Thursday, January 2, 2014

S. Nerfherder Presents: The Top 10 Worst Movies of 2013

By Andrew Braid

Hello everyone, and happy new year! As a whole, 2013 was a very good year for movies, with an embarrassment of riches to consider for my Top 10 Best list this year. But that doesn't mean there wasn't a fair share of bombs and steaming loads this year, either. That's where the Top 10 Worst list comes in. Mind you, I have seen far from everything this year, so it's namely about what stood out as the worst of the worst that these eyes laid witness to. Be prepared, a few of these entries can get a bit rant-y (but you'd kind of expect that from a worst-of list, wouldn't you?).
But first, a quick rundown before we begin...

Other likely worst-of contenders for 2013, if I had actually watched them (aka the "do you even need to actually see it to know it's crap?" category), in no particular order:  

Grown-Ups 2  
The Smurfs 2 
Movie 43 
Scary Movie 5 
A Haunted House
Tyler Perry's Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor 
Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas 
47 Ronin 
Grudge Match 
Runner Runner
The Big Wedding 
Battle of the Year

And now, on with the main list, my picks for the Top 10 Worst Movies of 2013:

#10: World War Z

Truth be told, World War Z isn't really even particularly bad. Hell, it's even sporadically watchable, with some decent moments sprinkled through it. But man do all those oft-publicized reshoots they did really show in the final product. The film is patchy and wildly inconsistent, jumping from setpiece to setpiece with flimsy excuses I honestly can't even be bothered to remember, leading into a third act that abandons its global-scale disaster movie setup entirely for the exact same kind of tired zombie movie cliches that we've all seen many times before. Mostly though World War Z is just bland and forgettable, which considering the huge amounts of potential (either from the book it adapts basically nothing from or the movie's chosen concept of global zombie disaster movie) makes it reek of disappointment for what could have been. World War Z's box office success may have been one of the year's biggest surprises, but it's banal quality was right around what I expected from the first trailer I saw.

#9: The Hangover Part III

There is a moment in The Hangover Part III, the purported conclusion (I dearly hope) to the comedy franchise that really shouldn't have been a franchise to begin with, that most accurately reflects my feelings as I sat in the theater. Having gone to Tijuana and tracking down psychotic gangster Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong, with even more screentime than ever to gradually drive a viewer up the walls with his aggressively irritating schtick), the Wolfpack must get on Chow's good side before they can enact their plan to bring him in to the rival gangster who's kidnapped their friend Doug (keeping poor Justin Bartha out of the action yet again). We cut to a bar, where Chow is singing karaoke, much of it off-key, but not in any particularly amusing way- it just feels bizarre and awkward, like it's supposed to be some kind of honest or "real" moment for a character who is otherwise an obnoxious and vulgar id of chaos. Here is when Bradly Cooper's Phil asks the immortal question regarding The Hangover Part III: "What the f*** am I watching?"
Here is a comedy sequel that seems almost completely disinterested in being a comedy, instead opting to take a stab at being a dark action-thriller mixed with a big character arc for Zach Galifianakis' increasingly disturbed manchild Alan. Many scenes with violent gangsters are played largely straight, and it's hard to laugh with or at Alan much this time because everything surrounding him is constantly tinged with some kind of bitter sadness. It all feels so far removed from where the series started, and that's despite the film's continuous efforts to "bring it all back to the beginning". What few genuine stabs at big comedy pieces we do get are only sporadically funny at best, and near-insufferable at worst. The movie ends up being in such discord with the movie it's supposed to be that it ultimately can't really please anyone, destined to alienate any fans of the original (or hell, even Part II). And yet it's probably still better than the second Hangover film: whereas Part II is a lazy rehash that's bad in fairly obvious ways, Part III is bad for much more fascinating reasons, ones that still keep me occasionally thinking about how the hell this got made.
And hey, that still ought to be worth something, right? Enough to keep it ranking lower here, at least.

#8: Gangster Squad

Gangster Squad is the definition of forgettable studio fare: it's cookie-cutter assembled from standard fare pieces of other, better movies in its genre, it casts a bunch of big-name stars who mostly just coast by (or in Sean Penn's case, tries to recreate his long-lost villain audition for Dick Tracy), and its characters are about as one-dimensional and stock as they come (including "gruff police chief", an "old, quick-draw gunslinger" accidentally pulled from a cliche western, "tech guy", "token black guy", "token Latino guy", "token hot chick", "token pregnant wife", and "Ryan Gosling"). The slick, slow-mo heavy direction of Ruben Fleischer (who may have just gotten lucky with Zombieland) is more distracting and detrimental than anything else, and the film never seems to decide whether it wants to be just a fun, Hollywood action movie or a more serious crime picture. The result is a muddled, unmemorable movie that's not fun enough to be entertaining, but too dumb and glossy to be taken seriously.

#7: After Earth
Yes, truly "the best movie quotes". Here's another piece of genius Shyamalan writing: "My suit has turned black. I like it, but I think it's very bad."

(Yes, both of those were actual lines from this movie.)
After Earth was co-written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. That's really all you need to know as to why it turned out to be a piece of crap.
Is it The Last Airbender levels of catastrophic bad? Well no, but then again few things are. But it's also not The Happening bad, where it could still be enjoyed as an unintentional comedy, like a Birdemic with a Hollywood budget and stars. This is more like Lady in the Water bad, a glaringly obvious ego-driven bomb blinded from seeing its own confusing lack of logic, dull storytelling, and truly terrible dialogue. Though whereas Lady in the Water was all Shyamalan's to blame (and his lifeless writing and direction doesn't help matters here either), After Earth is really Will Smith's folly- he gets sole credit for the story here (and think about it: with his star power he could have gotten nearly any director or writer he wanted, and yet we have Shyamalan...). Smith is so utterly devoid of his usual charisma and natural likability that you become convinced that you're watching Smith-tron, his robot double, and his insistence on putting the whole movie on his teen son Jaden's shoulders is After Earth's undoing. Will Smith has proven he can carry a movie on his own. Jaden Smith, while fine in his previous movies, just can't (or rather, he just isn't ready yet). Then again, the Smith-tron idea is emblematic of the whole movie, creating some bizarre hybrid of disaster. It's an ego-driven passion project that probably had real effort (misguided as it was) put into it, combined with robotic, almost assembly-line execution.
It's a bad sign when I feel like I'm going easy on this movie (you'll find out why later), and it's STILL one of the year's worst.

#6: Turbo
A snail passing a turd: a more apt metaphor for this movie's quality you will not find.

I swear, how the hell this movie managed a 67% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes will ever continue to baffle me. I mean, I saw this for free (coupon offer), going in with hardly any expectations, and I still felt ripped off. I ended up buying a ticket for Despicable Me 2 immediately afterwards, namely to cleanse this lazily assembled, painfully unfunny poor-man's rehash from my mind (DM2 was a good, solid sequel, BTW, pretty much on par with the first one).
The movie's story and plot is a shameless Frankenstein's monster assembled from equal parts sports movie cliches and mishmash of Pixar movie knockoffs. From scene to scene, plot beat to plot beat, Turbo is completely predictable, without a single inspired or original element to be seen. The underdog snail has an impossible dream! Everyone tells him he's crazy, particularly his disapproving brother! He finds the power to accomplish his dream (through some bullshit)! He meets a wacky crew of friends! He befriends a guy working at a taco shop who dreams of more! (and he also has a disapproving brother!) He gets his shot to prove himself! He becomes a sensation, and the people give him the support to challenge the cocky (and not-so-secretly a jerk) champion! And on and on, man it's so stock. Every single conversation between Turbo and his brother Chet (a wasted Paul Giamatti) can be summed up like this:

Turbo: "I have to race, and live my dream!"
Chet: "You can't race in the Indy 500, Turbo! You're just a garden snail!"
Turbo: "But... but dreams!"

Imagine that, rinsed and repeated about every 5 minutes or so.
Oh, and guess what unbelievably obvious, overused-to-death 80s sports movie song they play during the climactic race. Come on, guess.

Yep, that one. It's played completely straight, too.
To add further insult to audiences of all ages, DreamWorks got even lazier with this movie by saying: "Hey, we can't get away with doing a shameless cash-in on whatever Pixar is doing anymore, so let's rip off all of them in one movie!" The snail wants to race in the Indy 500 (Cars). We start out with the snails in a monotonous working class garden community where our lead snail Turbo doesn't fit in, and is later outcast from (much like Flik in A Bug's Life). They're threatened by a mean neighborhood kid who tortures and abuses snails, only to later get his comeuppance and learn to fear them (like Sid from Toy Story). Turbo and his taco shop friend go on a road trip, while agreeing to help out the struggling local community of oddball small business owners by the highway route (Cars again). Most egregious to me personally however is how they rip off the human/animal friendship from Ratatouille in a blatantly calculated stab at convincing audiences the movie has heart.
But you know what? It wouldn't really have mattered just how derivative the movie was if it was actually funny, but even that can't be managed. Every joke is just too predictable, and the movie doesn't have the comic timing necessary to compensate. Watching a kids movie (this is a movie that typecasts itself as a "kids movie" through and through) that tries to be "hip" and "cool" is often embarrassing and groan-worthy enough as it is, but Turbo's attempts are particularly feeble and ill-conceived. As part of the "underdog becomes big news after he shows off what he can do" scene, there is a dubstep viral video that makes waves across the country. I assure you, it is every bit as painful for one's ears to listen to as you would expect.
Hell, even the animation itself is subpar for a DreamWorks movie, with mediocre detailing on human characters and a lack of imaginative visual concepts. The only good think I can think of to say about Turbo is I got to see the How to Train Your Dragon 2 teaser in front of it (and in 3D!). Even that can only get me to cut you so much slack, DreamWorks. I mean come on, guys, you're better than this! Way, way better than this! Hell, just earlier in the year you released The Croods, a great family comedy with a real sense of creativity, humor and wonder (the animation is also WAY better, even though it has the same budget as Turbo). And may I point again to just how f***ing fantastic Dragon 2 looks so far? In short, this shit has no excuse anymore. I can give the Madagascar series a pass (it has its moments, and each sequel's been an improvement so far). I even though Shrek Forever After was kinda good (way better than I was expecting from the awful-looking trailers). But this? Shark Tale may still be the worst in terms of DreamWorks animated movies, but Turbo sure as hell ain't far behind.
The only other nice thing I can think to say about it? Well, it's only Ryan Reynolds' second-worst movie this year...

#5: R.I.P.D.
Hope you don't get tired of the "Jeff Bridges' disguise is a hot blonde" gag, because the movie brings that horse out for a beating regularly...

There was potential for a movie here with R.I.PD. Not a particularly great movie or anything (it would still be pretty derivative of Men In Black), but the possibility of this comic book action movie being a fun little timekiller was certainly there. The cast is there (Ryan Reynolds, Jeff Bridges and Mary-Louise Parker, with Kevin Bacon as the villain), and the concept has potential for some decent popcorn fun. It has some kooky and weird ideas that, if they were set up and executed better than they are here, might have actually worked.
That's the one idea that kept constantly popping into my head as I watched R.I.P.D.: "this could have worked". Reynolds and Bridges' screen chemistry could have kept the movie going, the action could have been fun or creative, the characters could have been likable or even memorable (I mean come on, we have wild west Jeff Bridges with MIB guns!). Instead what we get is a shoddily-constructed waste of everyone's time that justifies every "Dead On Arrival" joke that's come its way. Just about everything that could have been fun or even good in this movie falls flat, from its rushed pacing and choppy editing (screaming of studio interference) to its near-complete lack of laughs (this film's idea of handling a running joke is to repeat it whenever it can, with no real comic escalation or variation with each recycle). The plot is barely even legible, and is so weak anyhow that there's really no need to bother paying attention. The CGI animation is probably the worst I've seen in a major blockbuster this year, with the "deados" having animation equivalent to a PS2 game (kind of baffling that a studio decided to spend $130 million on this). You can tell the actors are trying their best to make this movie work, but it proves to be the equivalent of trying to give CPR to a beached shark- it's too late, and you'll probably just hurt yourself if you keep trying.
...Yeah, I kind of suck at metaphors. Long story short, R.I.P.D. falls flat on pretty much every possible level.

#4: The Lone Ranger
Depp and Hammer's reactions to the critics: "Lalalala not listening, didn't happen, lalala!"

To Gore Verbinski (director of Pirates of the Caribbean 1-3, The Ring and the superb Rango): what the hell were you thinking?!
Believe what you've already heard, folks: The Lone Ranger is every bit the train-wreck disaster many had pegged it as since the first trailer came out, if not longer. At a bloated 2 1/2 hours there's approximately 2 major setpiece action scenes, one early on and then the big climax, coming after close to 2 hours of the movie spinning its wheels, filled with scene after scene of the Lone Ranger and Tonto bickering, the Ranger making a fool of himself, and recycled formula parts from Pirates. There's even a truly bizarre and ultimately pointless framing device set at a carnival in the 1930s where a young boy hears the story from an old man Tonto at a museum exhibit. At first it seems that the film plans to do something clever, like a tongue-in-cheek, meta-commentary approach in the vein of The Princess Bride, but all it amounts to is a whole 20 minutes or so that could have been cut from the film completely, and constantly disrupts any momentum when it pops back up.
But that's nothing compared to the film's wildly schizophrenic tone, constantly jumping from goofy and would-be irreverent humor (The Lone Ranger gets dragged through s***! Magic teleporting horse! Helena Bonham Carter's prostitute gun leg!) to dark and gruesome (The villain cuts out and eats a guy's heart... A whole Comanche tribe is massacred onscreen... buy hey, Helena Bonham Carter's prostitute gun leg!) This is a film that directly intercuts between the dark, heavy and dramatic gunning down of a Native American tribe with a wacky escape sequence. In case you need this spelled out, those are not things that can or ever should be mashed together. If the film had been simply one or the other, then the potential would be there for something good. But as it is it's a film that has no grasp on its own identity, and that is its ultimate undoing. Well, that and the weak humor, the misguided portrayal of Tonto, the serious lack of action, the bloated length, the weird sense of self-hate for its own source material...
To run home what a disaster The Lone Ranger is, it's big final action climax is, if taken on its own completely separate from the rest of the movie, a really good sequence. I'm not kidding- it's well shot and makes great use of the iconic William Tell Overture from the old TV show. It's exciting, fast-paced, fun and lighthearted. It's like the film finally, finally figured out what kind of movie it wants to be (and should have been). But most of this is completely negated when you see it in context- it's still not worth the truly awful, messy and dull 2 hours it took to get here, and the villains have already won and achieved exactly what they wanted, so our heroes' big plan feels like it's completely for naught. And once it's over we still suffer from all the faults we dealt with before, which leaves this genuinely well-done sequence adrift in the smoking wreckage like everything else this new definition of "Hollywood disaster" touches.

#3: Pain and Gain

I went to the theater and saw this. If you asked me why I honestly couldn't come up with a good reason. I guess I was curious to see what Michael Bay would do with a smaller-scale movie. What I learned that day, however, will prove an invaluable life lesson: the only thing arguably worse than Michael Bay making a dumb, crappy action movie is Michael Bay making a dumb, crappy movie that thinks it's smart.
Pain and Gain is just unpleasant, through and through, to the point where I honestly feel unclean the more I stop to think about it. It's one of those cases where the director's style, personal ambitions and intent simply don't prove a good fit with the materiel. The film is based on a true story (as it keeps "reminding" us, by which I mean "power-drilling into our brains"), constantly calling attention to how all these crazy and messed-up events in our story of would-be criminals are indeed factual. But the intended impact of this, along with its "smart" (read: thuddingly obvious) commentary on ideas of America's delusions of exceptionalism, "perfection" and entitlement is undone by Bay's style and approach being the same as it's always been, with many of the same problems. Bay is incapable of making a film that doesn't exist in some kind of cartoon funhouse mirror version of reality, filled with lowest-common-denominator dirty humor and stereotypes. None of these people feel like people at all, including Ed Harris' honest detective, the supposed sliver of humanity present in this story who really feels just as much a part of this Michael Bay universe as anyone else. These vapid, stupid and dangerously deluded caricatures comprise the whole movie, with no source of relief throughout its 2+ hours (bloated and overlong, but it's Michael Bay, so you must have expected that). Ideally the film would be centered through the mind of Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), like some kind of moronic Travis Bickle (even though Observe and Report already did that idea, and did it far, far better). But the film keeps constantly jumping into the voiceovers and points of view of seemingly every character it comes across with little rhyme or reason, robbing the film of any sense of focus or consistent tone.
The resulting film is what would happen if Michael Bay directed Fargo, by way of TMZ (just imagine how bad that sounds, and you've got Pain and Gain in a nutshell). Each film is about a trio of would-be crooks who make increasingly bad and ill-conceived decisions, with everything going horribly awry in a violent mess. But the reason why Fargo works is that its characters are still portrayed like human beings: they feel like real people, no matter who they are or what unbelievably dumb shit they might do. That we can see them as human makes what happens alternately more comedic and more shocking. Moreover we have the presence of Frances McDormand's police chief to lend the film a sense of warmth and humanity, to provide relief and offset the darkness and violence of the world, to give us that sense of hope we need to make it through. This could have been Ed Harris' role in the film (and certainly looks like it was meant to be), but he mostly just serves as a plot point and little else. The end scene with Harris going home, trying to comprehend what the hell happened feels tacked on and half-assed rather than pivotal, like they wanted to have that shred of humanity but didn't want to put in the effort necessary for it.
Because that's perhaps the most critical failing of Pain and Gain: it lacks any sense of hope for humanity, instead choosing to not only revel in the vapid darkness of the world but further perpetuate it by going down to its level, if not lower. The film's ends with a montage showing photographs of the real-life criminals the film was based around, and (I kid you not) proceeds to mock and laugh at their death sentences, as well as the consequences and misery their actions have inflicted on others. It's emblematic of the film's ugly, mean-spirited nature that encourages the viewer to revel in its cheap shots and caricatures, and by doing so support the very kind of warped reality that created such minds as Daniel Lugo's. It tells us to laugh and mock to keep these kinds of f***ups beneath us, when really it just drags us down closer to their level. Perhaps it's just me, but I think this explains why I found much of this movie deeply uncomfortable.
(You know, I feel like I could still clarify some more about my thoughts on this movie, but I think I'll spare you for now and write a piece on it at a later date).
After this I can safely say that of everything he's shat to screen so far, Michael Bay's worst film yet... is still Transformers 2. But I honestly wouldn't put Pain and Gain that far behind. I won't deny that  potential was there, but I will be a much better, happier man if I never see it again.

#2: The Host

This one surprised me.
I know, it really shouldn't have- it's based on a Stephanie Meyer book, for crying out loud. But when I decided to watch a few extra duds to fill out my list, I kind of picked The Host without giving it much thought. I figured After Earth would be the worst one, so I decided to watch it after this. Plus the Twilight movies, while pretty awful, were in most cases at least somewhat entertaining in their levels of craptitude (hey, that's our new word of the day, kids!). There was so much wrong, so much inane dumbness littered through Twilight that I figured The Host might at least provide that much.
Oh how wrong I was. How very, very wrong...
The Host is boring. It is painfully, achingly, please-oh-good-god-make-it-stop, so-this-is-how-I-die, tell-my-family-I-love-them-*bang* boring. The old comparison of "watching paint dry" does not do it justice- at least the wall would have more personality than either of the male love interests (seriously, Edward and Jacob look like Oscar-caliber character writing by comparison). It is a slog in every sense of the word, a 2 hour test of endurance that essentially boils down to Saoirse Ronan having Navi from Ocarina of Time stuck in her head while she sits around in a cave doing nothing, while even more nothing happens out in a world nearly overrun by alien parasites. The sci-fi concept itself is actually pretty interesting on paper, but the film makes it clear that it's just a backdrop and little more, instead focusing on a cast of "characters" where even calling any of them one-dimensional sounds like a stretch. It is a film namely defined by loooong stretches of jack s*** happening, and what little action or story that even occurs in the movie is so pathetic and brief that it tends to just blend in with the rest of the dull ache to my balls that is The Host. Even the eye-rolling copout bulls*** that is the movie's resolution isn't enough to incite any emotional rage towards, namely because I was too busy being grateful that I could still feel such things.
All Host and no play makes Jack a dull boy...

If you need any sense of perspective as to just how putrid a slog The Host is, I watched After Earth later that night. And I shit you not, this movie made After Earth felt positively watchable by comparison.
Let me reiterate: The Host made an M. Night Shyamalan movie look watchable by comparison. If that doesn't put it in close contention for worst movie of the year, then I don't know what does.

#1: A Good Day to Die Hard

There are many, many reasons I hated A Good Day to Die Hard: the lazy writing, the hackish and incompetent direction, the uninspired and repetitive action scenes (shot with fast-cut shaky-cam for no reason other than director John Moore trying to say "THIS IS EXCITING, RIGHT?"), the mean-spirited pissant that is McClane's son, how utterly apparent Bruce Willis' complete disinterest in making this movie is, the unforgivably dull and nowhere-near-as-clever-as-it-thinks-it-is plot, the completely uninteresting (and in the case of the #2 villain for most of the movie, obnoxiously moronic) villains...
You know what? I'll save you time. I'll sum up every paragraph I could write on this abominable excuse for a sequel (a sequel to an action movie classic like Die Hard, no less) thusly:
F*** this movie.
Fuck this movie.
Fuck. This. Movie.
FUCK this movie.

So yeah, I kinda hated it.

What were your worst movies for the past year? Let me know below, and thanks for reading!
(Oh, and sorry for ranting so long about Turbo. I guess I had some stuff to get off my chest there...)