2013 IN REVIEW: My Top 15 Worst Films of the Year
I ended up seeing a lot of movies in 2013 – more than I had expected. So many, in fact, that when I was attempting to assemble a list of the Top 10 Worst Films of the Year, I managed to assemble a list of 15 candidates that I honestly felt were all very worthy of being placed here on the list. And so I saw fit to revise my previous plans and expand the list from 10… to 15!
Below are some of the worst things that Hollywood produced and released in the year 2013. Obviously, I didn’t see every movie in 2013, and so I couldn’t include some very likely candidates, like The Smurfs 2 or Battle of the Year, or the two rival horror movie spoofs A Haunted House and Scary Movie V. I can only take so much, so that’s why I call this list MY list.
Some of these are almost lengthy enough to be reviews, I admit. I got fairly passionate about the awfulness of some of the movies more than others. Some of the material, I admit, may find itself into an official, separate, and expanded review, as well, just so I can avoid the need to talk about it that much more if I do ever get around to reviewing the actual film. For a couple of them I already did review, and so you’ll see links attached to the titles.
For now, however, these are just considered summaries, ranking from least worst to worst worst. These represent the most boring, lazy, stupid, inept, and awful movies I saw this past year, and so all I can say is that I’m happy I made it out alive to warn you against seeing them. There were too many fun, enjoyable, and awesome movies released in 2013 for too many of us to spend our hard earned money on these films without at least wanting to see a bad movie. So… yeah. You’re welcome.
15. The Purge
An intriguing, if schlocky, premise is ruined by terrible execution in The Purge, which places itself in a future where, once every year, the concept of crime is abandoned and all things become permissible for a short period of time – including murder. We’re told that this has led to near universal harmony and a significant decrease in crime throughout the rest of the year, as people are able to let out their pent up aggressions during this holiday without fear of legal repercussion afterward, but, obviously, this is a pretty terrible and inhumane idea, and that leads to a lot of trouble for a family who winds up harboring a man who is being sought out for execution by a band of killer yuppies.
The film attempts to be a commentary on the divides that form between us in civilization, primarily those that form due to economical divides (as the film sees fit to show that some of the aggressors are of multi-ethnic backgrounds). The film could have actually done this and had some fun with its grim but B-movie caliber premise, as well, but The Purge is far too preoccupied by taking itself too seriously as a film rather than the satire it probably should have been and focuses too much on making itself creepy in tone to really hammer its premise into our heads like it should. Because the film takes itself so seriously, it becomes harder to overlook some of the flaws in the premise, such as why the hell this whole holiday is considered so sacrosanct by seemingly everyone in the country, including the central family who has seen fit to make a living off of security systems designed to keep the murderers out.
Then there’s the fact that rape is apparently also allowed, but the only limitations on who can be victimized, we are told, are for government employees, and not, say, children. If the film is going to take itself that seriously, you can’t help but let your mind wander and consider the impact that this sort of thing would have on the country even beyond that of one night of purging. The whole setup is just not thought out well enough to be considered a serious film, as it clearly wants to but can’t possibly be. There’s potential in the concept, but not in the way that we got it. Luckily, this $3 million film made over $87 million worldwide, so we’ll get our chance to see if they can try it again in the redundantly named 2014 sequel, The Purge: Anarchy.
14. Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters
This movie could’ve likely done with a little more of a self-aware sense of humor than what we actually received, which is a schlocky, gory near-spoof on grim (Grimm?) and gritty reimaginings of familiar old stories.
The main problem is that the movie can’t seem to accept itself as being as silly as it really is. Sure, it’s produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay and features Peter Stormare as a witch hunt-inciting town official, but this is a largely humorless, joyless movie with lame one-liners, vamping villains, terrible effects, and two lead characters with not very much going for them in the personality department. What little humor there is in the film is of the sort of hand-waving, “Don’t ask”-retorting crap that doesn’t quite seem to understand the concept of “meta.” If this were a kids movie, and it most assuredly isn’t, one of the characters may have waited a beat before saying, “Awk-ward!”
Hansel & Gretel seems more concerned about creating a gruesome mythos behind the fairy tale so as to create an easily bankable series that will no doubt start incorporating other fairy tales into the series – which might not be a bad idea, all things considered. If anything, the film needs more insanity than what we get. This actually made me kind of miss the similarly themed Van Helsing.
13. Dark Skies
This, to me, became better known as the film in which Keri Russell bangs her head repeatedly on a glass door. I’d seen the trailer just one too many times, but it always seemed to focus in on that kind of weird shot of her just mindlessly smacking her head on that glass, as if that were one of the freakiest moments in the film. It’s kind of a testament to the rest of the movie, which never really manages to pin down the tension that it wants us to feel in regards to the freaky events that threaten to tear apart the already tenuous relationships within the central family.
Dark Skies lacks a personality of its own and yet can’t even decide upon which supernatural horror film it wants to ape, as well. I’m fairly certain that this wanted to be the sci-fi, alien invasion equivalent to Paranormal Activity (and even shares some of that series’ crew), but it also kind of wants to be that equivalent to Poltergeist, too, but lacks that film’s funhouse thrills and likeable characters, and it lacks the first Paranormal Activity’s finesse with subtle, low-budget scares, too. So what are we left with? A generic, unmemorable film with admittedly great potential, but very little else.
12. Now You See Me
The Prestige this is not. You’d expect a film about master thieves who happen to be magicians and starring some fairly major, talented actors would put a little more effort into its razzle dazzle, but Now You See Me is content with presenting us with a potentially fun gimmick (it’s Ocean’s Eleven with magic!) that is sadly given a very lackluster presentation.
The film centers on four magicians who each specialize in different presentation styles – the glitzy glamor type (Jesse Eisenberg), the psychic (Woody Harrelson), the close-up sleight of hand (Dave Franco), and the Criss Angel shock magician type (Isla Fisher). Each of them has been recruited by a mysterious figure belonging to a group called “The Eye.” Calling them the “Four Horsemen,” they’ve been summoned or a special assignment: they’re going to rob some banks.
I actually wanted to like this movie. It’s a solid and fun plot, one that also has Mark Ruffalo also featuring as an FBI agent investigating the robberies alongside Morgan Freeman as a Penn & Teller truth-teller type magician. The problem with the film is its ironically dull presentation that can’t seem to decide what kind of movie it wants to be, and the actors in the lead roles, despite their great work elsewhere, are given roles that are hard to care for, let alone love.
Eisenberg is channeling his great performance as a jerk in The Social Network, but while it comes off as pitiable in a serious drama, the arrogance and lack of humor makes him just flatout dislikable here. Dave Franco, after mostly being a nonentity for much of the film, is given one single moment to shine in the film’s only interesting action sequence, where the character proves to be a scrappy underdog, but he is otherwise pointless. Speaking of which, Isla Fisher pretty much exists only to add the corporate-mandated minimum of feminine presence, and even then, her main character angle is less about her audacity as a talented escape artist than it is her history with the jerk Eisenberg character. She may as well just be the magician’s assistant, and you kind of end up liking her even less in the end. Mark Ruaffalo tries his best as the main antagonist, but not even he and the presence of Morgan Freeman, Woody Harrelson, and Michael Caine could save this film from being such a superficial bore.
One part Men in Black, another part Ghost (or maybe Ghostbusters, but I thought more Ghost, what with the post-death romance aspect), R.I.P.D. is a solid enough concept, based on a little known Dark Horse comic, that comes just way too late in the game to cash-in on the sci-fi/fantasy buddy cop movie craze that, upon discovering a very similar comic, I’m sure Universal was hoping Men in Black 3 would reignite. “This could be, like, Men in Black 4, only cheaper to produce!” you could practically hear the executives exclaiming.
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: Much of the film rides upon the chemistry between Ryan Reynolds as a recently deceased, hotshot smartass Boston police detective, Nick Walker, and Jeff Bridges playing a surly Old West Marshal, Roy Pulsipher, who died well over a century ago and is thus perpetually out of touch with modern life but is totally dedicated to his current line of work. Nick was killed in the line of duty by a friend who betrayed him and went after his widow, a constant source of distraction as Nick is recruited into the Rest In Peace Department – an agency that specializes in reeling in freakish spirits called “deados” who attempt to stay under the radar and haunt the living world in physical disguises.
Disregarding the source material, which I honestly have not been able to find very much substantial information on, R.I.P.D.’s biggest problem isn’t so much its rip-off nature as it is the fact that the film completely squanders its concept by rarely ever cashing in on the inherent craziness of the film’s premise. The closest it ever comes to this is by assigning new physical forms for Nick and Roy to inhabit in their investigations, with the handsome Nick inhabiting the body of an old Asian man (James Hong) and Roy inhabiting the body of a blonde Victoria’s Secret model (Marisa Lee Miller). Because these avatars are played by actors who are less bankable than the main stars, however, we only see them occasionally to remind us what people in the realm of the living are seeing – Reynolds and Bridges remain on the screen for most of that time, which results in at least an amusing bit where we get to see a googoo-eyed man trying to hit on Jeff Bridges in Old West dress but in character as an irritated woman. This really is the only time we get to see the concept played to its fullest potential, however, and most of the humor in the premise is instead derived on the mere sight gag of seeing an old Asian man and a blonde bombshell in close proximity to one another, which gets old halfway through the first establishing shot of the two avatars together.
This would’ve been easier to overlook if Reynolds and Bridges had any sort of chemistry, but despite the two characters being derived from such disparate time periods, they lack the spark that existed between Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Bridges seems to be the only one who takes any enjoyment from his role, but, unlike Jones’ stoic K, we never really get a sense of history or tragedy that informs the character of Roy Pulsifer. Reynolds mostly phones in his performance as yet another smart aleck Ryan Reynolds character who has to make a connection with the girl. Mary-Louise Parker adds a bit of weird energy at least as the duo’s commanding officer and liaison with the mysterious beings called The Eternals, but I’ll be damned myself if I said I could tell you anything memorable about the film’s villain, played by Kevin Bacon. If I had to sum up the film in an annoyingly trite soundbite way, I’d tell you that “R.I.P.D. is D.O.A.”
10. A Good Day to Die Hard
I’m an apologist for the fourth Die Hard flick, Live Free or Die Hard. It’s certainly nothing on the level of the first, nor as tonally sound as the third, but it’s nowhere near the retread bore that was the second, and I rather liked the meta-concept of having cowboy throwback John McClane against modern action movie tropes, so I gave it a pass, and that had me actually looking forward to A Good Day to Die Hard, which looked like a return to the style of the third film, only in Russia. Good Lord, do I know now how some people felt toward the fourth, however.
A Good Day to Die Hard is very nearly worthy of the title of worst in the series. It’s been a little while since I watched the second, but that’s because that one was so boring, I couldn’t convince myself to rewatch it just as a reminder. But whatever ranking it falls in with the series, this fifth entry wouldn’t have been any good even if it hadn’t been connected to any other film. The premise of this film feels a lot like the producers thought to themselves, “If you thought John was an overbearing father to his daughter in Live Free, wait until you see how he meddles in his son’s life, too!” John flies off to Russia to intercede in the trial of his son for some underground criminal activity he got himself into while off apparently rebelling. The first major action sequence sees his son freed from the courtroom through some carefully planned explosions on the part of some villains, and so John goes off hijacking a truck, not really to save the day but more so because he’s mad that his son didn’t pay him any attention before when he was calling his name.
The film probably would have worked better as a sequel to not Die Hard but rather the Leslie Nielsen-starring live action adaptation of Mr. Magoo, as John finds himself falling into one convenient moment after another as he happens upon an action sequence trigger that apparently counts as a plot development. Though much of the action has the impossibility factor turned down to a lower degree here than in the fourth film, the spirit of fun and ridiculousness and subtle commentary on the modern state of action films vs. those of the past is almost completely gone here, even if they are trying to now put John in a spy thriller, courtesy of his boring son, Jack, who is no doubt the studio’s backup plan for future movies should Bruce Willis no longer wish to return to the role of John. The villains in the film are almost non-entities, providing pretty much zero personality, in sharp contrast to that of past villains.
At least the film sometimes looks pretty cool, as in one of the final shots where the McClanes take down a helicopter and fall through a series of levels of a building. Even so, after this movie, it’s definitely going to be hard for me to get excited for another Die Hard film again, but if they’re going to get this stupid, why not send John into space and call it Live Long and Die Hard? Or maybe even a comedy of manners called Die Hard with Dignity? Either of those would be more interesting than what we got here.
09. After Earth
M. Night Shyamalan returns to directing films after taking a break and ruining another person’s film as producer. (Seriously, Devil was terrible.) Apparently not disheartened by the backlash towards The Last Airbender, it’s at least commendable that he felt confident enough to return to the big, effects-driven potential blockbuster pool of ideas. Unfortunately, what he came back with was After Earth, an awkwardly lifeless father-son tale of survival featuring real father and son acting duo Will and Jaden Smith.
As you can tell from the title, this is set after humanity has abandoned Earth for a life in the stars. Man has not returned to the planet for quite some time and has settled on Nova Prime, where they were eventually forced to fight against a blind alien threat that could only detect humans based on pheromones secreted in fear – a weak point that necessitated soldiers without fear that came to be known as Ghosts. Cypher Raige was the greatest of them all, but his son, who aspires to follow in his father’s footsteps, fails to live up to expectations. When their ship crash lands on a faraway planet, however, an injured Cypher becomes dependent upon his son, Kitai, to venture out into the wilderness to obtain supplies from a separated portion of the ship and face his fears.
First of all, the Ghost thing is a remarkably contrived story construct, necessitated by a threat conceived with an even sillier handicap than the movement-dependent T-Rex of Jurassic Park. Second, if there was ever any doubt regarding whether or not Kitai would succeed in his quest, it didn’t register. Shyamalan, for all the twists he’s been made famous for, isn’t as cruel or surprising a filmmaker to actually make failure of his hero even feel like a plausible outcome.
This would have been easily remedied if the story that was being told was any good, but it’s not. The film is largely just two wooden performers relaying weirdly accented words (Shyamalan created a distracting future dialect) via radio to one another. The dialog is so bad and so flatly delivered by the Smiths, it’s hard to even chuckle at the ineptitude on display because there’s almost no humanity behind it. (One might even say this would’ve been better if it had been about two robots instead of people, as at least then there would be a level of intrigue regarding the concept of two machines’ struggle to “live.”) Shyamalan must have recognized this, as he even deploys a crutch in depicting Kitai’s emotions via an otherwise-pointless color-changing leotard, which must be the most embarrassing misunderstanding of the “show, don’t tell” rule of storytelling ever. You almost want to shake him and be like, “Dude, that’s why you hired actors: so they can act!” (Also, seriously? This future society could have made it a color-changing camouflage suit but thought instead, “Nah, let’s make it turn bright white in the middle of a brown forest when the soldier’s feeling a little frightened!”?)
08. Movie 43
Not everything in this anthology film is utterly horrible. Some of the concepts are inspired, demented concepts – such as the one where two homeschooling parents grow concerned that their son isn’t getting the normal experience and simulate the experiences for him personally, or the misogynistic and ignorant overreaction to a teenage girl getting her period… all over the place….Then there’s the James Gunn-directed sequence that I’m glad I stuck around the credits for, because his story about a guy and a girl caught in a bizarre love triangle with his freakish pet – a cartoon cat that would be at home in Ren & Stimpy – is one of the most dementedly amusing things I’ve ever seen, and it’s the best executed sequence in the bunch, despite being banished to the far end of the movie.
However, even though each of the sequences being assembled by different teams and featuring different actors (who filmed whenever they were able to spare the meager time), most of the jokes basically rely upon varying degrees of being disgusting and/or repeating a joke far too often when it wasn’t exactly hilarious in the first place, and they rarely, if ever, crossover into being funny again through the repetition. Take, for example, the one where a girl with a scat fetish makes an unusual request of her lover, or the recurring joke regarding a disastrously malfunctioning MP3 player that looks exactly like a naked woman, or the near perfect man whose only flaw is a scrotum attached to his chin, or the African American basketball team not realizing that they have a natural, built in talent to defeat the racist white team… For a film that is made up of several short skits (strung together as movie pitches from an insane man holding a movie exec hostage, played by Dennis Quaid and Greg Kinnear, respectively), one thing most of them have in common is that they never seem to know where to go and when to quit while they’re not ahead.
07. Olympus Has Fallen
If White House Down was the Deep Impact of White House invasion flicks, Olympus Has Fallen is the Armageddon, only the tone of the movies has obviously flipped. This is the more serious of the two very similar movies, and it’s also all the worse off for it. No winking humor. No banter between leads. Of the two, this one actually feels more like the cloying, ensemble, badly-scripted Roland Emmerich film, and he actually directed the other movie!
Olympus Has Fallen features Gerard Butler as a Secret Service Agent Mike Banning, who had failed to save the President’s wife during an unfortunate car accident one dark and snowy night. Removed by executive order from his job, Banning then works in the Treasury Department, no longer best chums with the President (Aaron Eckhart) and the President’s son. When the president receives a visit from the Prime Minister of South Korea, however, the White House is attacked by North Korean terrorists, and the President is taken hostage. Now it’s up to Banning to make his way into the secret bunker where the President resides and save him, his son, America, and possibly the world from the terror of a Communist-controlled unified Korea.
Apart from the jingoistic hokeyness of this film and the fairly blasé performances from all involved, let’s not forget that, for a big summer blockbuster, this movie also has some of the worst visual effects I’ve ever seen in a modern Hollywood film. This should have been evident from the embarrassing trailer where an American flag is falling in slow motion to the ground in front of a burning White House – rippling cloth is certainly hard to render, but it’s not helped by the fact that not even the sky and lighting look anything close to being realistic. Scenes of jets taking down the Washington Monument are cringe-worthy in their jarring ineptitude. This is CGI that would be somewhat more at home maybe on a PlayStation 2-era videogame pre-rendered cutscene, but not for a 2013 action film that spent millions of dollars just in getting well-known actors to grace its movie with their presence.
06. 21 & Over
Though nowhere near as bad as the last worst film I selected, 2012’s Project X, there’s so much ambition in 21 & Over to follow its forebear as Douchiest Film of the Year that I couldn’t help but find a place for it in my Top 15 Worst Films list.
It actually works a bit like older cousin The Hangover (Don’t all movies like this, though?) in that it involves a group of guys (Skylar Astin, Miles Teller, and Justin Chon) going out for a night of drinking – this time some college students who convince their 21-year-old birthday boy buddy, Jeff, despite some high stakes tests he has to take the next morning. Jeff gets a little too plastered, however, and the two remaining guys, Casey and Miller, carry him around from place to place with all sorts of mishaps happening after realizing that they have no idea where their supposed best buddy lives.
If there’s one thing I can say about 21 & Over, it’s that the protagonists are a little more tolerable and the film has a little more heart than Project X, due to some late breaking revelations regarding the pressure Jeff has been feeling, but it contains just about as much douchbaggery, too, so I’m not certain that makes up for it. That’d be okay, I guess, if the film were funny, but, as can be expected, the film being on this list and all, it’s not. It’s yet another misogynistic fantasy about a group of bros having a wild time and treating girls like playthings, and we’re expected to still root for them until the movie’s end. You almost kind of want Randy, the bully standing in the way of their good time, to succeed and pummel these guys, but at least there’s a sorority that gets their sweet revenge.
05. Escape from Planet Earth
I thought this was a sequel to Planet 51 for the longest time, but it’s actually an independent film altogether, despite sharing the sci-fi comedy genre and compatible, generic art design on both of the films. So that would actually probably make Escape from Planet Earth look more like a rip-off of what already looked like a cash-in on Monsters vs. Aliens, but that would actually also be false, given the film’s bizarrely sordid background involving the Weinsteins, lawsuits, rewrites, and such over its several-years-long development.
You’d think that such impassioned dedication to a movie would result in something of quality, but quality this is not. The premise of the film has the nerdy younger brother and handler of alien super-agent and all around douchebag Scorch going after him after he is captured by humans and taken to Area 51, which leads to the film’s one good gag: an overly polite, outdated greeting video Area 51 has prepared for extraterrestrials, welcoming them to their captivity, which feels a lot like something you’d expect from Futurama or The Simpsons. After meeting a few new friends, the aliens uncover a nefarious plot for a human invasion of their own planet led by the William Shatner-voiced head of Area 51, General Shanker.
Escape from Planet Earth is the kind of family-aimed film that requires a lot of product placement and referential humor to fill in the gaps in the filmmakers’ budget and creativity. 7-11 Slurpees anyone? Haha! Brain freeze! Everyone laughs. Or doesn’t. Somehow, nerdy Gary’s family also gets involved. You better believe the hyperactive son uses terms like, “Wicked!” to describe something cool. This is just terribly unoriginal, derivative crap that will do nobody any good, and not even the alien characters are really any fun to look at, with that wisecracking noseless rat thing being particularly off-putting in personality and design. At least it’s not another generic blue alien, though. This is just bad stuff. I know it’s available on Netflix streaming at the moment, but try to avoid the urge to use this as a babysitter. Use it as an alternative to timeout, though, if anything.
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No it’s… oh, it’s just a plane. Like Cars before it, Planes seems to start from a point of affection for the featured machines in the title and then awkwardly seems to try to relay that affection to those less enthused through a story about one of the machine’s determination to become something better than what he is. The biggest problem with Planes, however, wasn’t necessarily the fact that it just straight up ripped off the movie from which it was spun-off (though that’s obviously a major point of contention) – it’s that the film fails to even convey the reasons why we should care so much about these vehicles, whether it be from a character perspective or even from a mechanical one, unlike either one of the Cars films, which at least managed to have some pretty entertaining and beautifully rendered racing sequences – particularly Cars 2’s jaw-dropping Monaco race, and I’m not even a car or racing enthusiast!
Instead, in Planes, we get an underdog crop duster flying through some hoops and then making a very straightforward journey across the world in the unbearably dull and then stupid climax. To be fair to the movie, I reluctantly rented Planes with full intentions of putting it on this list. I would’ve been happy to have been pleasantly surprised, of course, but I knew right from the start that I would either hate this passionately or be so bored with it that I would pretty much zone out for most of the movie.
I’m almost sad to say that Planes wasn’t even nearly as bad as I had kind of hoped. I was thinking that I could rage against it, point out all its glaring and obvious flaws, such as the decision to cast the living embodiment of an annoying voice, Dane Cook, as soon as John Cryer dropped out, but no such luck. Planes sucks, with ugly direct-to-video-quality animation (as that was its original direction) and incredibly boring characters, but instead of at least having the decency to be laughably awful, it wound up being irredeemably, mind-numbingly lackluster.
03. Grown Ups 2
I’ll give Adam Sandler this: this sequel to the miserable first Grown Ups at least feels less like you’re watching a bunch of terrible big budget home movies of Sandler and his friends spending summer vacation together and more like just another attempt at making a terrible Adam Sandler movie with a plot starring Sandler and his friends hanging out together. It’s a subtly different experience, but it’s one that counts and one that Sandler and crew should feel proud of, as subtlety is likely very hard for them to pull off at Happy Madison productions.
If I sound like I’m coming off as especially mean, it’s because I actually really don’t hate anyone in this film. Each one of these people has either done exceptional work in the past or has at least remained likable enough that you wouldn’t necessarily hate it if they showed up in better work. Sandler’s costars include Chris Rock, Kevin James, David Spade, Salma Hayek, Maya Rudolph, and Maria Bello, and there are the usual expected cameo appearances from some of Sandler’s other friends: Steve Buscemi, Tim Meadows, Will Forte, Andy Samberg, Jon Lovitz… hell, even Cheri Oteri comes out of wherever she’s been hiding to feature as a creepy store clerk.
I admittedly rented this because I knew I would someday be subjected to it in the future, and I’d rather watch it on my own terms, and, hey, I had a free Redbox code burning a hole in my inbox, so why not? But soon after watching this garbage, I remembered that it’d been a while since I’d seen Punch-Drunk Love, too, and it just so happened to be available on Netflix. So I watched it and got even angrier at this movie’s existence because here was proof that not only could Adam Sandler be a good actor, he could also be subtle and funny! Why are his friends enabling him to make crap like this when he could obviously be doing so much better in other people’s films? Somebody save this man from himself, already!
By now, I’ve exhausted the story about how I ended up feeling obligated to watch this film. To sum it up one last time and leave it behind forever: I jokingly referred to the fact that I would only ever watch a Tyler Perry movie in theatres if he were to somehow pair up with Larry the Cable Guy in the ultimate in bad taste culture clashes and herald in the Apocalypse, only for the film to be announced mere days later, causing me to eat my words.
This movie has it all. Or at least it attempts to. It has Tyler Perry’s flagship character Madea’s ridiculous shenanigans as a massive old lady without a filter on her mouth, which somehow makes her both the most insanely rude person in the film but also the driving voice of reason. It has Larry the Cable Guy spooling out one Southern fried bad joke after another delivered in his affected Southern hick drawl. It has a multifaceted TV-special level message about racism and interracial harmony. It has a subplot about a troubled little boy who is fighting against the odds to realize his true academic and creative potential, which is itself built into a subplot about his super-awesome struggling teacher who lands in hot water with the community when her plans to put on a Christmas pageant backfires, which itself ties in a message about the importance of keeping the Christ in Christmas and keeping Big Business out. I’m fairly certain that there may have been other things going on, too, but I’m not going to try to retrace my steps again. A Madea Christmas manages to not only be a terrible Tyler Perry and Larry the Cable Guy movie, but it’s also whatever the opposite of a Christmas miracle is, too.
It took me a very long time deliberating which movie to put at the top of this list. In a year where I saw a Tyler Perry/Larry the Cable Guy hybrid movie, an M. Night Shyamalan movie, a violent fairy tale reimagining, a Cars spinoff, an anthology film assembled by the Farrelly brothers, and the latest Adam Sandler movie, I certainly had a lot of choices to pick for the number one slot. But Turbo?
It’s because you expect the worst quality from all those movies – they’re attached to some of the worst talents working in film, or they’re quickly assembled cash-grabs meant to reel in those who were already familiar with the content of the film and are afraid of seeing something that’s different. One of those was even meant for direct-to-video release, so it very nearly didn’t even count! Again, you may ask, Why Turbo?
Turbo is something special. Turbo represents a massive regression in quality from a studio that was finally starting to hit its stride and make a name for itself in releasing quality entertainment instead of me-too hyperactive, pop culture-referencing alternatives to the stuff Disney put out. Between the Kung-Fu Panda films, How to Train Your Dragon, and Rise of the Guardians, they were putting out some fairly good quality stuff that reminded everyone that this was the studio that once put out The Prince of Egypt and the first Shrek, something that that series’ three sequels overshadowed for some time. Again, it wasn’t Disney or Pixar-at-their-best quality stuff, but they were all solid, entertaining, and well-animated films that were enjoyable by all members of the family, both parents and children without pandering to anyone. Heck, even Puss in Boots and Madagascar 3 managed to surprise critics by being genuinely enjoyable, representing the most unexpected reversal in quality for tired film series since Fast and the Furious. But then, earlier this year, we got The Croods, which kind of saw the company spinning its wheels. It wasn’t truly awful, but I didn’t think it was all that good, either, and featured some fairly unattractive animation. But freaking Turbo…
I’m well aware that it’s got a 67% on Rotten Tomatoes, and, frankly, in this case, I don’t freaking care. This movie is reminiscent of the time when DreamWorks’ main strategy seemed to be “What’s Diseny/Pixar doing? Okay, let’s do that, only different.” It’s a return to Antz, to Shark Tale, to Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas level stuff. Freaking Megamind! Here, we see DreamWorks Animation, intentionally or not, aping the infinitely superior Ratatouille (with a bit of the toy-friendly Cars thrown in for good measure), and with bland barely-above-Escape from Planet Earth-level animation and character design, to boot.
Think about the premise of both of the films: a small, unwanted animal (rat / snail) living a dangerous life in the yard of a human house is mocked by everyone in his society for his ridiculous dreams that run counter to his nature (cooking / racing). When the dreamer hero gets separated from his society and the one person who at least tolerates them (the hero’s brother in both), he ends up embarking on an adventure that sees him pairing up with a young doofus who works at a restaurant who helps the hero fulfill his dreams while also saving the doofus’ livelihood by also saving the restaurant in the process. During this time, of course, there is a reunion with the brother, and the hero also has visions of a human mentor (Chef Gusteau / Indy 500 racer Guy Gagné) that encourage him to follow his dreams, despite what others may say. In the end, the hero succeeds in proving everybody wrong, and everyone realizes what jerks they’ve been to him.
In other words: IT’S PRETTY MUCH EXACTLY THE SAME MOVIE! Sure, there are little differences, such as the small twist on the villain (who remains an expert on the hero’s area of interest), or the fact that Turbo finds a few wacky kindred spirits who share his interests, but who don’t share his superpowers. Oh, yeah, that? Yeah, they gave the hero superpowers in this movie, courtesy of falling into the inner workings of a hotrod that magics into him his uber-speed. There’s not even any sort of known power behind this ability that sees fit to bestow upon the hero his powers, like with someone like Captain America or the Flash. So not only does this generic movie almost completely rip off Ratatouille, it also goes one step further and strips the hero of a genuine talent or a heroic spirit, making the film’s message about following your dreams completely pointless because Turbo didn’t do a damn thing to earn our respect and admiration!
I’m sorry, but this is a maddening movie. I’m certain that it’s only a bump in the road for a studio that is likely and hopefully going to return to form with How to Train Your Dragon 2 in 2014, and even Pixar’s seen better days these days. This may very well just be DreamWorks’ equivalent to Cars 2 in that it’s some of the worst work they’ve put out in a while and was likely just in it for the money (which it also failed at), but I’m still feeling completely justified in placing this movie here in the number one slot.
Why? Because it’s also a film that caused some to question whether the market was somehow “oversaturated” with animated films – as if there weren’t too many live action films, or something, but that’s beside the point. Turbo isn’t just a bad animated film, it’s a bad film that’s also bad for the image of the animation industry in general. It’s unlikely to undo the industry, true, and, as I said before, it’s not even likely heralding the devolution of the studio that made it. But I truly do love animated movies, and as someone who also wants people to stop treating them like their own “genre” (It’s a visual medium, folks – one with a large number of varying different methods, in fact – and not a separate entity from comedies, dramas, and action films!), I was almost literally insulted by the level quality that Turbo presented on screen.
Shame on you, DreamWorks Animation. You go back to the studio and think about what you’ve done!