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A year in film failures: 2020’s worst movies

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I reviewed a LOT of movies this year – just north of 150. This means that I saw a lot of good ones and plenty of half-decent ones.

It also means I saw quite a few bad ones.

What follows is a list of some of the worst movies I saw in 2020. Some were well-intentioned efforts that went sadly awry. Some were misguided efforts to start franchises. And some were just … bad.

I’ve got 10 here, followed by another 10 honorable mentions. The truth is that most of these could be shuffled around – the difference between, say, the eighth worse and the 13th worse is negligible – but the whole deal with lists is that at some point they end.

Here they are: 2020’s film failures.

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Artemis Fowl

On paper, the “Artemis Fowl” series of books by Eoin Colfer looks like a solid bet. It’s got a high-concept hook revolving around a secret world of fairies, a kid protagonist and eight novels worth of narrative to be mined. The project has been in the works at various stages with various studios for almost two decades. Finally, with the Disney monolith behind it, the first film in the erstwhile franchise arrived.

Don’t be surprised if it’s also the last.

“Artemis Fowl” – inexplicably directed by Kenneth Branagh – is wildly unsuccessful on just about every conceivable level. It is a jumbled mess that borders on incoherent, a scattershot attempt at world-building that basically throws a lot of stuff at the wall, only nothing really sticks. The tone is inconsistent and the plot is nonsensical. The 95-minute runtime is not nearly enough to provide the required context, though that is offset by the feeling of relief at its brevity.

By almost any measure, “Artemis Fowl” is an abject disaster. It is an ill-conceived and poorly-executed example of putting the franchise cart before the first movie horse. It’s not impossible that we’ll see this story continue, but if the early returns are an indicator, I wouldn’t put money on it. Certainly not $125 million, anyway.

To be blunt, “Artemis Fowl” is, well … foul.

(Read the full review here.)

Capone

“Capone” transcends the very idea of good and bad. The passion project of writer/director Josh Trank is such a jarringly weird viewing experience that it’s hard to use general terms in describing its quality. The storytelling choices are often vividly unpleasant and the narrative flow is inconsistent – all of which is exacerbated by a needle-pinning performance from Tom Hardy in the titular role.

This is a film that fails to work in a multitude of ways yet remains eminently watchable. Granted, it’s peek-through-the-fingers watchable, but watchable nevertheless. “Capone” is a roadside accident of a movie – unfortunate and potentially gruesome, yet still oddly fascinating to look at.

The mere existence of “Capone” is fascinating, the passion project of a failed big-budget director who managed to secure significant financing, only to make a movie that no one wanted to distribute. It is weird and confusing and a little gross, a film that seems to revel in being aggressively off-putting and features an A-lister in an off-the-rails lead performance. Frankly, the biggest benefit to having seen it at all is the first-hand knowledge that yes, it really is that bizarre.

In the end, “Capone” is kaput.

(Read our full review here.)

Coffee & Kareem

Every movie begins with an idea, a seed that one hopes will ultimately grow into something appealing. Sometimes, that idea is a plot point or an aesthetic concept. Sometimes, it involves a character and/or the actor who plays said character. And sometimes, it’s … something else.

Take “Coffee & Kareem.” Near as I can figure, this movie exists because someone thought that was a funny title and decided to reverse-engineer a film from there. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that the end result was not good.

What we have here is a lukewarm and forgettable cup of movie, one that carries the slapdash algorithmically-generated vibe that often marks the less-successful of the streaming service’s original offerings. There’s relatively little humor to be found in the ostensible comedy, and what you do find is so utterly awash in flop sweat as to be rendered ineffective. The film is tonally confused and not nearly as clever as it wants you to think it is.

(Read the full review here.)

Desperados

“Desperados” is a derivative, vaguely dull film, one that seems to have simply thrown a bunch of clichés and tropes at the wall and filmed what stuck. It is a warmed-over rehash, a cover band attempting to play the hits. It’s the sort of movie that offers literally nothing that you haven’t seen before.

Watching this movie is like watching items checked off a list. Quirky female protagonist? Check. Two unreasonably supportive friends? Check. Ridiculous and easily avoided mistake made? Check. Exotic getaway setting? Check. Questionable decision making? Check. Physical injury played for laughs? Check.

You get the picture.

“Desperados” is a fairly typical Netflix offering, a flavorless entry into the vast mushy middle of streaming services. It’s a film seemingly purposefully designed to exist solely as background noise while you pay attention to something else. Not that it matters, because its sheer disposability is such that you might forget it before you’re even done watching.

All told, you’re probably not desperate enough for “Desperados.”

(Read the full review here.)

Dolittle

“Dolittle” was obviously intended to be a tentpole, a spring/summer release meant to kick off a franchise. And with no-longer-Tony-Stark Robert Downey Jr. on board, it probably felt like an easy win, a no-brainer.

Instead, it’s a meandering and pointless exercise in formulaic filmmaking. It is utterly lacking in any sort of spark, a flat and listless story told without any real excitement or urgency. There’s zero in the way of originality and even less in the way of engagement despite an absolutely all-star cast. Younger viewers might get some giggles, but even they will likely sense that something doesn’t sit right.

Basically, a dumb movie that doesn’t really care how dumb it is.

“Dolittle” is a big-budget misfire, a CGI-riddled wreck that doesn’t look nearly good enough visually to make up for its hollowness. It is listless and unfunny, lacking even a modicum of the spirit that makes for a good kids’ movie. It condescends to its audience, unconcerned with how generally stupid it all is. It is very, very bad.

But hey – it’s still better than “Cats.”

(Read the full review here.)

Fantasy Island

This incarnation of “Fantasy Island” – directed by Jeff Wadlow from a script he co-wrote with Jillian Jacobs and Christopher Roach – never manages to develop anything worthwhile from the rich soil of the source material. Instead, we get a bunch of recycled tropes and cheap scares, a low-rent mélange of monkey’s paw clichés and lazy storytelling. There are a few brief glimpses of the film this could have been, but for the most part, there’s nothing here – filmmaking fantasy meeting cold, stark mismanaged reality.

Ultimately, “Fantasy Island” suffers because it utterly fails to follow through on its promise. The possibilities are practically infinite, yet we get this bland, derivative pile of mediocrity. It’s not what we generally expect from Blumhouse, although I suppose you can’t win them all. Still, if this is the best you can do in terms of your fantasies, you are sadly lacking in imagination.

(Read the full review here.)

Irresistible

“Irresistible” is written and directed by Jon Stewart, the tale of what happens when a small-town mayoral race captures the attention of high-level political operatives on both sides of the partisan divide. These operatives swoop in and turn this minor municipal election into a big-money campaign. It’s ostensibly an ideological fight, but it soon becomes clear that there’s far more to it.

Stewart’s body of work from “The Daily Show” on up would seem to make him the ideal candidate (no pun intended) to make a film like this. And it’s a dynamite cast, led by Steve Carell, Chris Cooper and Rose Byrne. The talent is here, for sure.

So why isn’t this movie better?

Not that it’s bad, per se. It has its moments. It just feels like it is trying to be all things to all people, which is ironic considering its subject matter. It never commits to a tone, resulting in an overall feeling of meh-ness that undercuts whatever satiric impact it might have made. Political commentary? Sly satire? Underdog tale? “Irresistible” is all of these – and hence none of them.

The biggest problem with “Irresistible” is its thematic and tonal muddiness; another major irony of this film is that a story supposedly about hardline partisan division is rendered with a churning centrism. It’s neither as smart nor as funny as it could (and should) have been, leaving us with a movie that is all the more disappointing for its squandered potential.

(Read the full review here.)

The Last Days of American Crime

“The Last Days of American Crime” is a film that limbos so far beneath my reasonable expectations as to bury itself in a not-so-shallow grave. Directed by Olivier Megaton for Netflix, it commits egregious cinematic sins almost too numerous to name, working its way through what almost seems like a deliberate checklist of poor choices and worse execution.

Seriously – this movie is a bad time. It is staggeringly overlong, yet still manages to feel dull and uneventful. The dialogue is laughable, the performances are wooden and/or off-kilter and the character motivations are either nonsensical or nonexistent. The action sequences feel rote and uninspired and it is shockingly tone deaf in spots. Just … not good.

“The Last Days of American Crime” could have been cool, a sci-fi riff on a Purge-like dystopia. Instead, it is an absolute slog, a boring and brutal film with almost nothing of value to offer. It isn’t interesting and it isn’t fun. It isn’t just a waste of 2½ hours, though – you’ll actually feel actively bad about yourself for having watched it. My bar might be low, but no bar is low enough for this thing to clear.

The real crime is that this movie even exists in the first place.

(Read the full review here.)

Love, Weddings & Other Disasters

There are some movies that are compulsively watchable. These are the films from which you simply cannot tear your eyes. Often, this magnetism springs from the exquisite quality of what has been made, a combination of narrative and aesthetic excellence that demands to be experienced. Sometimes, however, that watchability is born of the exact opposite. In these moments, we get a movie that, despite being an abject and utter mess, nevertheless holds your attention.

“Love, Weddings & Other Disasters” is one of those rare watchable shambles, an aptly-titled car-crash of a movie experience that practically demands to be rubbernecked.

Written and directed by Dennis Dugan, “Love, Weddings & Other Disasters” is a misguided effort to walk the well-worn path of the intersecting storyline rom-com. The best of those films connect the dots with grace and subtlety, but as you might have already surmised, that’s not what this film does. Instead, we get a series of barely-connected narratives that each play out in their own rambling fashion before a hurried and not-particularly-inspired finale that leaves the viewer wondering what the hell just happened.

“Love, Weddings & Other Disasters” is a magnificent mess, a movie constantly teetering on the edge of utter incomprehensibility. It’s the sort of project that causes you to question the judgment of everyone involved, so utterly does it misfire. But hey – sometimes, you just want to embrace the chaos.

(Read the full review here.)

The Wrong Missy

I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into with Netflix’s “The Wrong Missy.” In truth, all I really needed to hear is “David Spade vehicle” to have a general sense of what I was in for.

However, it’s difficult to articulate just how off-the-rails terrible this movie actually is. Casting David Spade as anything resembling a romantic lead is a mistake on its face, but when you incorporate the lackluster script, disinterested direction and a checklist of the Sandler formula playbook, you’re left with a movie driven by sheer cringe and little else. It is dumb, generally unpleasant and woefully unfunny.

“The Wrong Missy” is 90 excruciating minutes long, thanks to the padding provided by an inexplicable talent show sequence that makes even less sense than the rest of the movie. It isn’t the longest hour-and-a-half I’ve ever spent, but it’s in the conversation. I’ll put it this way: the fact that I resent this movie for stealing time from me during a period in my life when time has lost nearly all meaning probably tells you everything you need to know.

Long story short, if you miss “The Wrong Missy,” you’ve made the right choice.

(Read the full review here.)

(Honorable mentions: Antebellum; The Binge; Bloodshot; Impractical Jokers: The Movie; Brahms: The Boy II; Downhill; The Rhythm Section; The Stand In; Superintelligence; The Turning)

Last modified on Wednesday, 30 December 2020 11:42

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