The Worst Movies I Dared to Watch in 2010

Last week, I gave up the goods – letting y’all know just which flicks I chose to watch in 2010 and which of those made my Top 7 Favorites of the Year list. I know seven is a bit arbitrary and I probably owe you three more, but I was starting with five originally and just decided at the last moment to tack on a couple more.

Well, I have no intention of tossing three more good flicks on the pile. What’s done is one. But I do have a few choice words to say about some of the absolute pablum and dreck that I dared invite into my home. That’s the flip-side to my Netflix affliction. When I’m not dropping 10-15 bones per flick, I’m more open to seeing most anything – and thus I keep my queue long and occupied. And while this tends to nourish me with a nice eclectic sampling of indie and foreign flicks, I’ve also got the usual B-movie fare that I would likely skip at the multiplex.

It doesn’t matter if it’s Ghost Rider or The Ghost Writer, when I’m on the treadmill both flicks will eat up a healthy chunk of my cardio regimen.

Before I take one final whack at a few wastes of time, I thought I’d give you a little peek behind the curtain. See, when I was in college, I enjoyed a three year stint as film critic for our daily student paper, the UMASS Daily Collegian.

I remember walking into the Collegian’s offices one day – just a few weeks removed my impending graduation, when the Sports Editor came walking by and offered up a nice, unsolicited compliment he was fed earlier that day from one of the Heads of the Journalism Department – meant for my ears. Apparently, as this guy was chatting with Professor Ziff, the good doctor just lobbed the following out of the blue:

You know who’s always a good read? That Ed Humphries. I always look forward to his reviews. And the thing about them is, he can take a bad movie and still find something decent to say about it while managing to give it a negative critique. That’s a gift.”

In other words, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. I guess I took my Mom’s advice and always gave even the worst flicks a tiny benefit of the doubt.

So, with that said, these are the worst films I saw all year – even if there may have been something that kept me watching through to the end credits. As always, Comment below and let us know what sucked for you in 2010.

5.   The Box

Blame Hot Topic for this. See, director Richard Kelly hit big with that target demo when his first grim fairy tale, Donnie Darko, hit earlier this decade and ever since then – he’s believed he’s the next David Lynch. Every decade has that one director whom college-town arthouse fans flock to and find multiple levels of subtext that are supposedly inaudible to the tone deaf masses. Well – check this. I was a huge Lynch fan back in the day and think he’s hit with some genuinely disturbing mind games, such as Twin Peaks, Wild at Heart and Blue Velvet – but I also recognize that there came a point where he was pushing weird just for weird sake.

And that seems to be the director Kelly aspires to be – only taking the Lynch vibe and grafting it on to the John Hughes mid-80’s slices of suburbia that Kelly grew up watching. It’s no accident that Darko is set in around the Reagan administration.

After Darko, he followed it up with a meandering mess of nonsense, Southland Tales – which bombed at the box office and was booed at Cannes – meaning nobody had his back outside of a few Hello Kitty-coutured message board trolls.

So, when I saw that he’d signed on to do a big studio remake of the classic Richard Matheson tale (which the author previously adapted for the mid-80’s Twilight Zone revival); I thought perhaps wrangling the young buck under the studio system might do wonders to tame his unbridled imagination.

And for awhile, Kelly layers in a suitably spooky sci-fi flick that feels like a kissing cousin to those creepy 70’s conspiracy flicks like Philip Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But he just can’t help himself and once he exhausts the drama inherent in “would you press this button to get a million dollars if it meant someone you didn’t know would die”; he goes way off the rails. I commend his exploration into shadowy sci-fi realms but each dark avenue Kelly troops down leads nowhere. Secret NASA experiments. Cultish conspiracies. Possessed villagers. All of these elements begin cropping up as if plucked off a SyFy Best of the 70’s Movie Marathon play list but none of the dots connect. And once he busts out the Darko-esque water tentacles, he completely lost me.

I’m all for thinking outside the box, but I think Kelley needs to contain himself next time.

4.   Ninja Assassin

People love to knock the Wachowskis out of frustration from spiraling down too many rabbit holes in their ambitious but unfortunate Matrix sequels, but when they paired with director James McTeigue on 2007’s V for Vendetta; I thought they saved face and delivered one of the best movies of the year. Hell – I think Speed Racer was unfairly maligned and I think these guys are true visionaries who keep supplying us with sights we haven’t seen before. They continue to rewrite kinetic cinema.

So, I was really looking forward to seeing McTeigue helm their loving tribute to the grand, gory excess of those early-80’s Ninja epics. After all, these are the guys who single-handedly married Hollywood and Hong Kong with all their crazy wire-fu antics in the Matrix flicks – films that were fathered by their life long love of chop socky.

But there is a fine line between loving homage and pain-staking recreation, and unfortunately they chose the latter – essentially giving us a bigger budget rendition of all those clunky martial arts epics from my childhood. All we needed was Michael Dudikoff to bust out some Gymkata to seal the deal.

The action is spectacular but the problem with all of those older flicks is the story and acting was always second fiddle. It might be intentional but I found nothing in this flick that I hadn’t seen before – with Rain’s rampaging Ninja on the run from the master who schooled him. Throw in a shadowy arms deal and a plucky intrepid reporter hot on his trail and this might as well have been an  extended Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles episode.

A huge waste of time and talent.

3.   Prince of Persia – The Sands of Time

I understand why Super Mario Brothers makes for a bad movie. Dennis Hopper in cornrows is no King Koopa.

But Prince of Persia – The Sands of Time should have been an absolute slam dunk. Take Indiana Jones. Add parkour. Throw in a boatload of Jerry Bruckheimer’s Pirates of the Caribbean cash. All you need is a story.

I know – it’s a videogame movie, you say. What should I expect? Well, I played the various Prince of Persia games and the recent releases have all told compelling tales. In fact, the reboot that launched for the XBox 360 and Sony Playstation 3 a couple years back told a great tale – of a shady “prince” drafted into servitude by a fleeing princess as she sought to save her kingdom from a grave evil threatening the land. Yes – it’s another twist on Aladdin, but that’s all the story you need provided you have some punchy dialogue and some dashing derring-do.

And Bruckheimer should know better, having used a similar template on his Pirates flicks.

Well, they missed the boat on this one, which joins Tomb Raider as another “can’t miss” propery that somehow failed. I know people are going to crow that it’s what you get when you base a movie on a videogame but have you actually played a game these days? Look at Shadow of the Colossus. Mass Effect. Halo. Call of Duty. These are multiple-hour interactive fictions. We’re already playing the movies.

Games developers have spent years aiming to be more like the movies. Movie makers have spent the same time trying to make their product move more like games. I think both sides need to meet in the middle.

2.   Predators

This is what happen when you let inmates run the asylum. There’s a reason nothing good can come from fan fiction with their feverish writings tossing absolutely everything they love about the property into the mix without any cogent thought given to proper form and function. That’s the point of adaptation – changing the base form while adding necessary augmentations to survive in a new environment.

Unfortunately, Robert Rodriguez is the worst kind of fanboy – one with seemingly infinite resources and his own film production studio. Nothing good can come of that.

With Predators, 20th Century Fox seemingly realized they’d booked their slate for the next few years without slotting in a big summer tent pole pic for July 2010. So, they dusted off Rodriguez’ moldy script written just after his early-90’s Sundance success sent him into the stratosphere and told him to go for it. When a big-budget action script sits in a vault, unproduced, for close to two decades – there’s probably a good reason for that.

What’s strange about Predators is that it never rises above that feeling that you’re watching a SyFy remake of the original flick. That network lives to shadow program – launching small screen Transmorphers alongside the big budget Transformers and hoping we won’t notice the difference. Well – Adrien Brody is no Arnold Schwarzeneggar no matter how hard he grifts the Christian Bale Batman-voice into his performance.

The only thing that guy could kill is my precious time.

1.   Alice in Wonderland

I used to be the biggest Tim Burton fan. I just absolutely loved his dark, whimsical world view and found myself enthralled with each new fantasia. But I think he’s suffered the same fate that befalls many artists – where they begin to simply repeat themselves. Their unique style suddenly becomes their “stamp” and their art becomes “workmanlike”. While I haven’t appreciated all of Steven Spielberg’s later career flicks, I do applaud him for mixing things up. Something like Munich looks a million years removed from the wide-eyed entertainments he spun in the Eighties.

But Burton keeps playing the same beat – drawing the same cooky, ooky characters he’s always done – only with zero invention and inspiration. It’s all just a faded photocopy of his prior success. He’s become his own cover band.

And that’s what this Alice in Wonderland is. The umpteenth rendition of a tale told so often only done in the same goofy, gothic style that our once mad auteur made fresh. This was just unpleasant from beginning to end and seems made simply to give Disney a big Spring 3D extravaganza to spring some more cash from parents pockets during school vacation.

You’ve got Crispin Glover committing his usual weird. Johnny Depp apparently playing the love child of Carrot Top and Madonna. And Helena Bonham-Carter, who is looking more and more like a female Tim Burton, showing up as yet another shrill she-bitch.

It’s just sad that one of my most treasured filmmakers has never quite matured from chasing those same freak fantasies.