WASHINGTON, December 31, 2013 – As the old year morphs into a presumably Happy New Year 2014, it’s time to bid a not-so-fond collective good-bye to our Top Ten Absolute Worst Movies of 2013. Each wins one of our highly prestigious List of Ten Lead Balloonie Awards for 2013, a coveted prize that’s almost universally acclaimed (by us).
Like all such lists, this one is based on this reviewer’s preferences and quirks. But we suspect we’ll have a lot of company on most of these. Whether you wholeheartedly agree with our 2013 pick non-hits or not, feel free to jump into our comments section below and offer your opinions on our choices. Or, better yet, add one or more of your own.
Hollywood may never agree with any of our opinions—vanity, stupidity, and an inexplicable compulsion to commit acts of political correctness that inevitably bomb at the box office generally lie at the heart of movie disasters—but we’ll offer them anyway, just the way La-La Land keeps cranking out dogs like the following.
Our list runs from least worst (Number 10) to worst worst:
To bad this flick ended up a “fail.” The story of Steve Jobs and Apple, warts and all, is one of the more compelling American success stories of not only the 20th century but the early 21st century as well. “The Onion,” in typical ironic fashion, celebrated Jobs’ life in an obit whose subtitle described him as “The last American who knew what the f–- he was doing.” Sadly, the Onion wits were probably right.
In our current era of serial government and business disasters, it’s good to give witness to a sterling example of how the American Way actually works when an enlightened—if sometimes over-the-top—business leader can succeed with energy, vision, and an ability to kick non-performers out of the way. The problem is, this film failed to present that picture.
Actually, Ashton Kutcher was surprisingly good as Jobs in this film. But the script and direction of this dull and at times unbelievable homage to Jobs brings it down to the level of parody.
9. “Escape Plan”
As arthritic, aging Boomers ourselves, we find ourselves still looking forward to action films featuring old generational faves Sylvester Stallone and/or Arnold “The Governator” Schwarzenegger. The feeble dialogue, brusque delivery, and stiff acting in films starring one or the other of this muscled dynamic duo possess their own discreet if thuggish charms. And besides, lots of stuff gets blown up in their films and who doesn’t like that?
In the case of “Escape Plan,” we get two muscle-heads for the price of one. Unfortunately, both Stallone and Ah-nold chose to collaborate in this dog, which will do nothing for their waning careers. Poor dialogue, a ridiculous script, and going-through-the-motions acting finish this one off well before the final credits start to roll.
8. “White House Down”
The primary question we have to ask about this movie is this: How many more times will the destruction of Washington seem refreshingly new onscreen?
Granted that most Americans still capable of rational thought have active visions of this kind of cataclysm daily, viewing the leveling of the Nation’s Capital—and its political inhabitants—as perhaps this country’s last, best chance of salvaging America’s legacy and its future. But cinematic epics like this one don’t come close to addressing that issue.
Here we have the improbable story of an average Joe—who conveniently happens to be a Capitol cop—jumping in to save the day when a bunch of paramilitary terroristas tries to attack the President.
How lame can you get? This film is sort of like “Die Hard” without probable cause. Improbable, stupid, and the press would never report such an incident anyway as it might reflect badly on President Jamie Fox. Next time, guys, let’s blow up the Kremlin.
7. “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters”
Are you kidding? The Brothers Grimm and composer Englebert Humperdinck (the real Englebert, not the British one) are spinning in their graves. Of all the senseless and bloody re-imaginings of literary classics in existence, this one takes the cake for lunacy, banality, and sheer pointlessness. Even interpreting this film as a parody doesn’t make a particle of sense. One leaves this film with an existential “Why” forever ingrained in his or her brain. A movie like this wonders why we should even bother about saving the planet.
6. “The Smurfs 2”
We have never liked these Blue Losers, and this film simply confirms the ongoing correctness of our opinion. Smarmy, overstuffed, phony morality, lame jokes, and the continuing enigma of Smurfette continue to make this series far more troubling than even those vapid yet controversial Teletubbies could ever have aspired to be. The Smurfs have become a kind of emblem for those qualities involved in the Slacker Generation.
5. “Oz the Great and Powerful”
After all the swell work hyperkinetic director Sam Raimi has done over the years, particularly in the first pair of Toby Maguire Spider Man epics, what happened here? Answer: This film simply was not needed. The only thing that made it worse than its poorly thought out script and weird CGI was its direction and pace. Let’s click the heels of our Ruby Slippers together three times and get out of here. Fast.
4. “After Earth”
As we’ve learned from the downward sloping career of Kevin Costner and other former box-office draws, becoming too famous and too powerful in Hollywood can result in ego-driven vanity films chiefly characterized by epic budgets, astronomical PR efforts—and lame, star-influenced scripts. Frequently, the result is a flop of near Big Bang proportions.
Which gets us to “After Earth,” a been-there-done-that post-apocalyptic effort featuring Will Smith and son. With a predictably feeble script, zero character interest, and unimaginative directing my M. Night Shyamalan, this disaster took a swan dive before it even got into movie theaters where it ended up doing even more poorly than expected.
Hopefully, unlike Kevin Costner, the still-appealing Will Smith will be more discerning when choosing his next two or three starring vehicles. Otherwise, he’ll end his career as a “character actor,” ruefully recalling a career that once was but never shall be again.
Carrying on with the concluding notion in our previous paragraph, Matt Damon, who became a fast-rising star with his breakout film “Good Will Hunting” (1997), later cementing his box-office power in the “Bourne” series of action films has been struggling of late. That’s mainly due, we think, to the high-testosterone levels of hubris generated by all those preceding moneymaking films.
The result—often the case in today’s Hollywood—is that Damon now seems to regard himself as something of a leading edge—dare we say “progressive”—political figure whose duty is to clean up the earth and destroy the capitalism that’s made him rich. First evidence for this was his 2012 anti-fracking propaganda piece, “The Promised Land.” That smarmy, condescending mess quickly ended up with its face on the barroom floor, an appropriate fate for any propaganda piece that’s thinly disguised as intellectual entertainment.
Unfortunately, Hollywood—and Damon—both insist on following the “Seinfeld” rule: no hugging, no learning. The result: Damon’s star turn this summer in the sci-fi action flick “Elysium.” Basically, the bad guys in this film—all Republicans and capitalists, let there be no doubt—hover above the earth in what amounts to a giant space station of Paradise. Meanwhile, the plebes, the rest of us, are trapped on a ruined Earth below, destined to a miserable life and a hardscrabble existence, which offers no hope.
Matt, however, is going to lead the revolution. And that, essentially, is the plot, which is somewhat less difficult to parse than figuring out who the good guys and the bad guys are in a WWE championship wrestling Smackdown event.
In this case, happy to say, Matt Damon’s latest anti-capitalist effort was what got smacked down, not in the squared circle but at the box office. Matt still has time to recover from his mistakes in these two recent stinkers. But trashing the system that made him rich is still the flavor du jour in Hollywood. It will take a lot more foreclosed estates, mansions, and repossessed executive jets to turn this around.
We agonized over whether we should list “Elysium” as our runner-up stinker flick or go with this misbegotten piece of trash. We ultimately chose the misbegotten piece of trash.
“R.I.P.D” is the story of two law enforcement dudes—Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds—who get killed in the line of duty and head off to meet their maker. But—surprise—they get sent back to earth as a pair of supernatural super-cops whose job it is to nab their exact-opposite counterparts, the super bad guys who are causing the real problems back here on Earth.
We could have saved them the trouble by directing them up to Capitol Hill and the White House, with perhaps secondary trips to Pyongyang and Tehran. But then again, that would be taking this horrendously bad effort an order of magnitude too seriously.
Bridges, a first-rate actor, had to have grabbed this role for the money. Hapless Ryan Reynolds, however, might want to try his hand at TV. After starring as an angst-ridden Hal Jordan in a perfectly awful “Green Lantern” film flop a couple of years back, he didn’t help his career by appearing in this dog. The film vanished pretty much without a trace. Reynolds had better hope that no one noticed his role in this turkey before it evaporated from public consciousness.
1. “The Lone Ranger”
We debated long and hard about this one—for about three minutes. But we ultimately concluded that, despite its good points, Disney’s entirely misbegotten remake of “The Lone Ranger” legend took game, set, and match in the big-name actor vanity sweepstakes of 2013.
In this case, Johnny Depp, whose bizarre character roles generally fascinate us, jumped the shark in his portrayal of the Ranger’s Indian sidekick, Tonto, overshadowing the film’s nominal hero entirely and making a fool out of himself to boot.
With the attractive Armie Hammer cast in the title role, the more famous—and egocentric—Depp hogs the screen in this misbegotten epic, which should have been called “Tonto’s Revenge Against Pale Face Filmmakers.” Having eviscerated the career of Armie Hammer in one cinematic fell swoop, Depp did a hatchet job on his own movie trajectory in this one, trying to stretch “Pirates of the Caribbean” into a Wild West setting and failing miserably in an effort that would even have made an Ed Wood film look good.
The best thing about the film is its final, massive train chase scene, as epic as it is improbable. The film was too long, too ridiculous, too phony, and too obviously a vanity vehicle for Depp. It has likely already killed Hammer’s career, at least as a leading man, although we shouldn’t worry too much. If the name sounds familiar, it is: Armie is descended from the Armand Hammer line and doubtless has a few inherited gold doubloons stashed away somewhere in a Wells Fargo safety deposit box.
Ultimately, Disney’s 2013 “Lone Ranger” update has accomplished two things: It’s provided years of income tax write-offs for any individual or entity that sank money into it; and it’s likely insured that no one, ever again, at least in our lifetimes, will attempt another remake.
Which actually is a pretty decent outcome for 2013’s double-worst winner, a really bad film and an epic box office flop.
Better luck in 2014, folks!
BTW, while we’re here, since we’re talking about misbegotten epics, we should conclude by giving an Honorable Mention award to a box office flatliner that wasn’t quite bad enough to make our list.
“The Great Gatsby”
As we indicated in our review this past summer, this Baz Luhrmann version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s excellent stab a writing the Great American Novel was actually notable for reclaiming some of the author’s earlier but Scribner-discarded grittiness that might have made his final product even better than it turned out to be. Leonardo DiCaprio also gives Gatsby his best acting chops—better certainly than eco-freak Robert Redford’s icy 1970s attempt.
But Luhrmann himself wrecks his own film by interposing directorial vanity on the whole enterprise, intertwining rap and hip-hop music with Roaring ‘20s musical sensibilities, the latter of which need no help from their feebler 21st century pop offspring.
Luhrmann’s non-stop deus-ex-machina narcissism transforms what could have been an impressive, definitive version of Fitzgerald’s classic into a huge directorial Bonfire of the Vanities, resulting in perhaps the showiest cinematic belly flop of all time.
Read more of Terry’s news and reviews at Curtain Up! in the Entertain Us neighborhood of the Washington Times Communities. For Terry’s investing and political insights, visit his Communities columns, The Prudent Man and Morning Market Maven, in Business.
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