So, enough about all of the great movies I have seen....what about the bad ones? Well, there have been a few, with some notable surprises.
As good as the first Spiderman was and considering how incredible Spiderman 2 turned out, it was shocking to see Sam Raimi's Spiderman 3 sink so low. The story and dialogue were beyond lame, plot points made no sense, every performance including Tobey Maguire's felt forced, and the special effects...well...there was just nothing special about them. Everything looked fake, and when the majority of your film has a special effects shot in them, that's not good. The visuals had a soft, murky quality to them, almost as if they had been created with a first generation Playstation console. The action scenese were over-blown and dull, noise for noise's sake. Nothing ever felt at stake in the film, which is pretty weak considering the movie had three major villians and the ever present rocky romantic entanglements with Kirsten Dunst's character Mary Jane. I have now given up on Dunst. She was phenomenal as a 12 year old in Interview with the Vampire, but as she's grown up, she's becoming an irratating screen presence. She played stony and cute in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind pretty well, and was certainly impressive in The Virgin Suicides. But of late, there's no energy or passion in her performances. Her best bit of anything is still the upside down kiss in the fist Spiderman, but that had more to do with her dress being rain-soaked than her acting abilities. And while we're on the subject of acting, let's be clear: James Franco CANNOT ACT. To put it simply/mildly--he sucks. He is never convincing on any level in this film. And the talented Thomas Hayden Church is just wasted in a criminally underdeveloped role that means nothing in the grand scheme of the plot. Raimi used up all his Spidey sense in the first two films (the second film is one of the best superhero movies of all time in my estimation). In the third film he was an autopilot, and it showed.
The debacle that was Grindhouse was an even tougher failure for me to endure as I truly have loved just about everything that Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez have done before. For 3 hours, I sat in the theater, shaking my head in disbelief...is this REALLY the movie these guys wanted to make? I'll admit that maybe part of my problem is that I never grew up on a diet of these so called "grindhouse" films that they cherished as youngsters. My parents made the decision not to subject me to those pieces of trash so I hold no fond memories of seeing crappy films projected crappily in crappy theaters with crappy sound systems eating stale popcorn while my sneakers stuck to the bottom of the theater floor. Rodriguez made the better of the two films with Planet Terror, his ode to the zombie/gore-splatter genre. The sight of Rose McGowan with a machine gun for a leg was certainly zesty and funny but the film just repeated itself over and over again with people getting bitten by zombies and then the military shooting them all to a gory pulp. Had Planet Terror lasted 45 mins instead of 90 mins (and dont get me started on the unnecessary length of Tarantino's entry, Death Proof), it might have been fun. But it was a bore, and that's the ultimate sin of a filmmaker--boring his/her audience. Tarantino's Death Proof, simply put, was a giant waste of time. I have heard the term "mastaburtory" used by film critics to describe intensely personal or stylish works from certain directors. But I've always thought that was a cheap and lazy way of critiquing something that a critic didn't enjoy. But here, I will have to agree with that word choice. Tarantino's film is the epitome of a short film, but he stretches it to an interminable 90-100 minutes where nothing fucking happens. Kurt Russell, who was actually really good in the role, plays an psycopathic ex-stuntman driving around in a 60's muscle car that he declares is "death proof." He drives around country backroads looking for hot girls to run off the road or smash to death. He meets his match with a group of spunky chicks who spend about an hour discussing their boyfriends, their sexual proclivities, and their feet. Granted, there is one car chase/smash 'em up that is truly eye-popping. But there is so little going on in the movie, and nobody or nothing to care about, that I just sat there twiddling my thumbs and checking my voicemail (I NEVER turn my phone on in a movie). Now again...Tarantino and Rodriguez may have wanted their films to be exactly how I have described them, and that's fine. Filmmakers have the right to a singular vision, and the relationship that these guys have with Harvey and Bob Weinstein have allowed them to basically do whatever they want (see the two Kill Bill flicks and Sin City, all masterpieces as far as I'm concerned). But with Grindhouse, they basically spent 3 hours patting each other on the back and molesting each other's private parts and I didn't want any of it. It just sucked.
An even bigger waste of time was Len Wiseman's Live Free or Die Hard, a movie that I should have known would suck for a number of reasons. First, and most important: how could Fox allow a PG-13 Die Hard movie to get made? It's so asinine a decision that I almost boycotted the film in the theaters all together. But no...the flashy trailers suckered me in to the theater, and boy was I disgusted. The film doesn't exsist in the Die Hard universe so perfectly displayed in the previous three films. Gone is the hard core violence and action sequences in favor of a more cartoonish tone with nothing resembling any sense of reality. Sure, many of the action scenes in the first three films were over-the-top but there was always the sense that MAYBE it could happen. And there was always a feeling of jeopardy involved with whatever trouble John McClane found himself in. Not here. Instead, director Len Wiseman, who's also responsible for the tepid horror franchise Underworld, directs like a knock-off Michael Bay without the wit or exuberance of that action master. There are a few nice bits of car flipping and exploding buildings, but Timothy Olyphant's villain is poorly conceived and the tag-along 20-something character played by Mac spokesman Justin Long is not as funny as the writers think he is. Again, the worst sin a director can commit is boring the audience. This was one action film (and action movies are my favorite genre) that bored me to no end. Nonsensical and just silly, Live Free or Die Hard was a major misfire. The simple fact that McClane's signature catchphrase ("Yippie Ki Ya Motherfucker!") was smoothed over to attain the PG-13 rating thus ensuring a bigger opening weekend by enabling teens in the theater is enough to disgust me to the point of writing off this series for dead. And shame on Bruce Willis for going through with this film, but hey, the guy wanted a box office hit after many many bombs and he got what he wanted. But the film was a giant turd.
There is no real reason to delve into the cinematic merits of crap like Wild Hogs, The Number 23, and The Hitcher, the absolute worst of the year that I've been exposed too. Wild Hogs, a film that grossed $165 million domestic this spring, is a woefully unfunny "comedy" that relied on the most obvious forms of humor, and pandered to the dumbest possible audience allowable. How could a filmmaking team take the talents of guys like Travolta, Martin Lawrence, William H. Macy, and Tim Allen and completely render them useless? Director Walt Becker and writer Stuart Copeland did just that. Garish and beyond lame-brained, Wild Hogs was pretty pitiful.
I felt bad for Jim Carrey all throughout Joel Schumacher's "thriller" The Number 23. On paper, it all must have looked good. Take an actor known for outrageous comedy and let him stretch a little bit, playing a neurotic husband for part of the film, and in a series of surreal sequences, a hard-boiled noir-ish killer/stalker/something-like-that. Joel Schumacher, the definition of a hit-or-miss filmmaker, gussies up the incomprehensible screenplay with an overly stylized aesthetic that is neither stylish or interesting. It was boring. It was stupid. Carrey was flat out bad. The beautiful and talented Virigina Madsen is the only person who looks like they're having any fun and even her role(s) are pretty pedestrian. At least Carrey go to experience his first on-screen sex scene; pity it was only fun for him and not the rest of us. Shumacher has made some excellent to solid thrillers in the past (Falling Down--still his best film, Tigerland, Phone Booth, Veronica Guerin, The Client, A Time to Kill) but The Number 23 is more in line with his clunkers like 8mm and the two Batman films that he directed.
Lastly, The Hitcher is a film that serves no purpose other than to generate paychecks for a few actors and the crew. Music video director Dave Meyers shows no discernible style or visual juice in this limp thriller that wastes the talent of it's star, Sean Bean, in yet another horror/thriller remake. I do give Meyers some credit--the way he and his cinematographer lit and shot Camille Belle made me very happy. Limited in the acting department, Belle is a natural born hottie who looks just sexy as all get out in a tank top and low-riding jeans. Oh yeah, and it was cool to see her punk ass boyfriend get torn apart between two big-rig trucks (if you've seen the original I'm not spoiling anything; if you haven't, don't worry, the movie is dreck). What a lifeless thriller The Hitcher was, with nothing added to an incresingly tired genre.