOWN. Hollywood (and politicians) favor the traditional depiction of tiny communities as pristine oases of enlightenment even if the tired idea is not necessarily true. The hoary trope is doubly worse in its employment in NEW IN TOWN. The doltish portrayal of the folksy Minnesota population, who represent the bootstrapping Midwest in general, would be insulting if the brainless romantic comedy weren't so dopey.

10. DRAGONBALL EVOLUTION (James Wong, 2009)

The shoddy DRAGONBALL EVOLUTION is no different or bigger than the sort of junk kids plop down to watch on TV after school. This live action version of the manga/anime DRAGONBALL universe is too bland and convoluted for new viewers to recognize what all the fuss is about and, I suspect, too simplified and disrespectful of the source material for the fan base. The basic story is as old as time, so this sturdy construct needs compelling heroes and villains to distinguish itself from others of this ilk. The characters don't evolve but merely complete tasks on a to-do list. The cheap effects and bargain backlot action wouldn't have wowed anyone twenty years ago, let alone today, proving that going from animation to live action isn't an advancement for DRAGONBALL EVOLUTION.

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