Due to the lag time for various overseas film releases here in Australia, I'm a few weeks and a dozen films away from locking down my 'Best Films of 2012' list. That said, I'm ready to move forward with this other piece celebrating a far more ignominious honor.
I can't write as colorful a 'Worst Films of 2012' list these days as used to. Why? Mainly that my tolerance for sh-t has dropped as I've aged, so I deliberately avoid a lot of the visibly awful films that I used to see out of some strange sense of obligation. This year I skipped the "Ghost Rider" and "Atlas Shrugged" sequels, the Three Stooges update, Lee Daniels' much derided "The Paperboy," and anything that involves Tyler Perry and/or Adam Sandler in any capacity. Looking back, I can safely say I enjoyed at least half the films I caught at the cinema this year - in any year that's a good ratio.
That said, it still means there was a good six dozen or so films I saw that ranged from the decidedly average, to the poor, to the downright soul crushing. It's time to look at the ones I personally found the worst offenders.
1. Piranha 3DD
How do you screw up one of the most fun guilty pleasure films of recent years? Easy, you make a sequel that takes the story somewhere stupider, meaner and sillier. You not only remove any of the enjoyment, but all of the brand's freshly rebuilt credibility so that even the most loyal fan can only turn away in disgust. 3DD is such a truly awful sequel that it will make you feel deeply ashamed about liking the original in the first place.
This follow-up to 2010's unexpectedly fun "Piranha 3D" takes every step wrong that you could think of. Aside from the odd cameo, none of the original cast is back and have been replaced by various direct-to-disc talent. Gone too is any of the wink-wink sensibility or even remote attempts to play any of this seriously. The film is obvious and vulgar right from the get go, indulging in its crass stupidity that is made all the more obvious by the awful direction, acting, editing and effects.
The production values are astonishingly amateurish, and not in an ironic kitschy way either. "Josh cut off his penis because something came out of my vagina" is a typical line of dialogue from "Feast" scribes Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan's script. Said script boasts a sense of humour that's always juvenile, and often crosses an icky boundary - jokes designed for that kind of guy who masturbates to the rape scene in "Showgirls."
There's no characters, no real story, and even at 70 minutes it all feels padded out to the extreme. David Hasselhoff shows up to parody himself, Ving Rhames delivers an unnecessary cameo that I hope he got paid for. This is the kind of movie that not only makes me hate movies, it makes me hate life. So deplorable on every conceivable level.
2. Red Dawn
The world has changed considerably from the culture that spawned the original violent cult classic "Red Dawn." 1980s filmmaking titan John Milius brought his far right politics and love of firearms to bear in a story that has lasted better than various other efforts of the time. That's mainly because Milius doesn't do things by half, resulting in an incredibly violent and epic scaled bit of nonsense that embraced militarism to the extreme. Why use a pistol when a rocket launcher would do the job just as well?
In comparison, Dan Bradley's scaled back and contemporary remake is not only far less engaging, you'd be hard pressed to find a worse film this year. Poorly cast, badly acted, terribly scripted and horrifically directed, everything that could go wrong in a film does. Too dour by half, the film lacks the scale, ambition, conviction, satire and campy appeal of the original. Instead, this joins the ranks of the most generic of action films ever made, trying to please everyone and in the process appealing to no one.
The ONLY cast member even approaching adequacy is Chris Hemsworth, the Aussie hunk's charisma single-handedly stopping the film from entirely imploding in on itself. In comparison there's his brother played by the greasy looking Josh Peck, a mumbling selfish prick who routinely endangers others with his stupidity. Peck's character is terrible to begin with, but his performance is quite frankly the worst acting turn I've seen this year - bar none.
How this thing cost around $70 million to produce I can't even begin to fathom, it looks like it was done for one-fifth of that amount. For all its clunky melodramatic kid antics, 2010's Australian country town "Red Dawn"-esque invasion tale "Tomorrow, When the War Began" is a considerably more enjoyable successor to the Milius original than this turkey.
Producer Luc Besson's attempt to remake "Escape from New York" in a low Earth orbit setting, "Lockout" has none of the John Carpenter classic's charm or ingenuity. Trying to dabble in comedy and self-parody, the film unintentionally takes it way past the line to result in an outright farce of the most unfunny kind.
In fact the ridiculousness of the whole story is far funnier than the deplorable attempts at zingers that a game Guy Pearce delivers with an often tired groan. Pearce looks great, healthier than he has in years, and the cocky personality type is actually quite suited to the actor. Unfortunately he's saddled with some of the clunkiest dialogue I've heard in years.
He's not helped by a supporting cast that includes the termite-friendly Maggie Grace, with whom he shares absolutely no chemistry, and the always fun Peter Stormare who is unfortunately restrained for once. The villains, led by "Misfits" star Joe Gilgun as a tattooed psycho, are so unpleasant they're not even worth mentioning. In fact, they seem to be mainly there to leer, attempt to rape Grace's character at one point, and otherwise fill out a runtime.
Once Pearce's character hits the station, everything becomes a mess of scenes involving running around corridors, pretending to be prisoners, and ultimately engage in a final act that makes no real sense. There's a subplot about the framing of Pearce's character that's very tired and overdone, but at least it's competently shot. The same can't be said for many of the effects, such as an orbital skydive, which sport worse graphics than many free iPhone games.
4. The Cold Light of Day
Henry Cavill is an incredible specimen of manhood, a beautiful face where every feature is chiseled to perfection and yet still very masculine. His pre-"Man of Steel" and "Immortals" body on display here is naturally handsome, neither the starved look of a waxed twink or the grotesque puffery of a juicing gym-rat. I'm concentrating on his beauty because the occasional shot of glistening chest hair is about the only welcome distraction in this aborted attempt to launch a cost-efficient and heavily Bourne-inspired spy thriller franchise.
Using a slightly altered premise to last year's very similar and similarly awful Taylor Lautner vehicle "Abduction," 'Cold' ages up the hero and transfers the locale to picturesque places along the Iberian coast. Solid talent who have delivered great performances in the past are all stuck with unimpressive bit parts, especially Bruce Willis whose role ultimately amounts to an extended cameo.
Cavill's performance isn't great, but a big part of the problem is that they have made his character so thoroughly unlikable. He's the perfect stereotype of the worst kind of ugly Western tourist - arrogant, loud, self-centered, narcissistic, rude and completely devoid of any discernible intelligence, nous or real world experience. His entire job for 95% of the film is merely to run, scream at people and/or look pensive while all the supporting characters calmly explain every plot point with great detail.
Films like this are green lit for one purpose - to effectively serve as a tax break for the production company or the film's financier. As long as it keeps to a modest budget, even the most awful film will earn a return and the backers can use the money they save from the Government to buy Ayn Rand memorabilia on eBay. The only thing that separates a movie like this from the worst direct-to-DVD titles is the production values and talent. It's an embarrassment for everyone involved but, thankfully, no-one but the most forgiving of viewers will end up seeing it.
5. Silent House
Incestuous rape and child abuse are horrific subjects that, handled with intelligence and judicious care, can yield thought-provoking and emotional works in various genres, even horror. Unfortunately this remake of the 2010 Uruguayan low-budget horror thriller decides to use them as a "ha ha, gotcha!" twist to prop up it is already highly dubious home invasion story.
The remake keeps the formula of shooting the entire film in seemingly one long take, albeit with plenty of power outs and dark environments to hide the joins of separate shots and setups. It also boasts a solid turn from star Elizabeth Olsen and an admirable desire to emphasise atmosphere - at least at first. The setup is interesting, but there's nowhere near enough material here for a feature.
As a result the decent first half-hour gives way to an often meandering and tedious second half-hour. The film tries to milk the idea of several potential threats - violent squatters, visions of a seemingly supernatural girl, questions over our heroine's sanity. Ultimately though it falls back on a twist that's predictable, cheap, and ultimately just plain icky.
It is pure gimmick horror, built on a technical trick rather than the solid foundation of a good story. Characters often behave in the most stupid ways, the shaky cam is more nauseating than nail-biting, and the constant sense of trying to induce tension actually robs the film's few really tense moments of their impact. One good performance and a high concept do not make a movie.
6. Taken 2
The first "Taken" was a welcome surprise, a stripped down action thriller based on a simple premise and around a strong leading man in Liam Neeson. Unfortunately this follow-up is utter nonsense that suffers from textbook sequel-itis - everything is bigger, louder, dumber and duller. This one has been made with a PG-13 rating in mind, rather than conceived as an R-rated effort that was later trimmed to appease the MPAA like the first film. As a result the action is safe enough this time out to take your toddler along.
Neeson once again proves the reliable core, but the steel-eyed determination just isn't there this time. Not helping is the shift of focus which now alternates between the various members of the Mills family and Rade Šerbedžija's flat villain. Neeson also spends a good portion of the film chained up in a basement, leaving things up to Maggie Grace to save the day. Why Besson has such a raging erection for her I can't fathom as I've yet to see the "Lost" actress give a performance I like. She's not helped by a script which turns her character into a stunt driver, even though she keeps reiterating how she can't actually drive well.
At a fairly lean 91 minutes one can't really call "Taken 2" bloated, yet so much of it seems like useless fat that could have been replaced with a decent plot and maybe some actual thrills. Even big fans of the first one will be surprised by the lethargy and lack of imagination on offer, for mindless nonsense it's incredibly tedious.
The replacing of Pierre Morel as director with the decidedly less talented Olivier Megaton is partly to blame, but more is Besson's need to create this follow-up without any real justification other than the first one making money. Birthed for the most cynical of reasons and made at nearly double the cost, is it any wonder it turned out less than half as engaging as its progenitor?
The shock of "Battleship" isn't that they've managed to make a movie out of a Hasbro game, it's that seemingly so much effort has gone into creating something with so little imagination. Director Peter Berg is obviously phoning in this one, so he's quite literally photocopied the template of Michael Bay's "Transformers" films which allows him to avoid any heavy lifting.
The design work, the filming style, the masturbatory patriotism, the ham-fisted dialogue, the sound design, the score, and so on appear designed to fool the audience into thinking this is a Bay-directed spin-off. In fact, the only thing it lacks is Bay's now signature sense of cringe-inducing humour, something I wouldn't in a million years believe I would come to miss. If any film could really use some robot testicles, casual racism and gay panic jokes to lighten up the tedium, this would be it.
The cast struggle with the material which delivers exposition with all the bluntness of a beige sledgehammer. Taylor Kitsch's character is an unfocused delinquent who is seemingly a genius, the only way we know that last part though is because every other character tells us so at every opportunity they can get. He's a guy that rose up the Navy hierarchy faster than anyone in history, though we're never told how exactly. With his tight body and square jaw though, one can make an educated guess. After all, how does the Navy separate the men from the boys? With a crowbar.
The whole thing clocks in at a whopping 132 minutes for no real reason, not helped by much of the action actually having little to do with duelling ships. This takes no risks, establishes no real characters or even attempts to tell a coherent story - meaning it has no real reason to exist. Big, shiny and empty - this so-called tribute to the Navy is about as welcome as a post-shore leave ship wide outbreak of the clap.
8. Snow White and the Huntsman
This revisionist take on the "Snow White" story posits the original dark Grimm fairytale not as the cautionary horror story it was, but as an awkward epic medieval swashbuckling fantasy it never needed to be. Despite some interesting production design and a quite affable turn by Chris Hemsworth, this take on the story proves an insufferably dull and needlessly dreary affair that lacks grandeur or edge.
That's partly because Snow White herself is such a bland presence. There's no fire in her heart, in fact Kristen Stewart's heroine is oddly muted and purely reactionary which makes her journey one you care very little for. As a result, your attention wanders to both the redoubtable huntsman and the mad queen. Hemsworth's gruff and grounded character is the one best suited to the film's fantastical, but tangible landscape. He's also far more game than his female co-star, from spinning his axes with gusto to even giving us a quick flash of tit.
In contrast there's Theron who is bordering on "Mommie Dearest" territory here as the sorceress and queen. The lack of any attempt to reign it in takes away significantly from what should be her chillier and creepier moments. There's a cast of great English actors as the dwarfs, but none have any real personality (and not that much screen time) so it feels like a wasted opportunity. Same goes for Sam Claflin's bland 'handsome prince' and childhood friend who remains enigmatic and uninteresting.
Production values are fine, but it's an overly long and overly stuffed film that relies more on its flashy art direction than bringing any new elements to the tale. When it does, they seem directly lifted from far better works such as Miyazaki's "Princess Mononoke." It's an awful script that's not helped by direction from Rupert Sanders that's a little too enamored with itself rather than the tale it's supposed to tell. Going into this year, I would not have believed this would be worse than Tarsem's gonzo Bollywood kid fantasy tale "Mirror Mirror." I was wrong, although the quality line separating them isn't very much.
9. Total Recall
Len Wiseman's embarrassing sci-fi action spectacle isn't so much a new adaptation of the Philip K. Dick short story, as it is an oddly toothless and toned down homage to the previous Verhoeven/Schwarzenegger 1990 sci-fi cult classic adaptation. Verhoeven's film is a feast of riches with its gratuitous violence, playful misogyny, twisted sensibility and ballsy risk taking. Wiseman's on the other hand could not play it more safe, fusing the most generic of sci-fi tropes with a design sensibility that meshes the "Portal" video games, Ridley Scott and an Apple store.
Swapping out Mars for a "Blade Runner" and "Minority Report"-inspired cityscape, the film still hits many of the same story and action beats as the Arnie classic, albeit without any of that movie's visceral or emotional engagement. That's partly due to the PG-13 rating, but more to do with how astonishingly flat this derivative take on the material is.
Even the acting is decidedly downgraded, none of the actors leaving any impression aside from Kate Beckinsale who looks like she basically just walked in off the set of the latest "Underworld" chapter. Beckinsale is the only one who seems to be having any fun, and so automatically lights up the screen in this otherwise dreary tale.
There's some good action on display that's crisply shot, but the idiocy of the dialogue and the sheer amount of computer graphics make the whole endeavour feel featherweight and inconsequential. It's a textbook example of everything that's wrong with remakes - it doesn't go back to the source material, it adds absolutely nothing new, and ultimately it is too slavishly beholden to the previous adaptation to step out of its shadow.
10. This Means War
Even though McG's action rom-com is about two spies in love with the same girl, the only reason it isn't higher on this list is that it can be read in an entirely different way. Looking at the film on the surface, it is the worst kind of throwaway trash. The action is incredibly dull, and the comedy is not only bland, it's stupid. Not helping is that the leads have zero chemistry with their leading lady.
Languishing in development for years, the script has been re-written so many times that there's no actual story left beyond the basic premise, while the dialogue has no real world connotation whatsoever. Chelsea Handler pops in and out to dispense advice about throwing one's cooch about as often as possible and to whomsoever wants to enter her tunnel of terror. Most of these sagely zingers are directed at Reese Witherspoon who is a few years too old to get away with this unbelievably naive, single white girl routine.
The whole point is both Tom Hardy and Chris Pine's BFF spies are supposed to be infatuated with her, which is odd as she has about as much sexual charisma as a block of asbestos. Hardy and Pine actually have far more chemistry with each other than with their co-star, their scenes brimming with enough homoerotic tension that the film can be seen from an entirely different perspective - two hetero buddies coming to terms with their love and desire for each other.
Numerous critics, even Roger Ebert, have all spoken about how the film both makes more sense and works much better from this perspective. It helps with the casting of pretty boy Pine and man's man Hardy. Hardy is the male equivalent of Angelina Jolie - as in your own sexual orientation be damned, who wouldn't want a go? Sadly, even with this fascinating subversive layer to soften the blow, it remains a god awful film. Pine and Witherspoon have starred in far worse, but Hardy doesn't escape so easy. After all, this is the only real flaw on his film resume over the last four years since he broke through with "Bronson" in 2008.
The Awakening, Bait 3D, Bel Ami, Beneath the Darkness, Intruders, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, Mirror Mirror, The Possession, The Raven, Red Lights, Resident Evil: Retribution, Seeking Justice, Underworld: Awakening, Wrath of the Titans.