Top Ten Worst of 2011
10. Red Riding Hood
Once upon a time, I actually thought this sounded like a good idea. A gory, teen-geared update of the classic tale starring the saucer-eyed beauty Amanda Seyfried as the titular character could have some embraceable potential in both premise and casting. But along comes director Catherine Hardwicke, now completely removed from the indie talent she once possessed, who once again proves that she isn't suited for genre work. Set pieces and monster effects are something that Hardwicke should steer clear of, considering that this disaster marks a significant drop in quality from even her franchise-starting Twilight flick. Red Riding Hood is a junky affair with cardboard characters and embarrassing acting to match. Not even Gary Oldman can hit the right note of campy delight. But more than anything else, Hardwicke's decision to cast her Twilight buddy Billy Burke in a major role spells disaster. Or crap for short.
9. Quarantine 2: Terminal
I almost feel bad beating up on this one, since it's such a pathetic direct-to-video effort that next to no one will ever bother to see, but I'll do it anyway. A sequel to the effective ripoff flick Quarantine (itself a nearly shot-for-shot remake of the brilliantly terrifying Spanish masterpiece [Rec]), Quarantine 2 is still about a viral outbreak that turns the infected into loud, bustling zombies, but it moves the action from an apartment building to an airplane. It's a decent plan that at least signals a separation from the [Rec] franchise, which also has a part 2, but one that has nothing to do with airplanes. Setting the action on a plane could make for a convincing sense of claustrophobia, but Quarantine 2 quickly abandons the idea in favour of grounding the characters and sticking them on some hideous set that is supposed to be the back end of an airport terminal. Given the title, perhaps I should have seen that one coming. The characters are killed off in predictable scare-less fashion and Quarantine 2 achieves its modest goal of being yet another generic, useless, and entirely ugly cheapo sequel. I guess in that sense, job well done.
8. I Am Number Four
Director DJ Caruso made an okay debut with Disturbia, his teen-friendly take on Hitchcock's Rear Window, and then followed that up with the mediocre and ultimately quite silly Eagle Eye. So he was already on a bit of a decline, but his latest flick rudely accelerates his tumble, singlehandedly eradicating any interest I once had in the future of his career. If Caruso ever had promise, it's completely dried up in this wasteful flick about a handsome alien (Alex Pettyfer, a sort of alien himself, belonging to the wood family) who awkwardly tries to pass himself off as a high school student. He meets an equally attractive girl (Dianna Agron, also equally stiff) and then some nasty aliens, whose slightly less-than-human makeup design is entirely laughable, show up looking to kill the good alien (presumably because he's better looking). The premise could be fun in a hokey sort of way, but Caruso botches every attempt at an action sequence and appears most interested in all that teen angst that Pettyfer and Agron can't hope to convey. Seriously, finger puppets would make a more convincing screen pair than these two. At least Teresa Palmer shows up with attitude and decides to kick some alien ass. That helps, but Pettyfer's blank stare has already done its damage. He may be Number Four, but I'm just simply bored.
7. Red State
I used to quite enjoy Kevin Smith's movies. Sure, he had a basic shtick (foul-mouthed slackers chat about stuff while romance makes an occasional appearance) that never really evolved (the twelve year gap between Clerks and Clerks 2 showed little to no growth, though perhaps that was the point), but he had his finger on the geek pulse like no other and his characters were often refreshing. Attempts to try something slightly different (like Dogma) were admirable, though awkward. But I still liked the guy and found myself entertained by his efforts. Then he made Cop Out. It was awful on every level. Irritating and insipid, it was enough for me to question my loyalty to Smith. And then he went and snapped that already fractured loyalty like a twig with this trivial piece of trash masquerading as a horror commentary on religious extremists. Red State is so disgustingly bad that it may qualify as some sort of career suicide. It turns out that when Smith strips away his trademark brand of humour, he has absolutely nothing to fall back on. The characters here are depraved morons who run afoul of a dangerous religious cult that basically engages law enforcement officials in a firefight. And that's about it. Smith tries to wrestle some potent commentary to the surface, but he fails, miserably, to make a point that stretches beyond "cults are bad, but we're all really messed up, so whatever." Who knew that trying something different could so grossly resemble giving up?
6. The Smurfs
A live-action/animation hybrid flick about The Smurfs is practically destined to find its way onto many worst lists. But a Smurfs movie that transports lamely CGI'd versions of the cartoon characters to New York City for a predictable fish-out-of-water tale is really asking for it. Oh, and it's directed by Raja Gosnell. That's the clincher. Perhaps I could forgive the pitiful plot in the hands of another director, but Gosnell is the mind-numbing mastermind behind such cinematic atrocities as Scooby Doo and Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Gosnell seeks out bad ideas and then transforms them into something so much worse. And I sort of doubt the guy has ever met a toilet gag (or any scatological joke) he didn't love. Throw in Hank Azaria doing a truly deplorable shtick as villain Gargamel and the substitution of Smurf for every second or third word and you have a hopeless flick that can't even benefit from the sweet scent of nostalgia. Probably because it smells rotten.
5. Passion Play
It didn't take long for Mickey Rourke's career to end up back in the dumpster. After wrestling his way to a brilliant resurgence in 2008, Rourke was back to putting in some recognizable effort and even getting some decent roles. Well, visible ones, at least (Iron Man 2 didn't give him much to do, but at least he gave it his all). And then this happened. Passion Play may have sounded like a good idea at the time, since it gives Rourke an opportunity to make out with Megan Fox, but this stinker may just herald Rourke's return to the video bargain bin that was his home for many years. An embarrassing thriller about a man on the run (Rourke) who finds refuge in a travelling circus and falls for a winged woman (Fox), Passion Play feels like a parody. There's no way that a sex scene between Rourke and Fox that includes sensual shots of feathers falling to the ground (from a molting Fox) could be conceived or shot or edited with a straight face, though the movie is disillusioned enough to take it all seriously. So is this the end of Fox, too? Well, if Rourke really is on his second journey down to the dregs of Hollywood, at least he'll have company this time.
4. Bad Teacher
A perfect example of how a comedy movie is nothing without timing. Despite a potentially fun concept (an acid-tongued teacher interested only in snagging a rich husband tries to upgrade her attitude for entirely selfish reasons) and a game actress (comedy vet Cameron Diaz), Bad Teacher has no rhythm and never manages to effectively deliver a single joke. It's offensively unfunny, hampered by an awkward absence of timing that leaves every joke hanging limp on screen. Diaz may have lots of experience in comedy movies, but she rarely tries to carry one herself and this particular attempt is disastrous. She misses every cue and stumbles over every gag. There's not a competent, carefully tuned delivery in the whole flick and her efforts to create a character who lazily approaches her duties just translates to a lazy performance. The rest of the cast is equally bad, with Jason Segal acting as though his appearance is the result of losing a bet. Justin Timberlake tries and Lucy Punch just plain deserves better, but neither can escape the movie's pathetic clutches. I guess much of the blame should go to director Jake Kasdan, who surely should have seen the writing on the chalkboard long before this movie was in the can. Or maybe he thought he was making a drama? That actually almost makes sense, at least compared to everything else about this bad joke. If laughter really is the best medicine, then Bad Teacher just might kill you.
Joel Schumacher has made his fair share of bad movies (Bat-fans still haven't forgiven him for his 1997 atrocity Batman & Robin), but his latest represents a new low for the inconsistent filmmaker. Despite starring Nic(olas) Cage and Nic(ole) Kidman, Trespass couldn't even make it to theatres, instead being relegated to the depths of the direct-to-video market. Well, it belongs there. This thriller about a diamond salesman (Cage) who watches as his fancy home is taken over by bad actors (okay, thieves) appears to be several cuts away from a version that could sensibly be released for public viewing. But we got this version instead, where even basic geography and movement is jumbled or missing due to haphazard editing. Laughably inserted flashbacks and some classic Cage freak out moments mean this movie could gain a cult following for its awkward celebration of idiocy. Or it could just spell the end of Joel Schumacher. If so, that would be a shame, because after this, I'm intrigued to see how low he can go. Then again, it can only be up from here.
2. Sucker Punch
Disguised as a girl power fantasy, Zack Snyder's worst movie to date is really just an excuse for Snyder to play with dolls. And drool over them. The story of some pretty girls who escape their institutionalized hell by imagining their participation in loud CGI-assisted sequences, Sucker Punch is one of the most sexist products to hit the big screen in quite some time. Snyder mutes his heroine (Emily Browning) for the first act and then quickly reduces each of his buxom beauties to nothing more than action figures specifically posed for our pleasure. Snyder has an eye for expensive visuals, but it's all just colourful noise here. The entire experience has more in common with a predetermined video game than a movie. With Snyder at the controls, Sucker Punch is only interested in ogling women, rather than empowering them.
1. Battle: Los Angeles
The Subway sandwich of alien invasion movies. Smelly, soggy, and put together with absolutely no care whatsoever, this ugly abomination takes ingredients I often enjoy (aliens, invasions, big-budget explosions) and mashes them into an entirely inedible package. Oh, and it's nearly unwatchable, too. Despite taking place in a city as expansive and visually interesting as Los Angeles, this silly flick looks as though it was shot on a single generic city block that keeps getting blown up. In fact, the movie was mostly shot in Louisiana locations like Baton Rouge and Shreveport, apparently in spaces larger than a square block. Of course, the problem isn't really the shooting location (though a movie with Los Angeles in the title could probably benefit from actually being shot in Los Angeles), but rather the way director Jonathan Liebesman has no idea how to competently stage an action sequence or build tension or pull the bland characters out of the background or make the danger feel immediate or even depict the aliens as remotely interesting villains. Battle: Los Angeles is a mammoth disaster from top to bottom. For all its proud idiocy, the movie even tries to shoehorn some sappy drama into the proceedings, going so far as to include a scene where a kid (allergic to acting, of course) is made an honorary marine. Aww, how cute. Maybe they can teach him to blow this movie to bits and put Liebesman's career out of its misery.