To William Hurt in A History of Violence, "How to do you f*** that up?!" You have a long-running detective series filled with larger-than-life villains and often insanely over-the-top violence. You have Tyler Perry, if perhaps cast against type than at least hungry to prove that he can do something different. You have Matthew Fox theoretically willing to chew up every bit of available scenery. And you have audiences primed for a kind of old-school adult-skewing genre picture that the previous two Morgan Freeman-starring Alex Cross films (Kiss the Girls and Along Came A Spider) represented back in the 1990s. How in the world do you make this film this incredibly boring? First of all, you take an explicitly R-rated story and neuter it into a still-inappropriate PG-13. Then you pile on generic cliché on top of generic cliché. Then you instruct every actor other than Fox to be as lifeless as possible. Finally, you never decide to make a down-to-Earth crime thriller or a would-be superhero/super villain story. The end result is a painfully dull would-be thriller that can't hold a candle to the most average episode of Criminal Minds.
Amber Alert (review):
This stunningly dull would-be thriller stands in for the darker side of the HD/VOD revolution. Just because you can make a movie doesn't mean you should. And just because it's cheaper to tell your story in the 'found footage' format doesn't mean that's the correct artistic choice. For all the wonderful high-quality product that premiered in pre-theatrical Video On Demand this year, there are still piles of dreck waiting for the unsuspecting moviegoer who is fooled by a creepy poster. Worst of all, the film's found footage format squanders a corker of an idea. The film follows three young adults who spot a car that's been tagged as an Amber Alert on the highway and give chase. Great idea, but the film basically is the three friends arguing about who cares about kidnapped kids the most for 80 lifeless minutes. There may have been a compelling version of this story told in a more traditional horror film format. But found footage killed the idea in its cradle.
Both films were 'keep this franchise alive at any cost' reboots and both were far-and-away the worst films yet released in their respective properties. The Amazing Spider-Man was the result of cold, heartless financial decision-making, booting Sam Raimi off the multi-billion dollar franchise purely because Sony thought it would be cheaper to start over rather than just let Raimi make his preferred chapter four. $230 million later, and all you had was a warmed-over and rather terrible remake of the original 2002 Spider-Man. Adding insult to injury, the film was marketed by convincing people who everything stolen from the vastly superior prior trilogy (the emphasis on romance, the father-figure subtext, the good scientist undone by selfless experiments, etc.) was in fact completely new and wholly original while ignoring that most of the new elements were either lousy (Peter is a jerk who isn't *really* responsible for Uncle Ben's death) or left on the cutting room floor (the whole 'untold story'? Still untold!) The Bourne Legacy was a different kind of cynicism, with Universal crafting a 'not Bourne, but still kinda-like Bourne' spy thriller that was not only terrible and obnoxiously dumb, but basically retroactively poisoned the continuity of the prior three Matt Damon adventures in the process, an act of revenge by screenwriter-turned-director Tony Gilroy who was apparently still pissed about not getting along with Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass. Now Jason Bourne is a force for chaos, whose actions cause nothing but carnage and moral defeat. Take that, Greengrass! Sadly both films still made enough money globally to justify this kind of necrophilia.
Both films, in their differing ways, were exercises in chutzpah (and neither were the fault of Taylor Kitsch, by the way). Both films were basically fashioned as 'Generic Blockbuster: The Movie' with no real reason to expect audiences to flock in large enough numbers to justify their $200 million+ budgets aside from the belief that audiences would automatically embrace something that was allegedly the next big thing. Battleship is a far worse picture, with Peter Berg not even bothering to cast his would-be board game adaptation with real actors (we've got a Tiger Beat idol, a supermodel, and a pop star in the three main roles) and crafting a painfully boring and stupid picture notable only for a single third-act twist (a climactic bit involving elderly war vets) and the sneaking suspicion that the whole thing may be Berg commenting on America's "Sorry we drone-bombed your village while giving you freedom" foreign policy (which makes it merely an interesting terrible film). John Carter was arguably a labor of genuine artistic intent from director Andrew Stanton, but its sheer 'how did you not notice this?' incompetence renders it inexcusable. How did no one notice that the film was more confusing than watching Saw VII without having seen the prior six films? How did no one notice that all of the actors looked the same and had unpronounceable names? How did no one notice that John Carter literally spends 80% of the film wandering around with no specific goal? That they (and, Total Recall, which at least had decent video-game-esque action scenes) bombed is a surprising sign of good taste among mainstream moviegoers.
The only thing worse than a mostly laugh-less comedy is a laugh-less comedy that pretends to be subversive while telling a conformist story. Sasha Baron Cohen may think he has something to say about genocidal dictators, but he seems fit to merely tell a generic fish-out-of-water story instead of actually commenting on his would-be subject matter. Yes, the film has a potent climactic monologue, but by that time it's already sold the insulting/offensive idea that all a homicidal dictator needs to reform his evil ways is the love of a good woman. Right...
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance:
It takes a special kind of talent to make a sequel to a critically derided original five years after the first film, give a decent chunk of change to some rather unconventional filmmakers, and still come up with a film worse than the mass audience-pandering original. Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor were certainly worthwhile choices to helm an otherwise needless sequel to Mark Steven Johnson's Ghost Rider (I liked Crank and can even *somewhat* defend Gamer), but something went very wrong along the way. The film cost about $75 million but looks like it cost around $20 million, with muted and ugly cinematography and only a few remotely decent action beats. The film wastes not only a game (as always) Nicholas Cage but also wastes Idris Elba and offers us perhaps the first genuinely bad performance from Ciarán Hinds. There was no need for a second Ghost Rider film, but couldn't Sony at least given us a slightly better (and R-rated, natch) sequel for our troubles?
This was one of my most anticipated films of 2012, with a great idea (the making of Psycho!) and a game cast (Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Ralph Macchio, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Wincott, etc.). But the film basically ignores the whole 'how we made Psycho' story in order to tell us a painfully childish, simplistic, and dumbed-down fable of how brave Mr. Hitchcock put everything on the line to make the movie that no one wanted to make, and how his wife was the real genius behind the scenes (but only when her husband gave his blessing). The film ignores artistic contributors while libeling others to present ridiculous fictions in the place of the far more interesting non-fiction. This film is told in the sensibility of a grade-school biography with some of the most painfully on-the-nose dialogue of the year. Hitchcock may or may not be the absolute worst film of 2012, but it is surely the one that made me the angriest.
The Hunger Games (review):
I wrestled with including this one, for the simple reason that there is a good chance that the sequels may-well rectify the initial film's fatal flaws. But nonetheless, a film must stand on its own. As such, this film is guilty of the worst kind of audience pandering, basically ignoring the base tragedy of its own story (innocent children kidnapped from their homes and forced to murder each other for the entertainment of the masses) in order to craft a crowd-pleasing franchise. Instead of actually focusing on the horrors at the heart of the story, the film shies away from the bloodshed and instead gives us 'good' contestants and 'bad' contestants, allowing us to cheer when those who would slay virtuous Katniss Everdeen (who manages to survive the tournament without a single real murder to her name) meet gruesome fates. If you think I'm overreacting, pretend that this story took place in a concentration camp and tell me it wouldn't have bothered you to hear audiences cheering when one contestant slammed another one into a tree. The Hunger Games is ambitious, well-acted, and, for its first half, a pretty entertaining motion picture. But once the games actually begin, it descends into a kind of false comfort, crafting a fraudulent morality into a clearly immoral situation. The sequels may make this original look better in retrospect, but this first film stands alone for the moment as a failure of morality and of courage.
Ice Age: Continental Drift (review):
If you wonder why I'm so quick to defend the Madagascar franchise, look no further than this frankly terrible fourth entry in the long-running and insanely profitable pre-extinction animated franchise. The first Ice Age was a real movie, a somber, sad, and meditative film about death itself, and the choices "people" make when they know the end is inevitable. The sequels descending further into farce, climaxing with this incredibly lazy and cliche-filled entry. We get a script that was written in a Mad Libs book with bad family drama cliché in the book. Overprotective dads? Check! Boy-crazy teenage daughters? Check! Female family members held hostage in the climax? Of course! That the film wasn't even that visually engaging was merely insult to injury for what is easily the worst animated film of the year.
This drab and dreadfully dull period thriller can't decide if it's a serious thriller or high-toned trash. It's a rather sad misfire, arguably another whiff that should have been an easy single or double. The film is basically 'what if a serial killer modeled himself after Edgar Allan Poe in the days proceeding Poe's mysterious death?'. A good idea, and kudos for actually being R-rated, but the execution is all wrong. The film is blah where it should be over-the-top, toned down when it should be going for the throat, and bland when it should be outrageous and/or goofy. John Cusack had a strange 2012, delivering one of his best performances in The Paperboy and now one of his worst turns here. This should have been an enjoyably trashy bit of gory pulp fiction. Instead, it basically ends up being a film, well, pardon the Hughes Brothers pun, "from hell."
Rock Of Ages:
This may be the worst film Tom Cruise has ever been associated with (it's certainly his first truly bad film since, I dunno, Cocktail?). The adaptation of the popular 80s rock nostalgia-fest makes two fatal errors. First it thinks that the appeal of Glee is merely watching anyone singing popular music, as opposed to angst-ridden and pruriently appealing high schoolers (often played by near 30-year olds). Lea Michelle and/or Darren Criss (whichever floats your boat) crooning their hearts out is engaging and/or sexy. Alec Baldwin singing along with Russell Brand is distinctly less so. But the film's real crime, aside from the mere fact that it's too long, too boring, and just plain silly, is the fact that it neuters the female lead (Julianne Hough) in order to make her a more proper role model for young girls (their words, not mine), which in turn turns the entire second half of the film into a melodrama based on a ridiculous misunderstanding. In short - Hough's character doesn't sleep with Cruise's heavy metal rocker like she does in the show, it's merely a mistaken accusation from Diego Boneta involving spilled wine and an open fly. Aside from killing its own drama, the film deserves a slap in the face for the gender double-standard, injecting the kind of 'squeaky clean morality' into the story that would mostly appeal to the kind of moral fundamentalists ironically represented by Catherine Zeta-Jones's villain. She may go down in flames, but her puritan ideology lives on.
Taken 2 (review):
There were a hundred different directions this sequel could have gone in, so shame on all involved for basically remaking the first film but removing the vicious cruelty and violence that made the original such a guilty-pleasure kick in the first place. This may be the worst case of R-13 on record, with the action editing to the point of incoherence in order to not get the R-rating that the film would otherwise richly deserve. Why Fox thinks that young kids are the target audience for this I do not know, but the editing removes any sense of clarity or logic to the humdrum action sequences. The film is ridiculous and often earthshakingly stupid (Yeah, toss some grenades in the street at random, why not?), but its biggest crimes are that it lazily rehashes the prior entry and that it defangs itself, by which the audience is cheated out of the very thing (Liam Neeson being an unrelenting bad-ass) that they came to see in the first place.
That's it for this year, folks! What were your picks for the worst films of 2012? As always, share below!