2014 IN REVIEW: The Worst Movies of the Year
This 2014 in Review series is taking me a lot longer than I anticipated, but such is life and work. After this, we’ll be getting to my favorite films of the year, but before I do that, it’s time to pass judgment on some of the worst films released in 2014.
These are the movies that bored me, that angered me, that were so bad they left me bewildered as to how they even got released in the state they’re in. For your reference, this year I have also included the Rotten Tomatoes score for each movie. While I cannot say that the order I’ve placed them in is definitive, even for me, they are arranged roughly from worse to worst, ending with my pick for the #1 worst film of the year. I have more picks for 2014 than I ever have in the past, but it was a pretty easy and obvious pick, though some of you might be thinking of the movie I put in the #2 slot. I have my reasons why it went there and not at the top, but you’ll just have to read to find out.
32. Non-Stop – 2/28/14 – 60%
Liam Neeson, what are we going to do with you? One of only two technically, barely well-received movies on this list, Non-Stop features Mr. Neeson as an air marshal who must find out who is making threats to kill one person every 20 minutes on the plane he’s assigned to protect until a large sum of money is transferred into a foreign bank account. Non-Stop is the kind of relatively competent thriller that derails itself because its twists and turns are so predictable. There’s one thrown in that still feels forced, where the marshal himself becomes a suspect, and of course, there’s a little bit of backstabbing going on, as well, so that everyone is a suspect. Overall, I know this isn’t a terrible movie, but I hated it all the same as it was genuinely one of the most boring and predictable movies released last year.
31. Tammy – 7/02/14 – 23%
I was rooting for this one to be good, as the trailer, wherein the titular character holds up a fast food restaurant with a crudely made paper bag hood and more paper bags crumpled to look like guns, looked pretty darn funny. Tammy wasn’t meant to be, however, and critics took issue with the film’s lack of innovation when it came to Melissa McCarthy’s image and sense of humor, particularly because she worked on it behind the scenes, too. You want to root for Tammy, the character, but McCarthy just relies on the same variation of “overweight, foul-mouthed loser who finds her inner strength” we’ve seen her do before – and better, too, such as in The Heat and the film that put her on the map, Bridesmaids. She can be funny, and she can also do drama quite well, as 2014’s own St. Vincent proved, but while Tammy does touch upon more serious moments, like its humor, it never really sticks the landing. … Well, except whenever Susan Sarandon gets to be funny. She and McCarthy do have a good chemistry, and Sarandon’s character is at least an entertaining one.
30. A Million Ways to Die in the West – 5/30/14 – 33%
As with Melissa McCarthy, I think Seth MacFarlane can be funny. There, I said it. The guy’s talented, for sure, but everyone has their limits, and he’s seemingly hitting them pretty hard. A follow-up to debut feature Ted, which was pretty good, the Family Guy creator sets his sights on the Old West and all its dangers. The problem with the movie, however, is that it forgets to continue being funny about halfway through, when this irreverent comedy suddenly becomes surprisingly concerned with whether disillusioned sheep farmer Albert Stark (MacFarlane) will actually survive until the end of the film, defeat the bad guy who had been off screen and not even heard from for the better part of ¾ of the movie, and get back the girl who kinda sorta broke his trust. A perfect example of this is a long horseback chase where Stark makes a last second, heroic crossing of some tracks just as a train comes in and blocks the villains’ path. They stand there, waiting for the train to pass, and you begin to think the joke would be something like the train finally passing after an absurd amount of time and, oh no, Stark’s still there like a moron and the chase begins again… but, no. He actually gets away by getting onto an empty car, ending the scene and making you realize the movie’s suddenly taking itself seriously now. What jokes there are in the film will most definitely be familiar to anyone who has seen any of MacFarlane’s other material, either because it’s a similar concept or lifted directly from something he’s already done – “Mila Kunis” as a strange foreign phrase, anyone? It’s funny because… he works with her, and… her name sounds… not English? It’s funny once, but the second time is an eye-roller. This is a movie that did start out funny and then ended so poorly that it ruined whatever goodwill it built up before. Unless you want to see him make yet another Back to the Future reference again, one that was even shown in the trailer, just don’t even bother.
28. 300: Rise of an Empire – 3/07/14 – 42%
Taking place before, during, and after the original 300, Rise of an Empire swaps out the red-clad Spartans for the blue-clad Athenians who were on their way to aid the Spartans in combat against the Persians. With Zack Snyder caught up in directing Man of Steel, Warner Bros. had to find a new director in Noam Murro, who previously directed the little remembered 2008 Dennis Quaid comedy Smart People and… nothing else. That doesn’t disqualify him from being a good director, of course, but it’s kind of mind-boggling why the choice was made, given the tonal difference between the two films. While Rise of an Empire certainly looks very similar to the first, thanks in part to Snyder serving as producer, it fails to generate the same entertaining, machismo-exuding fun in the process. Say what you will about Gerard Butler, but he sold Leonidas as a charismatic leader, and he had a band of all too enthusiastic soldiers backing him up, too. Athenian General Themistocles is not portrayed with the same sort of vigor by Sullivan Stapleton, apart from a brief, impassioned, and disturbingly angry sexual encounter with Artemisia, played by the film’s MVP, Eva Green, who commands every scene she’s in and is far more interesting than anyone else and anything that actually happens. The action isn’t nearly as good as the original and employs slow motion without Snyder’s keener sensibilities – and those who didn’t like those qualities already will find themselves annoyed even more turned off here.
27. Wish I Was Here – 7/18/14 – 46%
“You can pick anyone you want, just as long as it’s unique and amazing, like you.” That line, said by Zach Braff’s Aida Bloom to daughter Grace after she makes the mistake of chopping most of her hair off, pretty much sums up all that is wrong with this movie. It’s a film that truly does believe that wearing its heart on its sleeve is a virtue, but its simple-minded ideas about life and learning are rarely more thought out than one of those inspirational memes people share on Facebook. It means well, attempting to dole out these bits of wisdom and benedictions as a natural part of its story unfolding, but it actually shoves them in your face so hard and so often, the characters become little more than mediums for delivering them. None of the actors are truly horrible, mind you – Braff’s character is incredibly whiny, but Kate Hudson and Mandy Patinkin are actually very good, and the kids aren’t too annoying. Here, though, the script is pretty much to blame for derailing everything and really could’ve used a once over by someone other than Braff – something that maybe couldn’t be afforded given that it was funded through Kickstarter. I’d nearly forgotten about this film and almost left it in the list of films I didn’t see when I remembered, but I realized I should probably give it a rent, given all the attention it got from everyone who loved Garden State back in high school and were totally excited to see this. I wouldn’t call it wasted time, necessarily, but it was certainly vindication for my preconceived notions that it was going to be cloying and awful.
26. Need for Speed – 3/14/14 – 22%
All that you really needed to know with this one was going to be bad was that it was based on a video game series. Taking a lot of inspiration from the Underground sub-series EA’s racing franchise, the film was amongst the first of Aaron Paul’s post-Breaking Bad pulls to become a leading man. Unfortunately, this Fast and the Furious knock off is just example of the growing pains he’s facing now, serving up familiar character types racing across America in expensive cars and doing crazy stunts. There is a bit of story, with Paul’s small town mechanic entering a world famous illegal street race in order to gain some money to save his business and get revenge on the man who framed him for manslaughter. It’s not a particularly intelligent movie, though, and none of the characters are all that compelling, either. And the less said about Michael Keaton’s obnoxious role in the film as a radio announcer and provider of running color commentary, the better. So glad he got nominated for an Oscar this year so he can hopefully move on to better things again. About the only positive comment I can say about this is that it actually features some really nice car porn.
25. Maleficent – 5/30/14 – 49%
Disney’s new campaign to remake its classic animated features in live action was troublesome from the start – How many times do they need to retell the same stories with all the same elements? – but at the very least, Maleficent seemed like an interesting take on the proceedings, promising to tell the untold story of who Maleficent was and how she came to be. Only, the film we got wasn’t actually that, but rather a revisionist take on the Sleeping Beauty story that casts Maleficent not as a person who was corrupted into becoming Disney’s most formidable villains but rather as the true hero of the story, one who was wronged and made mistakes but who otherwise was still a good person who worked to make up for all her shortcomings by secretly making things right, despite the king’s best efforts to destroy her and the magical grove of sparkly wonder she protects. Everyone else was the real problem, and everything the animated movie told us was false. Seriously, that’s actually the film’s perspective – Aurora’s father is a crazed rapist (What else can you call drugging someone and stealing away a precious part of who they are?) who became hell-bent on protecting his daughter after the woman he violently wronged vows revenge against him. And the three fairies who cared for Aurora weren’t just unpracticed but outright morons whose ineptitude and self-absorption led to the princess’ life being in constant mortal danger. And in case you think this is going to be revealed as a case of unreliable narrator, the film provides the audience with one last slap in the face to cement this as the true story. This egregious revisionism of a classic film is also combined with garish, ugly creature designs and visual effects that are a slap to the face of the gorgeous, tapestry-inspired design of the original, and tiresome action sequences packed to the brim with unconvincing CGI. The only good thing about Maleficent was Angelina Jolie, who is both perfect and wasted in the role. I hate this movie.
24. Moms’ Night Out – 5/09/14 – 18%
Moms’ Night Out may lack the telltale title, but yes, this is another Christian audience-targeted movie, though it’s not nearly as overt or obnoxious about it as others on this list. Its premise is even sound and isn’t designed to be a “we told you so” preachfest, so, you know, that’s good, too. And, even more so, this one has a cast that you’ll want to like – that is, at least on the female side of the cast. You’ll want to beat all the inept men who make up the other half. You see, while the moms are … well, having a well-deserved night out, the dads attempt to take care of the kids and, in spectacularly expected fashion, completely botch it, with one who even loses his kid to some unknown place in the city and doesn’t seem to care too much about it, leading to a dramatic change in the story’s direction as the mothers frantically search for the kid, a twist that kind of sucks all the comedy out of a movie that was marketed as a family-friendly laugh riot. The film’s central character, Allyson, is played by Sarah Drew, who actually has a lot of very likable qualities as an actress and clearly some comedic ability that’s just not being put to its full potential here. I’d never heard of her before, but it looks like she’s done plenty of stuff elsewhere, mostly in one-off appearances and as a regular on Grey’s Anatomy, so there is hope for her yet. The movie also features Patricia Heaton as the sensible pastor’s wife, Sean Astin as Allyson’s affectionate but ineffective husband, and country star Trace Adkins as a tattooed biker in leather with a heart of gold – which I guess makes him the Heather Graham in this PG-rated, gender-swapped, more serious knock off of The Hangover. Most of these actors are at least serviceable, save for Robert Amaya as the panicky father and whose whiny qualities grate on the nerves, but even with that modicum of competence, a comedy without the laughs is just a waste of time.
23. Sex Tape – 7/25/14 – 17%
I think Sex Tape was trying to be your parents’ idea of an R-rated raunchy movie, as its main premise hinges on the fact that the two leads, played by Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel, have only a rudimentary idea about how technology works, though they think they do. They know, for example, how to film themselves having sex on their iPad in an effort to reinvigorate the sexual aspect of their marriage, but they also inadvertently upload their “sex tape” to “the cloud” and accidentally send it to all their friends and family. The rest of the film involves them trying to get back various iPads that they’ve given away and deleting files from everybody’s computers. They even go to the servers of an online streaming porn site and begin to physically destroy the servers when they find out they have a copy. (I don’t think that’s a spoiler – the ending is in the flipping trailer). I’m no prude – the premise isn’t a bad one for an R-rated comedy, but, let’s not ignore the fact that it isn’t going to work unless it’s used to explore more relatable topics (let’s face it – not everyone’s going to experience such an outrageous situation). Sadly, there really isn’t much else going on, with a repugnant teenage boy who, until a randomly amicable resolution is reached, pretty much serves as the film’s only villain. It also doesn’t help that the jokes fall flat, which again consist of pointing out how confusing technology is and how much fun sex is. As such, I can really only see this appealing to people who both don’t mind R-rated sexual humor and who still think iPads are both the most revolutionary but also confusing things they’ve ever encountered.
22. Heaven Is for Real – 4/16/14 – 46%
Probably the most cinematically accomplished of the ostensibly Christian-targeted films released last year, apart from the big budget spectacle ones, Heaven Is for Real is based on the supposedly true story about Colton Burpo’s brush with death and subsequent vision of heaven at the age of 4 and takes its title from the book written Colton’s father Todd’s book Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back. The film version puts Todd in the spotlight and focuses in on the dilemma this presents the man, as he was actually starting to have doubts about whether or not Christianity was even true – despite the fact that he’s a pastor living in Bible Belt, America. There are decent enough performances from some of the actors, Greg Kinnear as Todd in particular, but the film’s story and logic are completely absurd, with Todd at one point exercising caution by seeking out those who might know better and have a logical explanation for Colton’s vision, but he then meets every logical explanation with handwaving because, as Todd tells one professor, his son doesn’t lie (at least, he’ll believe that until this little boy also confesses to lying; see also Alex Malarkey, who recently confessed that his similar story was just him enjoying the attention and whose name should’ve been a dead giveaway, really). Colton himself is portrayed as some sort of enlightened, angelic creature who stares knowingly at mundane things and talks randomly about things he purportedly could’ve never known. It’s really silly, I know, but I actually despised this movie more so because it presents Christianity all wrong – it’s not a belief in an afterlife of eternal youth and happiness that makes you one, but rather the relationship and belief you have in Christ as Savior. That so many people, like Todd, feel like this stry is a vindication of their faith is incredibly irritating to me.
21. Pompeii – 2/21/14 – 29%
Kit Harrington stars as a boring, uncharismatic gladiator who stands up against a corrupt politician, Keifer Sutherland, and falls in love with the pretty rich girl, Abbie Cornish, who has some sort of royal title and a handmaiden or whatever who is also a good friend of hers, played by Jessica Lucas. Apart from Adewale Akinnuoye-Akbaje, who portrays a slave forced into the gladiator battles alongside Harington, and Kiefer Sutherland, who is really playing up the evil villain hamminess of his character, what few characters we’re tasked with indulging our time with are surprisingly lacking in memorable or likable qualities, apart from maybe being attractive. And, no, I assure you that is not enough. Paul W.S. Anderson has undoubtedly made worse, and at the very least resists the urge to put Milla Jovovich in the film, but there’s nothing else special about this flick. The action sequences once Mt. Vesuvius erupts are a bit exciting, I guess but are also very cheap-looking. None of this makes up for the film’s being incredibly dull.
20. That Awkward Moment – 1/31/14 – 23%
That Awkward Moment seems to want to be a romantic comedy meant for fratboys, but, as original as that twist sounds, the sexual escapades of these three bachelors are just not that interesting nor very amusing. Mostly, they’re kind of a bunch of douchebags who largely see women as a sexual conquest until they meet just that right girl who can change them and make them commit petty theft for, and when that time comes, they don’t know what to do with themselves aside from spout off guy rules that supposedly all guys know. I guess I should understand that it’s meant more as a parable for learning to grow up now so you can make yourself the right one or something, but you know, I really hate these kinds of douche-perspective movies. This could maybe be ignored if the movie were funny, but this is the kind of film that sets up situations where comedy should be the byproduct of all the things happening on the screen, but instead you’re left wondering why the characters aren’t doing the obvious thing that would solve the problem at hand because it’s just so obvious and the aftermath is still not freaking funny. For example: Why didn’t the Miles Teller character not just, I dunno, pull his pants up when he was caught having sex with a girl in the bathroom and everyone kept trying to avert their eyes and avoid touching him? Because the movie knows that nudity can be funny but is also too lazy to figure out a logical means of keeping his pants around his ankles and is just hoping you don’t think about it more than they did. See also: The Zac Efron character’s completely inappropriate but easily fixed costume when he turns up at what turns out to be a non-costume party. Yes, it’s a stupid movie that thinks you’re even more stupid than it is.
19. Ride Along – 1/17/14 – 17%
Kevin Hart, I don’t know what to do with you. I’m sorry, but I do not find your movie roles funny. Why must you be so shrill? Why must you always play the guy who acknowledges his diminutive traits in passing but then seemingly doesn’t know his limits when the time comes to, you know, shut up for your own good? I hear you can be funny – it’s just apparent that you’re not when you’re playing a character in a mainstream film. Seriously, be funny, dammit. … Okay, it’s not all Hart’s fault here, though. I’m not very good at summing up why comedy might be bad apart from a post-viewing gut feeling, I admit, but this movie gave me that painful, unfunny gut feeling, and I’m sticking to it. The film is your typically outrageous situation comedy film, where Hart’s loudmouthed, ineffective security guard has to prove to his fiancée’s brother that he’s worthy by following him on a police ride along that has them getting tangled up with some gangsters. Ride Along doesn’t quite deliver on the situations nor the proper execution of the jokes it throws the audience’s way, despite Hart and Ice Cube’s combined screen presence having the potential to at least be amusing. The movie seems to think that wackiness and volume of dialogue are enough to carry a comedy. It’s not.
18. Blended – 5/23/14 – 14%
As with Ride Along, the setup for the movie isn’t necessarily bad: Two single parents end up on a blind date and it ends incredibly badly. Naturally, with one being a single dad with three girls and one a single mom with two boys, the two are destined to be together since the girls need a mom and the boys need a dad. This, you know, despite their initial, mutual hatred for one another. It could’ve actually been a surprisingly sweet, if cliché, premise for a goofy comedy with some heart, with the two gradually learning to unload the burdens of their past (dead wife, deadbeat ex-husband) and falling in love in the process. Not terribly original, again, but with good writing, direction, and performances, it could work. Unfortunately, this is a Happy Madison production, and the acknowledgement of such a mundane scenario led to the movie being deemed not wacky enough, resulting in the film’s shift in setting to a resort in Africa where the locals working there provide plenty of zany comedy for our leads to react with amusement towards. Sandler is at least a little dialed down here, actually making me long for that better movie by always letting some lingering grief be apparent in his performance, and I admit that I almost always like Drew Barrymore, even when the movie is awful – she’s just so game, it’s hard not to. But the movie, like the other comedies on this list, is seriously just. Not. FUNNY!
17. I, Frankenstein – 1/24/14 – 3%
This movie is admittedly not higher on this list because it is one of those movies that is so bad, it could easily be entertaining because of it. (I wouldn’t ever call it “good,” though.) It features Aaron Eckhart as Adam, the monster created by Dr. Frankenstein, begrudgingly joining a team of gargoyles in their war against demons who like to do science experiments here on earth, with Bill Nighy playing their leader. It’d be almost hilarious if it were played with just a little more camp than what is already inherent to the premise. I seriously almost saw this in theatres because it looked so terrible and yet entertaining – something its ultimate 3% Rotten Tomatoes score actually kind of accentuated. I ended up renting it from Redbox and wound up somewhat disappointed it wasn’t ludicrous enough. It’s a real shame, because this could’ve been excellently awful.
16. Nurse 3D – 2/07/14 – 60%
On the other hand, perhaps over the top isn’t always the best. Nurse 3D is a slasher exploitation flick that aims low and hits even lower. Judging from its 60% approval rating, apparently a lot of critics enjoyed it for what it was, though – a film about a hypersexual nurse who seduces cheating men and then dispatches them in bloody fashion while sometimes wooing their unsuspecting girlfriends for herself. On the one hand, I get it. It’s self-aware and has a filthy sort of style, and some people appreciate that. I don’t. I thought Nurse 3D was just trashy and obnoxious – particularly in regards to Paz de la Huerta, an off-putting presence whose perpetually moaning, baby-like voice as the homicidal nurse becomes grating after the first few minutes. Yeah, I didn’t like this at all. Eesh. (I did not see in 3D, by the way, but I felt the title was incomplete without the moniker, as that shows you the kind of movie this was meant to be.)
15. Into the Storm – 8/08/14 – 21%
Into the Storm is like a (sometimes) found footage style sequel to Twister with the added gimmick of the footage coming from multiple sources, not just the documentary filmmakers following around the central storm chasers. The most fun I had with this movie wasn’t really from anything in the actual film, which is one ridiculous tornado sequence after another, with extraneous expository dialogue and failed character development peppered in to taste, but rather the way it tested out the power of the new speakers and receiver I got around the time I rented it. Even if you were coming in just for the action sequences, however, you might be saddened to learn that this movie’s effects somehow look worse than its nearly 20-year-old predecessor, and the idea that the crew would have the funding for a specially designed vehicle that can literally hold its ground when hit with a tornado is just a touch too far on the side of ludicrous. Seriously, just watch Twister instead. Remember the flying cow(s?)? Hilarious!
14. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – 8/08/14 – 21%
“You just don’t like Ninja Turtles.” “You didn’t grow up with them.” “You don’t get it ‘cause you’re not a fan.” All accusations coming from people who felt the need to defend this film from my predictions that it would terrible after the first trailer hit. They also didn’t appreciate my confirmation that it was, in fact, awful after I went to see the film in theatres. Those are rubbish explanations, though. One does not and should not have to be a fan first to enjoy such a movie – in fact, since it’s an origin movie, I’m fairly certain this should be a go-to point for any non-fan. If the movie’s good, then it should hold up reasonably well, unless it were explicitly a sequel that builds upon the first, in which case, yes, it would be my fault for not seeing what came before. The fact of the matter is that the latest Ninja Turtles movie sucks not because of its premise (which is silly, but not unworkable), and not because of any lack of nostalgia on my part. It sucks because it’s a badly made movie. Incoherent action scenes, grotesque character designs meant to root the characters unnecessarily in reality, almost no sense of fun, not just dated but exhausted humor, obnoxious characters, and a dull story that was no doubt affected by several change ups as the film was being made (William Fichtner’s singular character being split into his scientist and a separate Shredder, the turtles’ origins being tied to April’s youth and story arch instead of being aliens…). I can’t for the life of me recall the main story other than the fact that Fichtner needs the turtles’ blood and Shredder wants to activate some doomsday device in New York. I also can’t recall anything positive in this other than the post-viewing revelation the internet provided me in pointing out that there’s an Arrested Development reference made with the creepy Will Arnett character.
13. Tyler Perry’s The Single Moms Club – 3/14/14 – 16%
Five single mothers, brought together by the delinquency of their children and brought closer together through their singleness as mothers form a support club for one another. Tyler Perry really has a strange fixation on speaking to women about their issues, and his attempts to cater to their needs really strike me as very stereotypical, each of the characters tailored to preach to each type of woman rather than empower them. Perry’s style here also reminds me of the “edgy” and “naughty” greeting cards with women talking about men and drinking wine, or those ones with the shirtless guys on them that I guess women get each other for their birthdays and other occasions. Perry throws in male characters who are designed exactly for the women – they’re eye candy, or hopeless romantics, or some emotionally available god, tuned into the women for them to salivate over along with the audience. It’s basically returning the favor that most male-catering movies do, for sure, but there’s something so off, so inorganic about how he does it. Then again, there’s something off about his execution in every movie he makes. The man lacks a sense of comedic pacing, and he also has no sense of how to handle such a large cast, either. There are times when he lingers too long with one character, and I began wondering, “Hey… it’s been a while since we saw what was happening with so-n-so. When are we going to see her?” At 111 minutes long, there’s just not enough time to spend with the five leads, their dilemmas, and their suitors to really get to know and care for them – which is probably why Perry also made sure to get a TV series greenlit based on the movie ahead of time – and yet the movie somehow manages to still feel like everything is taking too long to resolve, as well. I think it’s because the solutions to everything in a Tyler Perry movie are so obvious and simple, you find yourself wondering just how long it will take for the characters to just freaking look under their noses, spot them, and then use them. It’s like watching an infant figure out which peg to put in which hole, only the infant would figure it out faster and provide you with more entertainment.
12. Transcendence – 4/10/14 – 19%
I think we can finally say that after Transcendence and the more recent failure of Mortdecai (a 2015 film), people are finally sick of seeing movies just because they have Johnny Depp in them. And that makes me happy because, while I like the guy, he’s seriously been coasting for years, and I would love for him to get away from big budget, all-star films for a while and do something smaller, more intimate, and definitely less weird or eccentric. Here he plays a controversial scientist who’s also dying and uses his research to transfer his consciousness into a computer with the help of his friend and wife. He’s then reborn as a powerful electronic being who craves even more power and more server space, spreading into bank and government systems, among others, and also utilizing this weird nanoparticle goo to start controlling organic life, including people. This obviously touches upon some ethical issues, but the movie’s primary focus is on his relationship with his wife and her conflicting emotions with who and what her husband has become – and whether she can actually consider him that anymore. Along with too many characters, the movie doesn’t have any real coherent idea about what it wants to explore – grief and the nature of letting go, the role of technology in human evolution, our reliance on technology and whether that’s good or bad, whether computer life can be considered on the same level as human life, hackers and terrorism… It all comes together in a hodgepodge fashion, starting a conversation and going off in tangents without really having much of anything to say by the time it’s time to end. This was a dull movie.
11. Transformers: Age of Extinction – 6/27/14 – 18%
How is it that these movies just continue to make money despite being incredibly long and perpetually getting worse with every entry? Age of Extinction sees the Autobots living in exile after the destruction in the third movie caused the government to basically declare all alien robot beings as enemies. This was a convenient way of writing out Shia LaBeouf and swapping in Mark Wahlberg. Wahlberg ends up buying Optimus Prime when he spots the robot in disguise while searching for junk at a rundown theatre. (Nobody seems to think it’s weird that there’s a rundown semi-truck inside a once opulent theatre, by the way.) Wahlberg begins fixing the truck up and discovers he may have found a genuine Transformer. Naturally, the government finds out with all their spy tech and the movie becomes one big chase sequence as Optimus wrangles in a bunch of old friends and newcomers to take down the evil Transformers that have worked out a deal with Kelsey Grammer’s evil government man to hunt down and execute any Transformers still in hiding (It seems that the NSA scandal has turned even Michael Bay against them), while Mark Wahlberg spends the movie attempting to rebuff all sexual advances on his skimpily dressed and completely useless teenage daughter.
The characters, as usual, range from irritating to loathsome, and while the action continues to be more comprehensible than the first two films, the CGI has definitely gotten lazier and less believable. All attempts to bring something new to the franchise are massive letdowns, from the completely new human cast to the introduction of the Dinobots, who are pretty much relegated to extended cameos, which will disappoint anyone who expected more, given how prominent they were in the ads. Everything in this movie is an assault on audiences, including the sound, which is horrendous – slow motion sequences play out as characters speak at regular speeds but also somehow realtime, for example, and the pounding score during the big action climax slows down not when everything is accomplished and the characters are saying their goodbyes but instead after that, right at this big pivotal moment when Optimus makes a dramatic speech, flying off to basically declare war on the Decepticons, which is when you would expect the score to start to get into kickass mode again, but instead you get this soft, somewhat sad music. It’s like there was so much chaos going on, not even the editors could get everything in sync. Yeah, Age of Extinction is an absolute disaster.
10. Gimme Shelter – 1/24/14 – 22%
This one initially looked promising in the trailers. It actually looked like Vanessa Hudgens was putting in a good performance, and after Spring Breakers, I was willing to give her a chance. Turns out, it was all just in the editing. She is awful here. As a tortured, pregnant teenager named Apple who runs away from her abusive druggie mother to find the father who abandoned them, Vanessa Hudgens, with hair cut short, tattoos all over, and several piercings in her face, plays the gritty Very Special Episode idea of a troubled teen. Though she’s obviously trying really hard, she never feels like she has the character figured out, with even her way of speaking being inconsistent. Her costars aren’t much better. James Earl Jones lends the movie a bit of dignity as a kindly reverend who helps the girl out when no one else will, but particularly bad is Rosario Dawson, who definitely gives in to the druggie mother character she’s been cast as, but whose portrayal is more like something I’d imagine from a more accurate depiction of the crazed vampiric creatures in Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend than something from even a heavily dramatized form of reality. I don’t doubt that these things happen, of course, but Gimme Shelter comes off as comically exaggerated, with the dialogue anticipating the bad performances by having characters say everything they’re feeling at any given moment, struggling to make up for them. There was a much better movie just like this released not too long ago. It’s called Precious. Just see that – again, if you have already.
9. The Angriest Man in Brooklyn – 5/23/14 – 10%
2014 was a bad year for losing good actors, and it really sucks that Robin Williams’ final movies were so rotten, as he was both a gifted comedian and dramatic actor, particularly when he was given the right material. The Angriest Man in Brooklyn is just one of those stains on his filmography that deserves to be ignored in light of his better work. Williams plays Henry Altman, whose life has seemingly become a series of disappointments and betrayals ever since the death of one of his sons. He’s let this metastasize into a perpetually nasty, combative personality, ready to insult and spew profanity at any perceived slight against him. After finding out he’s had a brain aneurysm, he begins to insult the young doctor (Mila Kunis) who has to deliver the bad news to him and demands to know how long he has to live. Shaken and angry, she mistakenly tells him that he only has 90 minutes left to live just to get him to leave, setting him on a mission to right all the wrongs with his family and the young doctor on a mission to correct her mistake. The trouble is that Henry’s continued awfulness is never really atoned for. I’m all for trying to understand even mean people, but let’s not try to say that tragedy as an excuse, either. This movie is itself pretty loathsome and mean spirited and oddly enough tries in the end to portray his meanness as an endearing trait that those close to him come to love. As a comedy, there’s very little to laugh at, as there really aren’t even any jokes – unless you consider swearing inherently funny, in which case I’d have to disagree… except when the person swearing is a little kid. The story itself makes few insights beyond the most basic of observations: sometimes shitty people are shitty for a reason. Sadly, Williams himself, who could’ve easily made such material at least mildly entertaining, seems chained to the script, never getting a chance to improvise or to tap into his character’s humorous or dramatic potential. The Angriest Man in Brooklyn is a truly exhausting experience.
8. Winter’s Tale – 2/10/14 – 13%
Winter’s Tale, despite its title, is a decades-spanning romance story about gangster demons trying to thwart the destiny of a humble immigrant who falls in love with a dying woman in the early 1900s, is then granted the gift of immortality and … a winged horse who is actually a dog… and then meeting in modern times a single mother and her very sick daughter, getting chased down again by the demon gang, and saving their lives. I believe. I’m not really certain. Its plot, derived from a novel that I hear is much more coherent and better, isn’t even summed up by the studio’s synopsis on Rotten Tomatoes and instead tries to convince you to see it based on the credentials of the people involved, including first time director Akiva Goldsman, who previously won an Oscar for A Beautiful Mind but also brought us Batman & Robin. I’ve heard people praise the movie for being original and doing things different from other films, but that’s like saying that something is the best just because it did it first. You’re just damning it with faint praise if that’s the best you can say about this incomprehensible and hopelessly romantic movie about the interconnectedness of life. Again, that’s what I hear it was about, but this movie’s plot is so convoluted and the developments in it so ridiculous, I had a very hard time following it because I just couldn’t wait for it to be over with already.
7. The Nut Job – 1/17/14 – 10%
The Nut Job is a movie that thinks that Psy’s “Gangnam Style” is still one of the funniest things in the universe and makes sure you know that by not just throwing the song in to the movie randomly but also having a digital cartoon version of Psy himself appear during the credits to dance alongside the movie’s kooky cartoon animals for absolutely no reason other than the fact that the movie thinks that random references to flash in the pan pop culture are hilarious, in spite of the movie’s 1950s setting. It’s also one of those animal movies that seems to think that groups of animals have intricately organized and bureaucratic governing bodies and that the power plays by what are ostensibly the politicians of the group are compelling points for a family film to explore. (It’s not.) Thankfully, that’s not the bulk of the movie, as it’s more focused on outcast Surly (Why, Will Arnett, why?) and his attempt to heist a bunch of nuts from a nutshop alongside his thankfully mute rat buddy and earn his right back into polite society and alongside the squirrel of his dreams, something that plays out alongside an extraneous parallel story about bank robbers using the nut shop as a front to tunnel into a bank next door. The Nut Job is simply not compelling or funny enough to be seen as even remotely good, and I can’t imagine too many kids will like it either, despite some wacky characters thrown in to vie for their attention spans. The animation itself is dated and cheap looking, but could’ve been serviceable for a smaller film, again, had the film any more redeeming qualities from a character, story, or humor standpoint. There’s pretty much no reason to watch a movie that apparently blew most of its budget on a bunch of well-known actors (Arnett, Liam Neeson, Katherine Heigl, Brendan Fraser, Maya Rudolph) who were willing enough to lend their names and collect an easy paycheck. Speaking of which…
6. Legends of Oz: Dorothy’s Return – 5/09/14 – 16%
Hey, everybody! Did you like The Wizard of Oz? Of course you did – everybody does (at least on some level)! That film’s success and the fact that it’s based on public domain material that’s ripe for the harvesting has led to a number of adaptations that cashed in by positioning themselves as either expansions of that film (both of the sequel and prequel varieties) or as total reimaginings, sometimes with a whole new set of songs for us to, they hope, commit to memory. Legends of Oz positions itself as an animated musical sequel to the MGM classic, with Dorothy reuniting with her old friends in Oz after another tornado blows through Dorothy’s home to take on a new threat, a jester who also happens to be the jealous brother of the Wicked Witch from the older film. Naturally, this is a threat that necessitates new friends, including a fat owl, a marshmallow soldier, and a snooty china doll. The inclusion of a female companion dictates that there must also be a romance shoved into the story, with the soldier falling for the tiny china doll along the way. Filled with several famous names, the main focus is on Glee star Lea Michelle as Dorothy – whose characterization is reminiscent of those knockoff Disney Princess films from the 90s, Don Bluth’s Thumbellina primarily – and Martin Short as the villainous Jester, who gets to sing a rock-n-roll song about being tempted by large quantities of candy. All the songs were written by Bryan Adams, by the way, all of them horribly generic. The character designs, too, are uninspired, exacerbated by animation that looks unfinished. There’s nothing about Legends of Oz that makes it worthy of being considered in the same league as other Oz-related films like The Wiz or Oz: The Great and Powerful, let alone the Judy Garland classic.
5. Endless Love – 2/14/14 – 15%
A remake of the 1981 film, which was itself based on the Scott Spencer novel, Endless Love is about two teenagers from different social and economic statuses (the boy being a lowly valet and son of a mechanic, the girl the daughter of a rich mansion-owning doctor) who fall in love and are then challenged by society (and parents) that don’t accept the two as being acceptably equal in status. Naturally, the kids will show them by telling each other how much they love each other. That really is about all there is to it. The movie is irredeemably bland, devoid of personality beyond starry-eyed, simplistic idealism about the relationship between these two recent high school graduates who would probably grow sick of each other’s blandness, given enough time. Unfortunately for the audience, 1 hour and 45 minutes is more than enough for us to have our fill and never want to see them again.
4. God’s Not Dead – 3/21/14 – 17%
That may be, movie title, but your brain clearly is. I didn’t care much about this movie’s existence beyond the fact that it just looked terrible and patronizing. The first time I really started engaging this movie, though, was when I started seeing texts and Facebook posts declaring both directly and indirectly to me, “God’s NOT dead!” Being a Christian myself, I found that to be really weird, as it doesn’t come off so much as a rejoicing about His existence than it does confrontation of something contrary to the sender’s belief systems. I told a friend of mine about it, and he had seen them too and explained to me that the movie makes a call to its audience to send everyone you know that message in an effort to spread the word – and I guess the Word. The irony of the fact that most of the people who sent it were sending it primarily to other believers was seemingly lost on the movie and the audience, though I can’t imagine too many non-Christians were compelled to accept Christ because of a hashtag campaign, though one can, indeed, only hope. As with Heaven Is for Real, the movie ignores the fundamental relationship with Christ that is essential to Christianity and instead focuses on ultimately more peripheral matters, like proving to non-Christians on just how correct we all are compared to them.
The central conflict of a college student being challenged by his atheist philosophy professor to prove the existence of God after the professor demands that all his students declare Him to be dead for their first assignment is inspired by real incidents, as we’re shown just before the credits roll, but while the listed incidents are no doubt terrible, God’s Not Dead stacks the odds against the professor not by engaging his argument so much as it shows us just how horrible a person he is in all aspects of his life because of his arrogant atheism. This is shown to us primarily through the public and even celebrated emotional abuse of his innocent angel of a Christian wife by him and his cadre of non-believing professors. As if that weren’t enough, the movie also provides more evidence for the awfulness of non-Christians by giving us side stories about a secret Christian girl living with an oppressive Muslim family, a confrontational liberal reporter who is given a terminal illness (possibly for having the audacity to confront two members of the Duck Dynasty cast on their way to church), a philandering businessman who hates his dying mom, a Chinese exchange student whose father back home is bewildered by his growing faith, and even the main character’s Jezebel girlfriend who leaves him because he stands up too much for his beliefs. They all tie in somewhat to the two central characters, of course, but only barely.
It’d be funny if it weren’t so earnest about these insulting, exaggerated depictions. I call this type of belief system a “Matrix-style Christianity,” where all non-believers, until they are converted, are seen as a potential gateway for “the enemy.” (And, yes, that movie was so influential that I did, in fact, witness Christians use the film by name as a metaphorical example of what Christians must face and do in everyday life. Maybe in other countries? Sure, but hardly in America.) The movie also proves its point by perpetuating the myth that all atheists are ultimately not really unbelievers but rather defiant souls who would openly acknowledge God’s existence if pried hard enough but are just too angry with Him for something that happened or not letting them do what they want without consequences. More so than the bad performances and the overstuffed story (which, by the way, also features a few more unmentioned subplots, one of which involves two pastors trying to go to Disney World and whose stories intersect the main one late in the film in the most heinous way possible), this skewed, caricature-filled depiction of the world is what makes me the most angry. Any Christian who makes their non-believing friend watch this is doing themselves and their faith a disservice. The movie will do nothing but perpetuate their belief in how prejudiced we are towards non-believers. By the end, while I was not at all ashamed of my Christianity, I wasn’t even left with good feelings about the people in my own faith if this is the image they want to project. I was sickened and enraged by the arrogance, dishonesty, and the lack of grace that went into making this repulsive movie.
3. The Legend of Hercules – 1/10/14 – 3%
Releasing in well ahead of the Brett Ratner-directed, Dwayne Johnson-starring summer flick about the same demigod, The Legend of Hercules feels like an Asylum-produced knock off that was quickly churned out in order to confuse people into thinking the two were the same and hopefully make bank on it. I don’t think anyone could mistake Kellen Lutz for The Rock, however. Lutz is a black hole of personality here – little more than muscle and a bit of armor being puppeteered by a choreographer. The production values also suck. Big time. Costumes and sets look like they’re taken directly from old episodes of Star Trek, the CGI doesn’t mesh with the real stuff, and the action sequences feature the most liberal and egregious use of slow motion I’ve ever encountered. You know those people who sprinkle ellipses throughout their sentences when they text or post on Facebook? “I punched him in the face…… He punched me back……… Then I grabbed the sword and swung it at him……… but he got a shield……..” It’s the visual equivalent of that – every action is interrupted by a sudden high frame rate slowdown before speeding back up to full speed a second later. It’s heinous. I had to look up a few reviews of this movie to be reminded of whether I was forgetting anything, and apparently I don’t recall the actors always shouting and speaking in gravelly voices, too. I’m inclined to mention it, though, because every review I read and watched noted how obnoxious it was. I haven’t seen it yet, but definitely, if you must watch a movie about Hercules from 2014, go see the one directed by Brett Ratner. Yes, you will prefer the Brett Ratner film. That’s how bad this is.
2. Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas – 11/14/14 – 0%
This could easily be #1 for worst movie of the year. It probably should be, but the one thing that kept me from putting it there is the fact that it really doesn’t resemble a movie at all. And you know how I criticized God’s Not Dead for existing solely to appease people who like to hear that their beliefs are correct and everyone is abhorrently wrong? Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas is kind of like that, except it’s even more insane because all the ideas it’s presenting are seemingly being pulled directly out of Kirk Cameron’s ass. He’s not defending Christmas against atheists who want Nativity scenes removed from public display – in fact, it makes fun of the so-called War on Christmas. Rather, it goes after other Christians who would dare to take issue with the holiday’s pagan origins and the rampant consumerist holiday it’s pretty much become.
How does he do this? By completely denying the Druid origins of many practices, for one, saying God created the winter solstice, and so the Druids couldn’t have influenced the holiday… which makes absolutely no sense. Then he goes and makes everything else up, too, like how the tree symbolizes both the cross and the Tree of Life, and presents are material and Christmas is a celebration of Jesus becoming material, and so you should get more material things! Also, they kinda look like a city skyline when they’re all lined up under the tree… like New Jerusalem, perhaps? Yeah, as if that weren’t bad enough, these points are all made not within a narrative, but with Cameron and his in-movie brother-in-law… Christian [sigh]… discussing these things in one location – a car – and each point is accompanied by a series of repeated imagery. And if you thought the slow motion in The Legend of Hercules was bad, just wait until you see how unartfully it’s used in Saving Christmas, where a character simply walking across the room or staring up at a tree are drawn out to excruciating lengths. It might be that they’re trying to emphasize some point, but I think it was more to create a runtime that justifies theatrical release. Speaking of filler, the movie ends with a hideously composed scene of everyone popping and locking to the ear-bleedingest version of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” you will ever hear in your lifetime. This isn’t a movie. It’s an abomination.
#1. Left Behind – 10/03/14 – 2%
Sadly, this one is a real movie, and it’s a magnificently terrible one, at that. Yes, my number one worst movie of 2014 is the all new adaptation of the Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins apocalyptic novel, Left Behind. It’s really only fitting that such an atrocity was committed in a year when so-called Bible-based movies were suddenly in vogue.
As you may well know, Left Behind is not the first movie adaptation of the evangelical doomsday book series. The first was all the way back in 2000, and, yes, it starred our good friend Kirk Cameron in the role of Buck Williams, reporter extraordinaire. Here the character is played by Chad Michael Murray, who also has definitely done better things in stuff like One Tree Hill. I admittedly never watched the show. I just know it has to be better than this. Nicolas Cage plays pilot and notable adulterer Rayford Steele in this film. I try not to take part in tabloid news, but I hear he has some serious money issues, which provides some context for his appearing in almost anything he’s offered. It sucks because he can be good, despite his reputation. In fact, one of his movies this past year, Joe, is making an appearance on my next list, the best films of 2014. Lea Thompson, though… c’mon. You were in Back to the Future! You were… Caroline in the City! What the heck are you doing here? In fact, I think everyone in this has been in better material! Cassi Thomson, who plays Rayford’s daughter Chloe, was a recurring character on Big Love and Switched at Birth, while cameo appearance maker Jordin Sparks was the winner on American Idol season six. Again, I have no idea if those shows are really any good, either, but they are undoubtedly more worthy of your time than this. Hell, the original 2000 movie was much more worthy of your time than this because you could at least laugh at it and it had a more filled out story.
This revamped adaptation barely touches upon all that happens in the first book. (Yes, I read it in 9th grade for a book report. It isn’t very good, either.) The movie doesn’t even have the comically evil Antichrist Nicolae Carpathia, so there’s no real villain in the film either… unless… you count the role of “villain” as the one who causes the central problem, in which case… I guess God’s in the “villain” role. That… is probably not the intention. Without the Antichrist, the central conflict amounts to watching the characters figure out just what happened when a bunch of people disappear from the face of the earth, leaving behind nothing but their clothes… except for underwear, which is notably absent in every scene where a character rummages through some disappeared person’s clothing looking for a clue. This makes it look like one facet of the Christian faith is that we must be going commando at all times. I seriously doubt that’s what was meant in 2 Timothy 2:3: “Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” Anyway, we follow this mysterious event through the eyes of Rayford, who is flying an airliner across the Atlantic, and his daughter Chloe, who was hanging out with her brother at the mall when the disappearance happens. Rayford decides to fly back to the airport while everyone on the plane, who are all some sort of symbol for the types of people who did something deserving of being left behind, argue bout what it all means. Meanwhile, an understandably scared Chloe makes her way back to an empty home, dodging death along the way and witnessing all the looting, rioting, and other mayhem beginning. Apart from some drama courtesy of a damaged engine and the need for a makeshift runway for Rayford to land his plane, that really is about all there is. Father and daughter are tearfully reunited and then we get an ominous, “This is just the beginning” as the city burns in the background.
Now, I don’t personally believe that the end of days is going to play out like this – I personally take the book of Revelation to be more symbolism for the times we live in now and is a narrative compression of that immense amount of time, from beginning to end, but I could be wrong, too, so I’m not exactly going to question the franchise’s interpretation of scripture – it’s largely irrelevant. The film is essentially a Christian version of torture porn horror, though, where we watch as the characters freak out and parrot back to us all the scripture references all their disappeared family and friends totally told them (who we Christians would supposedly count ourselves among), and they chose to ignore it until now and must suffer the consequences. We’re expected to watch with pity as they fight with one another, knowing that many of the characters are going to suffer on earth and then possibly burn in hell, but satisfied in knowing that we were right all along and will not have to endure it. At least, that’s probably the feeling some non-believer will feel if this is how you’re trying to speak to them about your faith. It’s like those bumper stickers that say, “Caution: In case of rapture, car will be unmanned.” There’s just something terribly smug about the nature of this kind of film, and while I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to make a film about this, there’s definitely the responsibility of being sensitive to not be casting so many stones at people who you may very well agree with but whom God most certainly loves, and He is most definitely not calling for you to decide what kind of person, particularly based on their actions, is saved or not.
Apart from that, however, for such heavy subject matter, Left Behind sure is one of the most boring harbingers of the apocalypse ever. By nature of being a Christian film, we know exactly Who is responsible for what is going on, so there’s no mystique or drama about watching these characters figure it all out through their discussions and searching for clues. The characters are one dimensional, whose lives seem to revolve around thinking Christians are crazy and bonding over their Christians-are-stupid perspectives until the Christians are proven right, and then they just go into hysterics. (See what I meant about smugness?) The settings consist of airport, suburban town, and especially the interior of an airliner, and… that’s about as much as you’ll get for diversity of locations here. A better filmmaker would’ve been able to make this work. One might be reminded of how Wolfgang Petersen’s Air Force One only had a few primary sets he switched back and forth between, too, and most of it also took place on a big jet, but that much, much longer movie had the benefit of not just Petersen, but also the spectacle of Harrison Ford’s gruff, take-no-crap President fighting valiantly against Gary Oldman’s love-to-hate-him Russian terrorist for the sake of his family, country, and the world. For all its ridiculousness and gung ho jingoism, Air Force One was pretty freaking entertaining. In fact, I legitimately love that very silly movie and found myself wishing that I was seeing that in the theatre instead of this pile.
Had Left Behind even a small portion of that film’s kind of energy and characterization, I would have probably overlooked some of its more ridiculous, single-minded elements. Instead, we get Nicolas Cage sleepwalking through his role (How is it that we don’t even get one of his trademark freak outs in a movie about the apocalypse?!) and absolutely zero villains to root against. I know it’s not in the book and all, but if this was going to be the portion of the story they chose to focus on, couldn’t they have at least invented some character for our protagonists to go up against? This isn’t Requiem for a Dream, for crying out loud. These characters aren’t on some downward spiral that makes for a compelling but tragic character study. By the movie’s standards, they’ve already fallen about as far as they can go by ending up in the end of days, and so not even the story feels the need to go any further than that. Even after the tearful family reunion between father and daughter, which I guess is the one goal any character has beyond figuring out “What is going on?”, we’re left with very little sense of accomplishment because the more interesting stuff either happened elsewhere or has yet to come.
And if they think that I’m coming back for a second time with that sequel tease, they’re… well, they’re probably right because that’s what I do. But I do it so that you don’t have to. This really is the worst movie of the year.