04/06/2009 02:34 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Seven Least Essential Movies of the Next Seven Weeks


The first quarter of 2009 has been a boon for the movie industry. Film likes Madea Goes to Jail, Fast and Furious, Taken, and Paul Blart: Mall Cop have made katrillions of dollars, giving reporters endless reasons to speculate that we're avoiding the recession by flocking to the cineplex for some crappy entertainment.

And let's be honest: No matter why we're buying the tickets, most of the movies we're seeing this year suck. Capital-S, bendable straw suck.

But we've gotta see something, right? I have friends who are part of an Embarrassing Movie Club, and I'm trekking out to Hannah Montana on Friday afternoon. (I'll explain later.)

Even in a season of dreck, however, there are still choices to be made. Therefore, I've compiled a list of the seven least essential movies of the next seven weeks. Read about them here, forget about them later, and then just go see Taken again. Because that movie is never leaving theaters.

(And thanks to Tara for lending me this concept!)

(7) Obsessed (opening April 24)

The Plot: Idris Elba is married to Beyonce. They're happy. Then Ali Larter starts flirting with him at his office, and she decides she's in love. In a crazy way. This leads to a hair-pulling brawl between Ali Larter and Ms. Knowles. Somehow, Jerry O'Connell is involved.

Why It's Inessential: This movie actually looks awesome. Like, it's going to be so bad that you have to watch it over and over and over again, just for the part where Beyonce says, "I'll show you crazy!"

But here's the thing: It's clearly a movie that needs to be seen at home, where rewinding and live reenactments are possible. Save your $12 and watch this in your pajamas, maybe as a double feature with Jennifer Lopez's Enough.

For now, just watch the trailer:

(6) Angels & Demons (opening May 15)

The Plot: Dan Brown's precursor to his novel The Da Vinci Code has its chronology shuffled so it can become a sequel to the film. Tom Hanks returns as Robert Langdon, a puzzle-solving smart guy who once again must finish Sudokus in order to stop a world crisis.

Why It's Inessential: One Da Vinci Code was enough, especially since the movie was about half as exciting as the book, which in turn was about half as interesting as it was cracked up to be. Angels & Demons is guaranteed to have the stale taste of a sequel that's been designed primarily to make money.

Also, no film can be essential when this is part of its Wikipedia plot summary: "Langdon discovers the Illuminati plan to kill four cardinals and destroy St. Peter's Basilica with stolen antimatter during a papal conclave."

That sentence has wonky grammar, but I'll bet you six cryptexes that the actual plot is just as hard to follow. Sequel mentality says that if the first film was a twisty pretzel, the second film has to be even twistier, lest fans get bored because they actually comprehend what they're seeing.

(5) Fighting (opening April 24)

The Plot: Channing Tatum plays a dude who hustles counterfeit goods on the streets until Terrence Howard shepherds him to the better life... of beating people for money.

Why It's Inessential: For one thing, every movie about an underdog fighter will always just be the latest version of Rocky, which means we already know the major plot points.

But hoariness is not a dealbreaker per se. The big problem here is Channing Tatum. We've already got current releases from Vin Diesel and Jason Statham to keep us in macho guy swagger, so why see an actor whose major credit is the dance movie Step Up?

Plus, Tatum co-stars in the upcoming G.I. Joe adaptation, so why not skip Fighting and wait for the flick with cooler villains?

(4) 17 Again (opening April 17)

The Plot: Matthew Perry is disgruntled! Thank goodness a mysterious janitor helps him magically transform into his seventeen year-old self! And thank goodness his seventeen year-old self looks like Zac Efron! Cue the zany montages and touching lessons about growing up!

Why It's Inessential: Seventeen Again. 18 Again. Vice Versa. Big. 13 Going on 30. Freaky Friday. The other Freaky Friday.

(3) Observe and Report (opening April 10)

The Plot: It's that movie about a mall cop. No, not the one with the King of Queens. The other one.

Why It's Inessential: I don't care that this mall cop movie is the one with cool-guy cred. I don't care that it was written and directed by the dude who made The Foot Fist Way, which is supposed to be rilly-rilly funny, and I don't care that it stars Seth Rogen. The fact is, this is the second mall cop movie to arrive in the last three months, and therefore, it must be avoided. We do not need this concept to become a genre, y'all, or else we're gonna get hit with Wanda Sykes in Victoria's Secret Police and Eric Bana in the maudlin indie drama Food Court King.

(2) Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (opening May 1)

The Plot:In a romcom update of A Christmas Carol, Matthew McConaughey plays a bachelor who is visited by ghosts of his old girlfriends. Jennifer Garner shows up as his love interest.

Why It's Inessential: Doesn't this sound like a movie that would be on a show like Extras? As in, it's such a ridiculously lazy and insulting idea to turn A Christmas Carol into a romantic comedy starring Matthew McConaughey that it could only be broached on a vicious satire about Hollywood's brainless cynicism. And yet... no. It's really happening. The only thing that keeps this movie from reeking of the condemned factory where it was obviously assembled is the fact that Kate Hudson isn't in it. But I'll bet you six million dollars that she was offered Jennifer Garner's part.

In fact, this movie looks so terrible that I almost feel compelled to see it. What will it be like? Will my eyeballs melt? Will I get seduced by its cultish power? Will I rush out to buy a copy of Fool's Gold?

(1) The Soloist (opening April 24)

The Plot: Robert Downey, Jr. is a jerkwad reporter whose solipsistic world gets rocked after he befriends a homeless, schizophrenic musician played by Jamie Foxx.

Why It's Inessential: Have you seen the trailer?

See what I mean?

But let's do a close read: At about 1:57, the line "I've never loved anything the way he loves music!" is followed by the line "Being his friend will carry you home!"

In other words, The Soloist is yet another movie in which a marginalized character teaches a miserable "normal person" about what love, life, and happiness really mean. It's the same damned primitivism that we Westerners have been concocting for years. Whether it's a noble Native American, a "magical" black character, or a saintly deaf kid, the majority culture just loooves to create Others who can embody the honorable simplicity we believe we've lost as we've acquired more technology, power, and wealth.

And that is so messed up. I've been thinking about this for years, and I still can't decide who's more demeaned by this attitude. On one hand, it completely objectifies minorities. When mentally functional people see "wisdom" in schizophrenic people, for instance, we aren't seeing them as people at all, but as symbols of something we think we're missing in our own lives. We're narcissistically turning them into playthings... into shimmering trinkets that can reflect back our own insecurity. And if schizophrenic people comfort us when they're in these roles, then we're encouraged to keep seeing them that way. Why perceive them as fellow humans when seeing them as objects makes us feel better?

But we in the majority are just as diminished by that attitude, because it keeps us from addressing our problems. If our culture is depriving us of something, we should be changing the it, not fetishizing people we think are outside it.

For more, please join me at The Critical Condition.