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The year in film failures: 2021’s worst movies

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As you saw a couple of weeks ago, there were a LOT of good movies that came out in 2021. And there were plenty of pretty good ones too, even if they didn’t quite ascend to the heights of greatness.

Of course, there were also some bad ones.

The following is a list of my least favorite viewing experiences of the year. Now, I acknowledge that when it comes to creative endeavors, quality can be a very subjective thing. I have no doubt that there are movies on this list that some of you not only liked, but loved. And that’s OK – we can feel different ways about things.

You’re wrong, obviously, but you have the right to feel the way you do.

I kid, I kid. The truth is that if you can find joy in a piece of creative work, be it a movie or a book or a TV show or a song, that’s a good thing.

As for me, well … I did NOT find much joy in these 10 films. Here they are, in alphabetical order.

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Afterlife of the Party

This Netflix offering – directed by Stephen Herek from a script by Carrie Freedle – is a derivative clunker of a film, seemingly assembled from vague recollections of far better movies. It’s the sort of movie that attempts to elicit laughs through broad comedy and tears through fraught emotionality, only to succeed on neither front, resulting in a vapid and unsatisfying movie experience.

“Afterlife of the Party” isn’t particularly funny or emotionally engaging, despite desperately striving to somehow be both these things. It’s an empty vessel, a placeholder of a film that feels like something made up to be a punchline in a TV show about the entertainment industry. Only this is sadly, inexplicably real. If you do wind up going down, don’t be shocked if this movie is on all the TVs in the waiting room.

Cinderella

This new version of the classic fairy tale is directed and adapted for the screen by Kay Cannon, best known as the writer of all three films in the “Pitch Perfect” series. Basically, it’s the story you know with a few feints at feminine empowerment and a whole bunch of pop songs that have been put through the musical theatre wringer.

Perhaps the most damning thing regarding “Cinderella” is how fundamentally unnecessary it feels. While it’s a potentially interesting take on the story, it falls short on following through on that potential, resulting in a movie that is simply … forgettable. Disposable. But at least it has a happy ending, in that you might well be glad when it’s over.

Dear Evan Hansen

Dear Evan Hanson,

Your movie is not good and I have a lot of questions. I recognize that your musical theatre source material is acclaimed and beloved; I don’t get it, but I recognize it. As such, I will not blame people who watch and love this movie – that’s their journey.

But I can blame you.

I wish that I had not been a part of watching “Dear Evan Hansen.” I wish I had spent that time doing something else. Almost anything else, to be honest. And while I know that the people who made this film want very much for it to matter, the reality is that it ultimately will not. It will vanish from the consciousness with nary a ripple … and very few will notice it was ever here in the first place.

Sincerely, your disinterested and already-over-it acquaintance,

Me

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions

This is where you remember (or learn for the first time) that not only was there a movie called “Escape Room” that came out a couple of years ago, but that it got a sequel.

An unnecessary sequel – fine. I get the desire to return to that well. However, if you’re going to make a sequel to a movie that itself was underwhelming, perhaps the right move is to make that sequel … better? Or at least different? Instead, this is basically a rehash; they’ve turned the dial up a little, but otherwise, it’s more of the same.

Ultimately, when it comes to “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions,” no one wins. Least of all, the audience.

He’s All That

This Netflix film is a remake of 1999’s EXTREMELY late-90s “She’s All That,” itself a riff on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion.” It is a soulless and vapid movie, a transparent effort to cash in on nostalgia that is unashamed of its own cynicism.

It’s not even that “He’s All That” is a bad movie (although it is); “She’s All That” was far from good, but still managed to inspire some degree of affection. No, the larger issue is that it is an utterly disposable movie, indistinguishable from scores of other recent films. It is a film constructed around TikTok stars and former Disney/Nick tweens grown slightly older, an effort to cash in on accelerated or even more-or-less-instant nostalgia while also making vague stabs at appealing to the memories of the previous generation.

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard

Yet another unnecessary sequel in a year with plenty, “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard” is the stupidly-titled follow-up to the meh Ryan Reynolds/Samuel L. Jackson action comedy “The Hitman’s Bodyguard.” It is not good.

The previous film managed to get by on the energy of its two leads and the chemistry between them, occasionally reaching the level of store-brand “Midnight Run,” but even that sense of fun is long gone in “THWB.” Instead, we get a tonally inconsistent combination of smug mugging and bloody violence that isn’t nearly as funny as it seems to think it is, presented to us alongside a confusing and borderline nonsensical plot and a bunch of rote, repetitive and generally uninteresting action sequences.

A complete and utter misfire, one that will leave you wishing that the titular bodyguard was even worse at his job.

The Ice Road

“The Ice Road” is precisely what you think it is. You can hear the elevator pitch – “Liam Neeson drives a semi across an ice road to save miners” – and pretty much work out how it’s all going to go. There are no surprises to be had here; even the moments that are ostensibly meant to be twists are telegraphed so far in advance that they almost (but not quite) become surprises again.

“The Ice Road” is the kind of movie that you’ve already forgotten about before the credits are finished rolling. It is generic action fare, good for little but bulking up the Netflix streaming library. It’s not good enough OR bad enough to really care about, even considering the rather low expectations of geriaction. It’s ASMR for retired dudes. “The Ice Road” should have been the one less traveled.

Space Jam: A New Legacy

One of many crass efforts to cash in on the nostalgic impulse on this year’s list, “Space Jam 2” misses the mark in a big way – I assumed LeBron James would be a better shooter than this. It feels like nothing so much as a movie-length reminder of the extent of the Warner Brothers catalog; referential humor is fine, but references alone aren’t jokes.

But this is what you get when nostalgia is the guiding force behind a project. It’s not enough simply to remember what was if there’s nothing about what is that is memorable in its own right. This movie could have been a slam dunk. Instead, it’s an airball.

Thunder Force

“Thunder Force,” written and directed by Ben Falcone and starring Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer, is an effort to play the tropes for laughs and have some fun with the foibles inherent to the genre, relying heavily on the talents of its cast to carry the day.

It doesn’t quite work out the way they might have hoped.

“Thunder Force” has the germ of an interesting idea, but it all falls by the wayside in a mess of montages and schticky non sequiturs. It’s a comedy with too few laughs, a genre skewering that never quite skewers; it’s a film that not even the wattage of its stars can salvage. All in all, not so super.

The Woman in the Window

“The Woman in the Window” – starring Amy Adams – is a skewed-perspective thriller whose thrills ultimately prove underwhelming. The narrative telegraphs many of its twists; it’s hard to find much of anything surprising about this story as it plays out. And when you build on a foundation of surprises that aren’t really all that surprising, well … it’s just not going to work.

“The Woman in the Window” is one of those unfortunate films that is far less than the sum of its parts. With this kind of pedigree, it should have been good or at the very least passable. Instead, we get a thriller with no thrills, jagged and disconnected. It’s not even a so-bad-it’s-good fun watch. It’s just bad. Makes you wonder if any of the people involved are familiar with the word “defenestration.”

Last modified on Wednesday, 22 December 2021 08:10

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