Though I’ve already penned a handful of material for this site, I haven’t been able to tell you, dear readers, a whole lot about myself. In addition to joining the Good Ship Filmbalaya, I also post my reviews on Yahoo Contributor under the pen name Jane F. Carlson. However, way back in 2002, I wrote for a Seattle-based film site called American Dreamer, which unfortunately shut down a year later. It was first time I’d had any of my work published. It was quite an entertaining experience.
And boy, was it an awful year for movies.
Of course it wasn’t feasible for me to see every flick, and while there were plenty of gems out there – whether expected (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), unheralded (Antwone Fisher) or just plain surprising (Ghost Ship) – the stinkers far outweighed the successes in my case, so much that to, um, commemorate my first serious foray into film criticism, I present to you a list of the eleven biggest duds I sat through eleven years ago, in alphabetical order.
1. All About the Benjamins (dir. Kevin Bray)
Ice Cube stars as a Miami bounty hunter (in obligatory Heat jersey, natch) who teams up with a con man (Mike Epps) to pursue a stash of stolen diamonds. Or, in short, Cube scowls throughout as Epps plays the bumbling comic relief while unfunny ethnic humor runs amok. Hilarity supposedly ensues for audiences who get a kick out of watching screwdrivers inserted into bullet wounds, guns pointed at little kids, or a man getting Tasered in the crotch, though, to be fair, sitting through this mess – or anything in Ice Cube’s filmography, for that matter – would probably prove more painful.
2. Analyze That (dir. Harold Ramis)
In the uninspired sequel to 1999’s Analyze This, mobster Robert DeNiro is released from prison and into the custody of nebbish psychiatrist Billy Crystal, but it was the script that needed a doctor as it juggled between being a knee-slapper and a crime drama, and exceeded at neither. While not basking in contrived subplots of DeNiro scandalizing Crystal’s prim-and-proper family (i.e., flashing them in the living room) and serving as a consultant on a Sopranos-style TV show (sigh), director Harold Ramis expected the audience to believe that Crystal would willingly aid a bunch of DeNiro’s New Yawker-accented Mafia cronies in a multimillion-dollar gold-bullion heist. Eh, yeah.
3. Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (dir. Kaos)
If there was ever a more appropriately-named director paired with a schizophrenic movie like this, I haven’t seen it. Aside from the stupid title, the shopworn action scenes, and the idiotic plot about two rival spies (Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu) who fight a common enemy when not trying to kill each other, everything else was tons of stuff – including anything resembling character development – getting blowed up real good. Trust me, it’s not Rotten Tomatoes’ worst-reviewed movie of all time for nothing. In fact, I closed my own AD review with, “I’ll give it credit for one thing: it’s nice to see a movie filmed in Canada that actually takes place there.”
4. Death to Smoochy (dir. Danny DeVito)
Ho, boy. This was neck-and-neck with Mr. Deeds in the horse race for my worst movie of 2002, making it impossible for me to come up with a clear-cut winner. Death to Smoochy is celluloid excrement at its finest that starred Robin Williams as a disgraced and off-his-nut kiddie-show host seeking revenge for his termination and against his replacement (Edward Norton, making an unfortunate ass of himself in a purple rhino costume). This so-called “black” comedy attempted lamely to throw shade at Barney and the backstage dealings of children’s programming, but the joke was only on moviegoers who were suckered into opening up their wallets.
5. Friday After Next (dir. Marcus Raboy)
In the third entry of the lowbrow Friday series, it’s Christmastime and our two, er, protagonists, Craig and Day-Day, pursue a burglar dressed as (you guessed it) Santa Claus after he breaks into and steals stuff from their apartment. Or, for short, Ice Cube scowls throughout as Mike Epps plays the bumbling comic relief while unfunny ethnic humor runs amok. This was the second movie in ’02 alone that featured Cube playing a character searching for stolen goods (see #1). If there’s ever a fourth installment, maybe he should go on the hunt for his long-lost artistic integrity.
6. Like Mike (dir. John Schultz)
Like Mike stars Bow Wow and Jonathan Lipnicki (the annoying kid from The Jeff Foxworthy Show), and if that‘s not enough to make you stay away, then you‘re a braver person than I am. Like Mike is not so much a movie as it is a 99-minute orgy of product placement and pointless NBA player cameos, and stars Mr. Wow as an orphan who finds an ordinary pair of old Nikes that were once Michael Jordan’s (the only connection MJ even has with this film), and which he pulls off a telephone wire during a thunderstorm (smart). He, of course, puts them on and becomes an instant roundball superstar, and is hired as a gimmick to play for the local team he supports (the fictional L.A. Knights). This schtick worked in 1993’s overlooked Rookie of the Year. It definitely does not here. Throw in a wasted Crispin Glover and Eugene Levy and Like Mike is nothing more than a turnover.
7. Mr. Deeds (dir. Steven Brill)
Believe it or not, Mr. Deeds is the first Adam Sandler movie that I’ve ever watched in its entirety. And over a decade later it’s still the last. I’m convinced that I endured it only because I was in the mood at the time for carving up a bad picture. This horrible remake of the 1936 original Mr. Deeds Goes to Town makes light of assault and stalking while Sandler, whose small-town bonehead Longfellow Deeds dreams of writing Hallmark cards while he’s not beating the stuffing out of people, plays his manic self as usual. A tiny violin solo especially for Winona Ryder (portraying, without irony, a tabloid reporter), whose career was in the shitter for most of the aughts, though it could be argued as to which did more damage: her shoplifting arrest, or this. Where were all those “Free Winona” shirts while this abomination was in production?
8. Pinocchio (dir. Roberto Benigni)
I saw this one at the Lumiere and it was quite a painful experience, both the seating and the movie. Pinocchio can be summed up in one sentence: 50-year-old Roberto Benigni completely extinguishes his post-Oscar heat from Life is Beautiful by awkwardly reenacting a children’s fairytale character that had him sporting white clown-suit-like pajamas, a pointy hat (and nose), and the voice of Breckin Meyer, just one of many Hollywood stars who lent their vocal cords to the atrocious English dubbing. Proud owner of a 0% Rotten Tomatoes rating and the only foreign-language Worst Picture Razzie nomination, Pinocchio was the most expensive movie produced in Italy at the time ($45 million in U.S. dollars) and was originally to be a collaboration between Benigni and Federico Fellini, but Fellini died before it went into production. Maybe it was a sign.
9. Resident Evil (dir. Paul W.S. Anderson)
Paul W.S. Anderson struck gold in 1995 with Mortal Kombat. He then came up with utter sewage in Resident Evil, another video-game-turned-movie that will satisfy anyone in the mood for zombies, short skirts, zombies, endless gunfire, zombies, and Michelle Rodriguez’s protruding bottom lip over annoying details like plot, dialogue, and characterization. (The most memorable line: “She’s right…we’re gonna die here.”) There was even a cheesy homage to the 1997 Canadian flick Cube when several extras were trapped inside a room and cut to pieces by a laser grid. This crapfest starred the otherwise talented Milla Jovovich as Alice, who sets out to take down the evil Umbrella organization, and she has since become the face of the franchise by default, starring in five more films (the sixth is in preproduction). If this keeps up, she’ll soon have her own reality show: 19 Sequels and Counting.
10. Scooby-Doo (dir. Raja Gosnell)
A pointless live-action movie based on the equally stale cartoon that’s notable not for featuring an entirely-CGI eponymous canine (probably the only reason it got made), but for driving the final nail into the coffin of Freddie Prinze, Jr.’s big-screen career. At least Sarah Michelle Gellar (Daphne) had Buffy to fall back on. And if it weren’t for those meddling filmmakers, we wouldn’t have gotten the 2004 dog of a sequel Monsters Unleashed. Zoinks!
11. Treasure Planet (dir. Ron Clements & John Musker)
Disney’s futuristic update of Treasure Island, featuring four screenwriters and zero logic (an open-air pirate ship floating in space, for starters), included the usual glut of lame sidekick characters and Long John Silver repackaged as a cyborg cook with the voice of Brian Doyle-Murray. But all this was nothing compared to the full bastardization of the original novel’s young protagonist, Jim Hawkins: he became a ponytailed delinquent who was fatherless (again, this is Disney), enjoyed extreme sports and was inching closer to juvenile hall. The only thing astronomical about Treasure Planet was its obscene budget of $140 million – $177 million, adjusted for inflation – and it could only muster a flimsy $38 million domestic return. The combined failures of this and 2004’s Home on the Range forced the Mouse House to put the kibosh on their traditional-animation department. That’s what they got for producing cubic zirconium and trying to convince us they had a diamond in their hands.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (dir. Peter Jackson)
I was going to include this in the main list before realizing that none of those films were ever going to be regarded as cinematic masterpieces. This sentiment was, of course, the exact opposite for the Academy Award-winning LOTR trilogy, but The Twin Towers, the follow-up to 2001’s excellent The Fellowship of the Ring, was a huge disappointment. It suffered from middle-child syndrome as it was overlong, unpleasant, and boring, and had none of the appeal of its predecessor. The Frodo-Sam-Gollum three-way dance bordered on unbearable and the climax was nothing more than a huge battle scene (Helm’s Deep) as it was stunted by being unable to give too much away in the wake of the grand finale the next year. Further spoiling my viewing experience was a sunglasses-wearing redneck seated directly behind me who would not shut up for literally about 90% of the picture. My precious.