Bombs Away -- The Worst Films of 2004


Bombs Away -- The Worst Films of 2004

One particularly bad day at the 2003 Vancouver Film Festival I sat through a film called "Goodbye Dragon Inn," by Ming-Liang Tsai, the story, if that's not too strong a word, of the last night of a Taipei movie house, in which nothing happened, and did so at an excruciatingly slow pace. The theatre was showing an old martial-arts film and the half-dozen patrons neither talked nor moved, other than to leave when the film was over. The exception was the box-office lady, who in the film's one tracking shot ate half a muffin and then slowly - very slowly - wrapped the other half and took it slowly (she had a clubfoot) - very slowly - down an endless hallway and up the stairs to the projection booth, where she left it for the projectionist, who happened not to be there. What bothered me about the film was that it didn't even have the sense of irony that Andy Warhol brought to his own interminable films, like "Empire," his comment on a society that worships movement.

I would never have brought this up were it not for the fact that "Goodbye Dragon Inn" got a limited United States release in 2004 and a number of respected critics, including both chief critics for the New York Times, have put it on their lists of the best films of the year. Normally when I make my annual list of worst films I choose only those I've reviewed, and I didn't review "Goodbye Dragon Inn," but since both A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis, among others, chose it as best, you won't mind if I choose it as worst. As we say in the film business, there's no accounting for taste.

At any rate, it was a very good year for bad films, and from a wide selection I've chosen ten that I did review to share with you. They're listed in alphabetical order.

Catwoman - This Halle Berry vehicle from a comic book throws away every chance it might have had to give us excitement, or wit, or even the chance to suspend our disbelief. We don't even get to meet Catwoman till the film is half over. Berry and the always underrated Sharon Stone are wasted in this misbegotten superheroine film.

The Cooler - Do you believe that it's possible for one man's bad luck to rub off on you and make you lose at the casino? You do? Then this film is for you. "The Cooler" gives us William H. Macy as that man, and then tells us that casino boss Alec Baldwin has hired him to do exactly that; to rub shoulders with, or even just walk past, any winners in order to change their luck. Okay, but I'll stick with the tooth fairy.

Girl with a Pearl Earring - Along with you and everyone else, I also have a crush on Scarlett Johansson. But this film, which could have been a work comparable to the beauty of the painting it celebrates, is a drab, monotonous series of tableaux of life in the Vermeer household, in which people hardly talk, hardly move, hardly even paint, which is supposedly the point.

Hidalgo - Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) moves from Middle Earth to Arabia in order to beat those nasty Arabs at their own game, which is a horse race across the burning sands from one end of the peninsula to the other. Never mind that the contestants seem to go only about a hundred yards a day, nor that their helpers always arrive at the day's destination before the racers do (faster horses?). Stupid, stupid, stupid.

King Arthur - This doesn't even rise to the level of revisionist history, much less legend. Arthur (Clive Owen) has just six knights, no round table, Galahad and Lancelot both die even before the concept of Camelot exists, and the search isn't for the Grail anyway - it's to save a Catholic family that's trapped north of Hadrian's Wall. There's even a steal from Eisenstein's death-by-ice-floe in "Alexander Nevsky." See "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" for accuracy instead.

The Ladykillers - What were they thinking? The Coen brothers, who should know better, have made the worst comedy of the year. Tom Hanks, of all people, tries out a bad Tennessee Williams drawl that isn't either funny or accurate; the plot, which was cute though not all that well done in the Alec Guinness/Peter Sellars original, is lost here in the byplay; and from beginning to end the film substitutes action for wit.

Ocean's Twelve - There may be something to be said for the gang just getting together to have fun, but then they have to make a movie. Instead they seem just to have had fun, and we don't get to have a movie at all. "Ocean's Twelve" is a jumble of scenes that were thrown together depending on which actors were available for which days at which locations. No story, no fun. Just massive egos at work.

The Passion of the Christ - I won't apologize for putting this on my worst list, and it has nothing to do with religion. It's simply a bad film, and the reason is that watching two hours of torture leading to death is not only painful, at bottom it is dull. It's what Hannah Arendt called the banality of evil. I'm not suggesting that the story line be changed; just that without a human being to relate to, or a conflict that has a human dimension, there's nothing to hold our attention. We just watch and wait to see how it's done.

The Stepford Wives - What bothered me most about this remake is that it couldn't stay true to its premise; if you're going to make an anachronistic film based on a pre-feminist male view of women, then just go ahead and do it (though it would work much better as a Homer Simpson fantasy). We might not go to see it, but at least you'd have made the film you wanted. Instead, writer Paul Rudnick and director Frank Oz undo everything they've spent an hour building up and leave us with a reversal that undercuts everything that came before.

Van Helsing - You remember, it's the Dracula story. But here, evidently the filmmakers were worried that that wasn't enough, so it's also the Dr. Frankenstein and Igor story plus the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story. Why? I have no idea, unless it was intended to be a remake of "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein," which is certainly possible, only it's not funny. It's just another example of how more is less when it comes to films.

The Village - Whatever happened to M. Night Shyamalan? To his talent, I mean. It's been nothing but downhill since "The Sixth Sense." It's certainly not there now, in this bizarre creation that's unbelievable from the start. Of course, any film that stars the boring William Hurt and his draggy voice is a problem for me, but without question Shyamalan is running on fumes these days. Let's hope he finds another genre while he can still get work.

Yes, I know that's eleven, but what the hell.