Among the motley collection of big-budget catastrophes and indie embarrassments below, a pattern emerges: 2014 was the year of the franchise cash-ins nobody wanted—or nobody should have wanted, anyway. A nine-year-late sequel to Sin City? Another Paranormal Activity parody in the wane of the Paranormal Activity phenomenon? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a gritty urban thriller? A Jersey Shore brand extension?! These are all bad ideas in principle, and somehow worse in execution, but there are plenty of other titles below that squander potentially great ideas, or have a reach that far exceeds their grasp. (Sex Ed, a comedy about a sex-education teacher named “Ed,” isn’t among the latter.) Next week, The Dissolve celebrates the wonders of going to the movies in 2014. But first, the regrets. The deep, deep regrets.
|1||Sin City: A Dame To Kill For|
Rancid and repellent, Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’s long-in-the-works, unnecessary follow-up to their groundbreaking green-screen 2005 hit Sin City pushed the original film’s nihilism and misogyny to unbearable levels while transforming all its characters into one big blur of neanderthal brutality. It’s an inky, perpetually raining smudge of a movie, hostile and hateful and filled with men who would need to evolve tremendously to reach the level of human garbage, and women who are invariably whores, strippers, femmes fatale, or some other breed of feminine evil. Sin City: A Dame To Kill For traffics in moral and visual ugliness and is only slightly redeemed by the incandescent sensuality of over-the-top Eva Green, who has displayed a miraculous ability to make even the most wretched film come alive while she’s onscreen. But it would take a million Greens to salvage Sin City: A Dame To Die For.
|2||Jersey Shore Massacre|
Calling this misbegotten brand extension a movie may be too charitable. At best, Jersey Shore Massacre is a loosely bound collection of terrible ideas that somehow snuck into existence. For starters, the original MTV reality program has long since receded from public attention, but that didn’t stop Satan’s emissary Paul Tarnopol from exhuming it from the grave and shoving a bouquet of execrable setpieces up its rotting B-hole. To wit: A tour through the Jersey wilds attended by nerds who believe an invitation to a science-fiction convention will get them into a guidette’s skintight pants, a so-bad-he’s-awful rapper named Italian Ice (it’s supposed to be a play on Vanilla Ice), a film within the film called Fat Camp Massacre, not one but two cameo appearances from a visibly sedated Ron Jeremy, and a sex scene that nearly ruins sex for anyone unlucky enough to view it. It defies comprehension that a film this spectacularly incompetent also manages to be so militantly free of fun.
Sex Ed belongs on every worst-of list in history for its premise alone. It centers on an idealistic teacher named Ed (a grown up but still baby-faced Haley Joel Osment, paying it backward) who decides to teach sexual education even though—get this—he’s a virgin himself! Ed is an oasis of celibacy in a world of oversexed comic ringers like Retta and Matt Walsh, but what truly makes Sex Ed so awful is its twisted, hypocritical attitude toward sex. Much of the film is devoted to straight-faced advocacy of greater openness around the discussion of sex in high schools—there are long stretches without anything that could even faintly be considered a joke—but Sex Ed seems pretty grossed out by the actual practice of sex, and it depicts the many women who salivate over Ed’s virginity as sad, sex-crazed, and desperately in need of any manner of validation. For a pro-sex film, Sex Ed sure seems terrified of it.
|4||Men, Women & Children|
It was a grim year for Jason Reitman. Part of that was predictable: His bellicose literary drama Labor Day was DOA, pushed out of the 2013 Oscar season and into the dumping ground of late January, where it gained notoriety mainly for an erotic pie-making scene. But while Labor Day looked like a rare stumble in an otherwise-solid career, Men, Women & Children, his feature-length freakout about The Way We Live Today, is more like dropping off a cliff. Though Reitman has spent his career conceding to stronger voices—his films are all either adaptations of novels or Diablo Cody scripts—earlier efforts like Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up In The Air, and Young Adult at least showed sound judgment and the ability to manage an ensemble. But there’s hardly a second of Men, Women & Children that isn’t appallingly misjudged: The absurd gravitas of opening the movie in outer freaking space, with Emma Thompson narrating; a sequence where a married couple cheats on each other, set to the Hall & Oates’ song “She’s Gone”; a Jennifer Garner character who behaves like a cross between Maude Flanders and a technophobic grandmother with an AOL starter disc; and a pervasive use of onscreen texting and Facebook graphics that clutters when it means to illuminate. His film is one for the time capsule, an instant relic of the digital age.
2014 had a lot of moviegoers groaning over cinema’s inexorable trudge toward superhero saturation, but one sit-down with Septic Man makes the prospect of a Green Lantern 2 seem appealing. The film’s self-alignment with the superhero genre is little more than a Trojan horse, however, tricking viewers into hitting play on a joyless, 83-minute paean to the wonders of human excrement. After a first-act barrage of shit, piss, and puke, a sewer worker sojourns into his city’s digestive tract to sleuth out the cause of a water infection. Nothing much happens after that, except a chance encounter with a simple-minded giant and his vermin brother, Lord Auch. Oh, and vomiting. Lots and lots of vomiting. If the film wasn’t so lazy, perhaps easy diss puns such as the following would be unfairly deployed, but hey: This movie is shitty, total crapola, a turd of the highest order. Its nauseousness nauseates.
|6||A Haunted House 2|
The timing could not have been worse for A Haunted House 2. This year kicked off with the release of Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, an attempt at market extension that affirmed the rapid descent of a horror franchise that was once a viral phenomenon. That left this sequel to a marginally successful Paranormal Activity parody in a bad spot—if audiences weren’t willing to pay for the same surveillance-cam shtick a fourth time, they surely weren’t in the mood for Marlon Wayans to rehash jokes about it. But there were Wayans and company anyway, improvising loudly over a catch-all of references to horror hits like The Conjuring and Sinister, and all but checking their watches to see how close they’d gotten to the 90-minute safe mark. To his credit, Wayans does commit himself to the big setpieces, including a vigorous lovemaking session with a tarted-up Annabelle doll, ending with saturated condoms. But this may be a case when committing far, far less would have been preferable. Then again, when Wayans and A Haunted House 2 stop for a breath, the jokes just get predictable. The Kardashian family does not go unzinged.
|7||Transformers: Age Of Extinction|
The fourth entry in Michael Bay’s dreary, incoherent, soul-destroying juvenile-fetish series posted a depressing $1 billion in worldwide box office, with only a quarter of that money coming from America. On the bright side, the United States are finally showing signs of weaning themselves off the robot teat, but Transformers: Age Of Extinction proved that it doesn’t matter: Hollywood now has a great financial incentive to export dumb shit. Mark Wahlberg replaces Shia LaBeouf in the lead and Nicola Peltz replaces Rosie Huntington-Whiteley replacing Megan Fox as the object of skeevy low-angle shots, but otherwise, little about the formula has changed, other than an extra layer of cynicism this time around. An early scene at a crumbling, boarded-up movie house makes a smug show of lamenting “the sequels and remakes” coming out of Hollywood these days, then proceeds to go through the motions. Bay is still capable of crafting images as gorgeous as those of any commercial filmmaker working today; in that sense, he’s like the Mozart of Amadeus, and we’re all reduced to the embittered Salieri, wishing such talent wasn’t wasted on a middle-aged guy who hasn’t left the sandbox.
Stories of romance have often had a certain amount of queasy coercion since the invention of the bed trick, but Sam Esmail’s Comet really goes above and beyond. There’s nothing Dell (Justin Long) won’t do to win (or win back) the heart of his true love Kimberly (Emmy Rossum)—lie, follow her onto a train, smash up a bathroom, chase her through a crowd, even physically block her escape. For her part, it’s never really clear what she sees in him, though she sure seems charmed and grateful by his constant insults and explanations of topics she doesn’t understand as well as he does. Long’s character is the toxic embodiment of every nice guy who knows he can trick a beautiful woman into loving him if only he’s clever enough. Esmail and cinematographer Eric Koretz do find visual interest in their material, tweaking the blocking, lighting, and set design until everything has several layers of luxe sheen. Comet looks like an expensive commercial for an expensive perfume. And it stinks.
Writer-director John Herzfeld must have a hard drive full of blackmail fodder on half of Hollywood’s B-, C-, and D-list actors. How else to explain the presence of so many recognizable faces in Reach Me, his schizophrenic, embarrassing attempt to pack a Short Cuts-style ensemble dramedy into 92 interminable minutes? Sylvester Stallone rates more screen time than Kyra Sedgwick, Danny Aiello, or Toms Berenger and Sizemore, and he spouts more motivational bromides in his handful of scenes than he did in the six-picture Rockiad. “You’re a finger painting!” he yowls at a subordinate. “Be a masterpiece!” He’s fun to watch, if only because he makes it easy to imagine a universe wherein he became a good character actor instead of a terrible movie star. But his silly Cobra character was a more believable lawman than the “undercover” cop Thomas Jane plays here, sporting a duster, neckerchief, maroon pants, and a hip holster with an enormous revolver. Though Jane’s character Wolfie (Wolfie!) dresses as a Village Person, he isn’t on the vice squad. His M.O. is to provoke bad guys (including Danny Trejo, in what amounts to a cameo) into gun battles so he can shoot them down, then twirl his revolver like the Man With No Name. But a self-help book called Reach Me helps him realize He Should Not Kill. Wait, didn’t somebody write that commandment or whatever down already?
|10||Field Of Lost Shoes|
Field Of Lost Shoes is a return to old-fashioned Hollywood storytelling—in the ignominious tradition of Gone With The Wind and Birth Of A Nation. It’s ostensibly the true story of the Virginia Military Institute cadets who fought in the Battle Of New Market, but the lies begin with the opening voiceover and don’t end until the credits. In the most egregious example, ex-governor Henry A. Wise is portrayed as a sweet old man who opposes secession and has come to loathe human bondage. In life, he saw African-Americans as subhuman and was positively gleeful about illegally ordering an attack on the armory at Harper’s Ferry. The filmmakers pack their story with scenes that serve no purpose, other than to show how ahistorically racially progressive and caring the cadets were—and, worse yet, how loyal and grateful their slaves were. This is too oblivious to even qualify as reckless. Field Of Lost Shoes was a passion project for co-screenwriter and producer Thomas F. Farrell, the CEO of Dominion Resources, a company whose legacy encompasses dead fish in Massachusetts, toxic coal-ash golf courses in Virginia, and fracking-poisoned wells and stillborn, deformed cattle in Pennsylvania. According to The Washington Post, Farrell raised the funds for his latest experiment in toxic waste from the elite of Richmond society, who apparently wanted to be told one more time that their ancestors fought nobly for an honorable cause. They got their money’s worth—every bloodstained dime of it.
This adaptation of Lois Lowry’s award-winning YA novel initially seems like a rote, sleepy clunker, the kind of film where the terrible voiceover narration becomes entertaining just because it’s embarrassingly bad instead of boring. But then director Phillip Noyce and his screenwriters veer from their blandly prestige-y tone in order to steal beats from every major young-adult success they can lay hands on. They add in a stupid Twilight love triangle. And a dumber Hunger Games evil dictator. And a mind-blowingly moronic Harry Potter quest to reach an arbitrary map point that will inexplicably, magically fix everything wrong with The Giver’s oppressive society. None of these pieces fit together well, in a narrative that keeps inserting and dropping plot elements, lets all the actors perform as though they’re in different movies, and ends with a twist so baffling that it raises the question of whether the person who wrote it ever looked at the rest of the script. This movie was in development for well over a decade, and it feels like each scene was written in a different year, by someone who’d never heard of the source material, but had certainly heard of every other bleak-future movie ever made, and wanted to prove it. If The Giver wasn’t so straight-faced, it’d be the Young-Adult Dystopia Movie installment in Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer’s endless series of awful film spoofs.
|12||Let’s Be Cops|
Many of the films on this list never could have been good, even if Stanley Kubrick directed them from a Robert Towne script. But Let’s Be Cops is maddening because by all rights, it should be hilarious. The film wastes a fantastic premise that finds a pair of hapless losers (Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans Jr.) discovering that merely by wearing police uniforms and driving a cop car, they can finally wield the power and receive the adulation they’ve have denied all their lives. But instead of exploring the corrupting nature of power, or letting the story twist and turn in compelling directions, Let’s Be Cops invariably goes for the dumbest, most obvious gags, particularly when they’re infused with a surplus of gay panic. The film has terrific setup for a satire, especially in a city like Los Angeles, but it goes for lowest-common-denominator slapstick that tries to make up in kinetic energy what it lacks in wit, and fails on every level. And its timing couldn’t be worse.
|13||Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles|
Michael Bay’s continuing desecration of multiple generations’ childhoods continues apace with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot he produced in 2014; it adopts a dour tone more befitting a film set in a P.O.W. camp (and we’re not talking Hogan’s Heroes) than a wacky romp about pizza-loving amphibian goofballs. The character design of both the turtles and their towering, mutated mentor Splinter are realistic to the point of being vomit-inducing. (Does anybody really need to see what a realistic-looking 6-foot sewer rat would look like?) And in a singularly misguided decision, the filmmakers decided to place a heavy focus on the acting chops of Megan Fox as April O’Neil, because apparently what audiences for a movie like this really want to see is a grim and grinding showcase for Fox. Don’t worry: Though much has changed from the 1990s version to this unfortunately lucrative reboot, the wall-to-wall product placement for Pizza Hut remains.
|14||The Legend Of Hercules|
The Legend Of Hercules was always destined to be 2014’s other Hercules movie, second place to the higher-profile, Dwayne Johnson-starring, Brett Ratner-directed (and surprisingly good) Hercules. By contrast, Legend Of Hercules has that-guy-who-was-in-Twilight-no-the-other-guy-no-the-other-other-guy, Kellan Lutz, and it’s directed by yesterday’s cutting-edge action helmer Renny Harlin. But there’s no reason it had to be this bad. A bargain-bin journey through an ancient realm of myth, legend, and 3-D-accentuating floating matter (also known as “Bulgaria”), The Legend Of Hercules bets big on a huge miscalculation: Though Lutz’s Hercules doesn’t realize he’s a demigod until late in the film, the audience knows this from the jump, pretty much removing all tension from the fight scenes. Who will win? Hercules, duh.
Here’s the pitch: It’s the Groundhog Day of premature ejaculation. Someone whipped out the checkbook for that concept, which is a sign that maybe independent filmmakers complain too much about the difficulty of getting funding for their work. Co-writer/director Dan Beers has his affable nerd-hero Rob (John Karna) goes through every day on a loop that always ends at the same beginning: With a telltale pool of ejaculate showing through his boxer-briefs, and his horrified mother barging into the room. From there, Premature sends Rob on a looped day of American Pie-style humiliation that can only be cut short by an orgasm, which naturally leads to scenes of him furiously masturbating his way out of a scrape. The gross irreverence of the film’s political incorrectness is turn-off enough, but the plain fact is that the variables in Rob’s day aren’t nearly as funny as those in Bill Murray’s day, which doesn’t exactly help in repetition. It does get one thing right, though: Waiting to escape virginity does seem like it takes forever.