2012 IN REVIEW: My Top 10 Worst Films of 2012, featuring a review of the #1 Worst Film of 2012
As you may already know, I’m of the opinion that 2012 was a pretty strong year for films. But even in the best of years there is always a deluge of awful just waiting around the corner to ruin your good time.
Unless you want to actually watch a bad movie (and, let’s face it, sometimes it’s fun to watch bad movies), I strongly advise against watching any of the films below. And even if you are in the mood for a bad movie, I would still recommend never, ever seeing the film that quite literally stole the top spot on my list.
It was honestly so bad, I broke a few rules just to avoid having to write about it again and made my say here my final say on the movie overall. Previous lists never featured a built-in film review for any of the films that didn’t have one previously on The Viewer’s Commentary, but this film was a special kind of awful, and so I decided to treat it thus just for this occasion.
Which film could possibly be so bad to inspire such madness? Well you’ll have to read on to find out. … Or you could just scroll down and spoil the surprise, but… well, that would be kind a mean and hurt my feelings. I already compiled this list for you so that you could avoid them and have a good time, and all, and you’re just going to ignore all my hard work, aren’t you?… :(
10. Total Recall (Aug 3)
You know how sometimes Hollywood remakes movies and you think, “That’s a classic! Why are they ruining it?!” Well, here’s a redo that actually had the chance of justifying its existence, only to completely blow it. Originally reported to be a serious and more faithful adaptation of the original Philip K. Dick story, We Can Remember It for You Wholesale (a short story I admittedly haven’t read), the new Total Recall nonetheless takes most of its elements from the 1990 film (including its original characters and the actual name), only it sucks most of the fun, humor, and weirdness out of it, leaving behind a bland, though admittedly nicely rendered dystopian action film that probably just gave Len Wiseman another excuse to feature wife Kate Beckinsale in yet another butt-kicking action film. (They better have the best marriage, ‘cause it’s certainly not doing audiences any favors.)
Colin Farrell plays the hero, Douglas Quaid, leading a dull cast while spending most of the film mostly alternating between acting bewildered by his surroundings then breaking out in sudden bursts of action-hero stunts that he didn’t know he had in him, which is supposed to amaze us, too. Beckinsale plays his supposed wife who, as it turns out, is actually an evil-but-hot agent keeping tabs on Quaid until her cover is blown. She’s then sent out to keep track of him throughout the film’s mishmash of action sequences until we finally reach the conclusion, where Farrell plays a pretty boring villain in Bryan Cranston. Jessica Biel plays the literal girl of Quaid’s dreams, a resistance fighter against Cranston’s character. Biel may just be the blandest member of the cast, mostly just moping her way around the sets while imploring Quaid to realize that this isn’t a dream, but actual real life. Or is it?
Somehow, the Schwarzenegger film managed to pull no punches in the weirdness, ridiculous action, and sense of humor while still coming off as the more intricate, complex, and even the more narratively ambiguous film of the two. Go figure.
09. The Watch (July 27)
Infamously given a title change from Neighborhood Watch to its current title thanks to the then-recent Trayvon Martin shooting happening just before release, being remembered for being loosely “connected” to accusations of murder and racism is probably the least of this film’s worries given just how badly received it was by critics and audiences, regardless of what was happening in the country at the time. Trailers for the movie actually looked kind of amusing, however, and had the produced version of the film been matched up with a much better script, it’s likely the movie could have lived up to the promise of those trailers.
Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and Richard Ayoade play four neighbors who decide to form a neighborhood watch after a local security guard is slaughtered gruesomely while working the night shift at the Costco that Stiller manages. But what they don’t know (at least for some time) is that the murder wasn’t at the hands of a human, but rather an alien creature. The four nitwits come into contact with the alien and even capture some of itstechnology in the process. Figuring out that he is the first step in a plan to invade, the neighborhood watch suddenly becomes a task force to save the planet.
See, now that all sounds like the beginnings of a fun movie to me. It seriously had potential, but the film goes and decides that each of the characters has to be super zany, each with their own “hilarious” ticks and quirks that make extermination by the alien invaders sound somewhat more like a mercy killing than anything. The characters are obnoxious and/or dislikeable to the point where it’s hard to root for any of them, and since they’re so weird and zany already, the added alien backdrop just feels like overkill. The resulting film is bloated, loud, stupid, and has nobody to relate to. These guys should’ve been relatively normal people who stumble upon something extraordinary, rather than four weirdos who are more outrageous than another ho-hum alien invasion story. I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece, of course, but I was expecting to at least have some fun. Instead, it just reminded me why I typically don’t watch movies starring Ben Stiller and/or Vince Vaughn these days.
08. John Carter (Mar 9)
Much like with the Total Recall remake, marketers decided that dropping Mars from this feature would make audiences more receptive to the film. Mars is apparently box office poison after films like Mars Needs Moms underperformed (because it can’t possibly be because that film was just crappy and ugly). Unlike with Total Recall, however, the inclusion of Mars is pretty much obligatory and built into the original title and story of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars. This is really more of a rant about Hollywood cynicism, of course, and has no bearing on the actual film quality.
Unfortunately, in John Carter’s case, the quality of the film is pretty much reflective of the atmosphere in which it was made. Director Andrew Stanton reportedly is a meticulous master who cared more about technical details (the film does look pretty nice) than he did about developing an interesting group of characters in an interesting universe. Plotting on the film is nebulous, to use a science fiction-y word, and it’s never really easy to follow why characters are doing much of anything. I also just really didn’t care. For those who haven’t read the books (me…), watching John Carter is like if you had the Star Wars prequels without the original trilogy to inform you in having any vested interest in sticking with the characters, and even if you had read them, the films should still stand on its own. The film is more like a technological experiment, than anything, with little to no soul present. Perhaps the biggest mistake the filmmakers made, even worse than the decision to change the title, is the decision to cast Taylor Kitsch in the lead role of John Carter.
Kitsch may be one of the least appealing actors currently actively finding work these days, and his performance here captures the essence of just how bad he is. He’s got the looks, I suppose, but other than that, the man lacks swagger, charm, facial expressions, or any semblance of personality that would have made John Carter an interesting or relatable hero. Why he was cast in the role is beyond me. Any expressiveness in his face is likely to have been a fluke incident rather than any insightful thoughts he had about his character.
Faring better, believe it or not, is the female lead, a role in these types of films that is often diminished to boring stereotypes. Lynn Collins as the Princess of Mars, Dejah Thoris, still has to walk around in Princess Leia-in-a-metal-bikini-inspired clothing, and is still your typical lightly-clothed sci-fi female love interest, but she actually manages to convey strength of both mind and body in her performance and gives Dejah more personality than any other character in the film. She easily could have led the film on her own had she not been obligated to play second fiddle to her male co-star. After rewatching this film a second time, I’m going to also have to concede to my friend and admit that Collins would likely make for a fantastic Wonder Woman, too.
And yes, I had to watch it twice. I first saw this with a group of friends at a late night opening during a small bachelor party and wound up falling asleep in the theatre. I found it boring then but had to admit that I couldn’t give it a fair shake since I had missed a good chunk of the movie. Then I rented it and watched it at a normal hour with caffeine available. And, yeah, it was still a pretty awful movie.
07. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax (Mar 2)
When your environmentally-conscious and anti-corporate greed film is cross promoting with a car company who declares their car to be the only car to receive the “Truffula Tree Seal of Approval”, you kind of blow all credibility out the window. When your film is also based on a beloved work from childhood, prepare to face the wrath of fans of the source material. This retelling of the classic story about the creature who was betrayed by the Once-ler, an entrepreneur who failed to respect the finiteness of the resources he used in his production, was anything but thought-provoking.
The film tacks on several new storylines, such as how the town that the boy who goes to see the Once-ler lives in is ruled by an evil mayor who charges people for such luxuries as clean air, or the fact that the boy is motivated to retrieve the last Truffula tree in order to impress the girl next door (voiced by Taylor Swift, no less). There’s also a hip grandmother (Betty White) who remembers the days when Truffula trees were plentiful, before they had to pay for clean versions of what they would have already naturally have had.
All of this tries to fit in with the overall message of the original work, but the execution of the material just suffers from bloat and waste. As if heaps of bad slapstick humor and helium-voiced, air-headed creatures weren’t enough, the film has several silly songs littered throughout, taking advantage of Ed Helms’ comical musical stylings but hardly capitalizing on them. Danny DeVito’s Lorax also provides us with a raspy-voiced, sarcastic, one-liner spewing creature, which has the effect of annoying us before we’re finally asked to sympathize with him and the plight of the obnoxious creatures he’s defending. Perhaps the only sympathy I have for anything related to this movie is the animators, who truly have created a vibrant and beautiful world for these characters to live in, only for their efforts to go to waste thanks to a bad movie.
06. Act of Valor (Feb 24)
Famously using actual Navy SEALs in the lead roles, it’s pretty apparent what Act of Valor was trying to do (be a recruiting video in film format), but I do have to commend it for having the guts to take such a risk while attempting to be something worth seeing as a film in its own right. It’s really too bad, then, that the film mostly just succeeds in being like one of those Christian-produced movies that takes one of those very important jobs (policeman, fireman, military…) and turns them into boring morality plays that don’t necessarily honor those who actually serve in these roles in real life, but instead serve to get us thinking about how grateful we should be.
Act of Valor isn’t a Christian production, and, thankfully, it lacks those films’ hackneyed sermonizing. In its place, however, is an explosion-heavy action movie center. I have a feeling that the use of real SEALs was to lend an otherwise standard aciton-espionage film some kind of credibility, but all you get as a result is authentic tactics that aren’t necessarily that interesting to watch as pressented, some scenes of brutal violence, and some horrific acting that’s only made worse by a pandering script that attempts to compensate for said acting by having the characters tell us through dialogue just how close they are to one another. *SPOILERS* You just know that one of them is going to die in the end based on how forced all of this is. How could they resist the temptation?
05. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (June 22)
I know it’s going to sound stupid on my part, but this could’ve worked out so much better. Sure the premise is ridiculous – telling the untold tale about Abraham Lincoln’s secret history as a vampire hunter and how that lifestyle influenced his development into one of the nation’s greatest presidents – but there was some honest-to-goodness potential here to tell that ridiculous story with just the right amount of wink-and-nod, historical revision, and a little bit of ironic earnestness that would have made this a fun experiment.
While certainly bold and admirable in its commitment to the idea, if only in so far as the project actually got greenlit then made, the product that came out of this ingenious idea for an action film wound up emphasizing all the ridiculous without grounding it elsewhere to make the film enjoyable. You get a lot of action for sure, but these sequences are so cheap-looking (there’s a lot of motion blur, incessant slow motion, and dark scenery used to ineptly cover up the flaws) and over-the-top (horses as projectile weapons…) that you kind of grow numb to the forced exhilaration and instead start picking out all the technical faults and terrible editing to keep from falling asleep.
I also kind of forget why this had anything to do with Abraham Lincoln in the first place. Never mind that Benjamin Walker makes for an unengaging and uninspiring Abraham Lincoln. This could have easily been just about any other historical figure and would have worked just as well as presented in this film. Most of what transpires over the course of the story is more the filmmakers making things up than it is cleverly or creatively inserting vampires into the events of Lincoln’s life. The vampires here are using the slave trade as a means for having some fresh blood to feast on, but that’s a plot barely touched upon, and the film seems more concerned with Lincoln getting revenge for his mother’s death at the hands of a vampire while wooing the hand of the rather boring Mary Todd. The woman had issues with mental health in real life, and yet this is the film that neglects to incorporate this? One might wonder if using Harriet Tubman in a Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez-like Blaxploitation film with vampires would’ve been more exciting and inoffensive than the piece of crap this film is.
04. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (Feb 17)
This is, without a doubt, a top contender for one of the worst superhero films of all time. Ignore the fact that this film pretty much ignores the continuity of the original film, despite reusing Nicolas Cage in the lead role – Spirit of Vengeance is a chore to watch and serves as yet another showcase for Cage’s ability to play stupidly manic characters for no real reason other than the fact that this is Nicolas Cage, and this is apparently what he does now – glare with twitching eyes while bursting out laughing at random intervals.
The film also makes it a point to be nastier and more violent than its predecessor, only its idea of doing so is having Ghost Rider pee flames to the amusement of a young boy. I’m not entirely clear anymore on the details of the film’s plot except that it involves a single mother, her young boy, and the fact that the boy is next in line to be the vessel for an evil being known as Mephistopheles, who is significantly different from his appearance in the first film not only in appearance (now played by Ciarán Hinds instead of Peter Fonda) but also characterization, proving that this film just doesn’t give a damn what you think. Which is fine by me. I didn’t really care for it, either.
03. Battleship (May 18)
Taylor Kitsch. We meet again. And you brought an awful friend with you this time, too! Nice to meet you, Rihanna. How does it feel to help create one of the worst movies of the year and portray one of the worst excuses for a “tough girl” ever put to screen? Oh, and, by the way, did I mention that you’re a terribly overrated singer and a horrible role model? You didn’t groan out a horrible new song for this film, did you?
Stars aside (I think I’ve kicked Kitsch into the ground more than enough times for one year), Battleship is also quite a bore. You have your flawed-but-promising hero, Alex, who inevitably redeems himself (Kitsch), the blonde bombshell he lusts after (Brooklyn Decker) who also happens to be the daughter of his boss (Liam Neeson as the Admiral), and the exemplary big brother who bails him out all the time (Alexander Skarsgård), quite literally. Alex’s journey actually seems to copy that of James Kirk in the 2009 Star Trek, reboot, with the big brother kind of serving the same role as Bones did in that film by keeping the young renegade from going off the deep end. The difference, of course, is that Battleship’s characters lack charisma, charm, humor, depth, personality… need I go on?
At 2 hours and 11 minutes, Battleship falls into the Transformers mold of action-packed movies based on a toy that overstay their welcome, only Battleship even manages to fall short of those films’ low standards for entertainment. The characters in those films were obnoxious, yes, but at least there was some kind of momentum in the plotting and action that may convince you to stick around ‘til the end. Battleship pales in comparison thanks to not only having obnoxious characters, but also never really going anywhere. Much of the film is stuck on the open sea or in various corridors of metal ships, both alien and human. The action is gratuitous to the point where it feels more like an overlong (but admittedly kind of pretty, in a bland way) tech demo, with characters and dialogue as afterthoughts, borrowed from other films. (If I hear CCR’s “Fortunate Son” in the context of being a patriotic anthem in one more movie, I swear to God…)
02. Red Tails (Jan 20)
This was very nearly my #1 awful film of the year until I saw the film that’s actually now in the #1 spot. Red Tails took a subject with great potential – telling the story (even if it’s fictionalized) of the 332d Fighter Group, better known as one part of the Tuskegee Airmen – and basically just shat out one of the most inept and comically awful movies I’ve ever seen. (That unintentional comedy factor is a large part of why this film was bumped down to the #2 position – at least there’s some joy to be had from watching this, even if it’s coming from a bad place.)
Directed by Anthony Hemingway but meddled with significantly by executive producer George Lucas, in a role that would see him so fed up with making films (i.e. taking criticism) that he retired from making big budget films and sold off his production studio and all its assets, Red Tails actually manages to somehow be awful in almost every conceivable way. The special effects are notably intricate but cheap-looking, used to create some rather repetitive and unexciting combat sequences, and the script feels as if it were written for elementary school children to perform in a slapdash school play put together at the last minute for Black History Month, only with cursing (White Pilot 1: “Look at that. Those Red Tails are staying put.” White Pilot 2: “Giving up the glory to save our asses!”). The fittingly wooden performances only enhance how terrible it all is.
The plot smashes in so many elements – espionage, hot shot pilot ego clashing, racist white pilots, a rival German fighter pilot who always manages to meet up with the Red Tails gang as if by magic, sweeping (and stupid) romantic gestures, racist politicians who won’t give the pilots a chance, etc. – and yet it has very little to say on the subject it’s covering except, “Look at all these awesome explosions! Don’t these guys rock? So, yeah, don’t be racist, okay?” And despite how horrible it all is, it has the audacity to actually think that it’s actually something monumental.
Perhaps this was due to Lucas’ reported troubles getting this project off the ground, apparently being told by studios that they can’t mass market a film centered on black pilots, but part of me actually wonders if this was all some kind of fabrication on Lucas’ part (kind of like how he supposedly had the prequels’ stories in mind the whole time he was making the original trilogy), created in order to justify his then-upcoming exit from Hollywood, throw dirt in the eyes of studios who knew better than to work with him, and become some kind of martyr in the eyes of his lingering fans. Guess what, George? It didn’t work.
#1. Project X (Mar 2)
Produced by: Todd Phillips
Written by: Matt Drake (screenplay), Michael Bacall (screenplay & story)
Edited by: Jeff Groth
Cinematography by: Ken Seng
Music by: various artists
Starring: Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Kirby Bliss Blanton, Alexis Knapp
When I decided that Snow White and the Huntsman wasn’t all that bad, I decided to take off this list and move it to the previous list as a film that was merely not good, rather than awful. Unfortunately for me, this also left my Top 10 Worst list without a 10. Knowing that this film was supposedly pretty bad, I admit, I swept into my local Blockbuster (God rest its soul) and swapped out for Project X, the forgotten found-footage film about teenagers having a wild party.
I’m not exactly certain what I was expecting from this endeavor, quite honestly. What possessed me to choose this film so that I could have another awful film to my list can easily be explained by the fact that I at least expected to have some kind of fun picking out how stupid the movie was or how the subject of watching teenagers party all night was a terrible concept for a movie – watching as the film recreated that tired scene of a panicked kid hiding vases in cabinets as uninvited guests tossed them around like baseballs while carrying red cups and such, only with that being pretty much the whole movie. Awful, but not inoffensive, right? Done in 90 minutes and I come out with my hopes and dreams intact.
Project X is apparently what I get for cheating and watching a film just to have a round number of films to rant about, I guess. Instead of an ineptly made, cliché-ridden comedy film that borrows a tired concept from tired horror films that teenagers also enjoy, Project X turned out to be pretty much like being around one of those people who think that everyone else is so very interested in every detail of their life and what they have to say, the kind of person who loves to tell you about all the stupid things they did while getting wasted and wears their puked stained reputation on their sleeve as if it were a badge of honor that they have somehow lived more than you just because they party more than you.
This movie is a constant bombardment of every annoying quality that person can have put into a form vaguely resembling that of a movie, though it may also be some kind of twisted experiment to get the stupid people who think everything in the film is awesome to imitate what they see and, thus, gradually weed themselves out of the gene pool, leaving the rest of us with only the guilt of having to create something so diabolical in order to better society. If that was the goal of The Hangover director/Project X producer Todd Phillips, it’s a guilt I could live with, honestly. I hope he’s sleeping well at night, too. Unless this is just a really bad movie, and not some diabolically wonderful scheme, in which case, I hope he hasn’t slept a wink since he agreed to assist in this film’s conception.
Not one character in the film can be described as endearing, entertaining, or even sympathetic. Lead character Thomas starts out a meek nerd with only a few friends who starts off horrified by the unwanted escalation his birthday has taken, but once the film’s central party goes off the deep end and he learns to embrace the chaos, we’re also asked to root for him when he almost has sex with a very, very drunk girl, only to be interrupted by Kirby, the one girl who he has known for most of his life and who he was only moments ago flirting with and sharing intimate, genuine moments with. The conclusion, wherein he inevitably gets her back, is so undeserved and easily reached that I literally shouted at the TV in rage (and I’m not one to talk back at the TV, especially while alone). Any sympathy you have for Kirby is quickly lost as you realize that she’s just another dumb blonde girlfriend. You can’t even root for the dad, whose Mercedes is destroyed over the course of the movie. He starts off belitting his son as a loser behind his back for having very few friends, and then, after all the destruction, he kind of pats his son on the back for pretty much converting into the world’s most irresponsible teenager ever.
Character-wise, however, the character I have the biggest gripe with is, of course, the obnoxious best friend, Costa, who seems to be inspired by the Jonah Hill character from Superbad, but the filmmakers failed to realize that there was more to Seth than calling people dirty names, using lots of profanity, and being obsessed with sex (and sex organs…). Beneath the obnoxious exterior was a misguided but genuine character motivated by insecurities, anxiety, and a sincere brotherly love for his best friend, Evan, which is something we can all relate to on some level and appreciate. Project X’s Costa, on the other hand, is a superficial distillation of all of Seth’s bad qualities and none of the good. Costa is just mean, loud, foul, selfish, and controlling. His idea of doing his friend a favor isn’t just throwing a party for him, but posting it all over every social networking website and providing Thomas’ home address on Craigslist for all to come. He’s the kind of scummy asshole who thinks it’s funny to call random passersby filthy names or hit on girls with lewd gestures and act offended when they don’t act favorably towards him.
That would be all well and good if he were the bully or something (bad guys don’t do nice things, after all), but, no. Project X pretends like this is the sort of guy who should be your best friend, as if Costa is somehow desirable to be around as a person, and if you don’t think he’s cool, then get the F out. You don’t belong anywhere. He’ll have one of his junior high minions assault you and then throw you out while he makes fun of the dwarf who was shoved in the oven just because he fit in there, and that’s funny. (Seeing that dwarf take a gender-neutral approach to crotch punching once he escapes was possibly the only highlight of a film that features in a highlights montage of awesome things going on at the party a girl who is so drunk she smiles after getting caught on camera peeing in the driveway.)
So, basically Costa is the worst kind of person I can think of without bringing up genocidal dictators and such, and he’s pretty much the embodiment of everything I hate about Project X, as well – its glorification of stupidity, narcissism, substance abuse, destruction, misogyny…. There is literally nothing in the film that justifies its existence. I hated this film, its characters, and its message so much, I honestly don’t really foresee wanting to do another write up for this film any time in the future, and so I’m actually going to break with my Year in Review rules and officially declare this to be my final word on the film. What you read is now officially my review for Project X, the worst film of 2012 that I had the misfortune of seeing.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 0 / 5