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Nashville Scene Hell on Earth

The year's worst films, pre-millennium edition

By Noel Murray, Donna Bowman, and Jim Ridley

DECEMBER 28, 1999:  Was it the awful devil movies? The terrible teens? A Joan of Arc who looked and sounded as though she should be fronting a Flock of Seagulls cover band? Without further ado, the Scene's disgusted panel of cinematic executioners picks over the year's worst movies.

The Bottom 10

Jim:

1. 20 Dates The ultimate in indie-geek solipsism, this pseudo-documentary follows an obnoxious twerp named Myles Berkowitz as he films his attempts to date 20 different women. He hates the French, he loves to kvetch, and his insufferable movie is at least 17 dates too long.

2. The Messenger Accent on "mess." Luc Besson hastens the demise of French cinema with this lurid, colossally wrongheaded epic--the worst Joan of Arc retelling we can imagine without the services of either Aaron or Tori Spelling.

3. The Loss of Sexual Innocence With this insanely pretentious grab-bag of shampoo-commercial symbolism and neurotic erotica, writer-director Mike Figgis empties his notebook but fills a wastebasket.

4. Goodbye, Lover Hello, nausea. Don Johnson, Ellen DeGeneres, Patricia Arquette, and other victims in a facetious film-noir goof that would give David Letterman irony poisoning.

5. The Story of Us A long, wet fart of a movie, filled with the kind of self-important sitcom pontificating that makes your average Family Ties episode sound like Scenes From a Marriage.

6. 8MM/The General's Daughter/Arlington Road Big-budget Hollywood exploitation at its most shameful--a combination platter of fetishized victimization and yahoo-pandering, served up with utterly unwarranted self-importance. The last of these, a loony liberal fantasy that capitalizes on the issue of domestic terrorism, may be the year's single most offensive movie.

7. The Mod Squad Some mod squad--with their sub-Nancy Drew crime-busting skills and pouty don't-wake-us line readings, Claire Danes, Omar Epps, and Giovanni Ribisi should've been called the Sullen Three.

8. Jawbreaker No old-beyond-its-years teen movie this year was more reprehensible than this vile Heathers clone, in which a clique of hotties makes an acquaintance's accidental death look like a rape-murder.

9. Chill Factor A flesh-eating biological weapon code-named Elvis ends up in an ice-cream truck driven by Skeet Ulrich and Cuba Gooding Jr. So much for the believable part.

10. The Omega Code/End of Days/Stigmata The year's worst pop-culture trend gave vent to the darkest fears of Bible-thumping millenarians, but Satan must've smiled at all the suckers paying full price for this deviled Spam.

Dishonorable mention: The Astronaut's Wife, Brokedown Palace, Dogma, Drop Dead Gorgeous, The Haunting, Stiff Upper Lips, Tea With Mussolini, Teaching Mrs. Tingle

So terrible I walked out: Baby Geniuses, Dudley Do-Right, Love Stinks, Simply Irresistible, Wing Commander


Donna:

1. Arlington Road Nothing made me angrier this year than Mark Pellington's promising thriller about terrorists undercover in the suburbs; the film presents Jeff Bridges' credible, laudable attempt to understand terrorists' motivations, then stomps all over him by portraying terrorists as random, robotic crazies.

2. The General's Daughter The trend toward presenting tabloid sensationalism as serious, Oscar-contending drama got worse as the fin-de-siècle neared; those involved with this sleaze-fest probably still haven't washed their souls clean.

3. End of Days Piggybacking on apocalyptic tension, Schwarzenegger and company tried to make a quick buck with this dreary, incoherent mess.

4. Payback If they had to go with a one-word title, a better one for this remake of Point Blank would be Ripoff--it's emotionally bankrupt, excessively violent, and way too proud of its color scheme.

5. The Other Sister Juliette Lewis' career will have a hard time recovering from this embarrassing portrayal of a mentally handicapped young woman finding love with a like-minded young man. Not since The Theory of Flight has the plight of the differently abled been so excruciatingly saccharine.

6. Teaching Mrs. Tingle Almost too bad to put on the list--it's more like a precocious senior project than a real movie.

7. Cruel Intentions Critics fell over themselves praising this completely unbelievable teenage version of Dangerous Liaisons; Ryan Phillippe's picture is now in the dictionary beside "stilted" and "unrealistic."

8. Outside Providence Only the involvement of the Farrelly brothers in this self-indulgent coming-of-age tale kept it from going straight to video.

9. Chill Factor The gasps of amazement as we tried to process the information in the trailer--Cuba Gooding Jr.? Skeet Ulrich? The bomb goes off when it gets... warm?--were more action-packed than the movie, a leading candidate for worst premise of the year.

10. 200 Cigarettes/Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels/Go Not everything in these movies is bad--OK, everything in 200 Cigarettes is bad--but collectively they poke us in the ribs and remind us that the post-Pulp Fiction fallout is still radioactive.

Dishonorable Mention: Dogma, Runaway Bride, House on Haunted Hill, 20 Dates, The Mod Squad, EdTV.


Noel:

1. The Mod Squad This "our option is expiring" cash-in is so lazy that whenever the plot hits a wall, the heroes turn a corner and run into the bad guys, who explain what's going to happen next.

2. Love Stinks Family sitcom vet Jeff Franklin apparently wrote and directed this odious, unfunny feature because he couldn't wait to film people swearing...which his characters do with the zest and competency of third-graders.

3. 20 Dates Myles Berkowitz's self-promoting "documentary" about single life in L.A. has no insight, no laughs, a cruddy look, an unappealing lead, and a dishonest conceit.

4. Teaching Mrs. Tingle The driving premise of this uneventful high school shocker would have us believe that if the lead character doesn't make valedictorian, she won't get "the big scholarship" and will be forced to skip college and become a waitress; apparently, this is a world without Pell Grants.

5. The Story of Us This smug look at the perils of marriage is mostly undone by its painfully unrealistic dialogue, which sounds like it was generated by bitter, unsuccessful stand-up comics.

6. Runaway Bride Director Garry Marshall fills every frame of this film with cute, quirky stereotypes of small-town and big-city life--his idea of emotion is what he finds cross-stitched on a kitchen door.

7. Detroit Rock City One of a handful of this year's '70s-set films without a clear target audience. Adults with nostalgia for their high-school hard-rock days balked at seeing another dopey teen flick, and teens wondered why everyone in the movie had bad hair and worse clothes.

8. The Bachelor This compendium of sexist clichés would be lame even if it wasn't being represented by lightweight romantic leads who laugh hysterically at their own non-jokes.

9. Chill Factor Not only does director Hugh Johnson stage a scene in an abandoned warehouse, he starts a shot on the villain's feet stepping out of an SUV in said warehouse, followed by an inevitable pan up; this happens even before Cuba Gooding Jr. starts bugging his eyes and sassing.

10. EdTV The big revelations of this tedious social commentary are that famous people have no privacy and that the media have no shame. Whoop-de-frickin'-doo.

Dishonorable Mention: The Astronaut's Wife, Bats, End of Days, The General's Daughter, 200 Cigarettes.


Worst Performances

Jim: As the chemistry-impaired lovebirds united by a plane crash in the stupefying Random Hearts, Harrison Ford and Kristin Scott Thomas swapped spit along with the sorriest romantic dialogue in years. Cuba Gooding Jr. needs someone to show him an agent after back-to-back embarrassments in Instinct and Chill Factor; his manic mugging in the latter film made you wonder if he'd contracted lead poisoning from his Oscar. A mullet-headed Burt Reynolds staggered, howled, and clutched his racked nuts in the side-splitting The Hunter's Moon. But for pure horse laughs, nothing beat John Malkovich as the fey French monarch of The Messenger--imagine a cross between Stuart "Doggone It, I'm Special" Smalley and Richard Dreyfuss as Richard III in The Goodbye Girl.

Donna: The only thing worse than watching the talented cast of Dogma try to bend their tongues around Kevin Smith's tortuous, torrential dialogue is watching Smith's mute character Silent Bob mugging in his reaction shots. As for Giovanni Ribisi, somebody please give him some direction so he'll stop practicing his mime exercises in front of the camera in The Other Sister and The Mod Squad. The most pretentious debut of the year belongs to Myles Berkowitz, the disingenuous self-promoter of 20 Dates, who outstayed his welcome on America's movie screens after about 10 percent of his dating odyssey.

Noel: French Stewart's sole selling point in Love Stinks seems to be his stellar enunciation, while David Spade just isn't cut out to be the romantic lead of Lost and Found. Artie Lang is an intolerable sidekick in both Lost and Found and The Bachelor, but especially in the latter, where he hollers his lines desperately and repeatedly. Not to jump on the "bash Denise Richards" bandwagon, but she delivers her lines in The World Is Not Enough as though she were trying to remember whether she left the oven on. Finally, Casper Van Dien (the poor man's Ryan Phillippe) looks ridiculous as the self-help-guru-cum-foreign-policy-advisor in The Omega Code, and he's so vapid as Sleepy Hollow's Brom Bones that the character is all but cut out of Tim Burton's film.


Disturbing trend

Jim: Apocapalooza '99. The end of the century brought a spate of dire quasi-religious thrillers that offered loads of titillation in the name of biblical prophecy. The titillation I don't mind; it's the hypocrisy of using sin to sell salvation, and vice versa. It's a tactic as old as DeMille's juicy old bathing-in-asses'-milk spectaculars, but the edge of millennial hysteria just poured on another layer of snake oil.

Donna: Ratings Creep. Something has gone wrong in the movie industry when movies aimed at 5-year-olds are rated PG. The sad truth is that 5-year-olds now won't be caught dead in a G-rated movie--after all, they're not babies anymore. Inflation flows upstream with complete illogic and complete predictability: Eight-year-olds won't see PG flicks, 10-year-olds say PG-13 is for sissies, pre-teens consider R their birthright. The release of Stuart Little with a PG rating is the last straw. The MPAA needs either to overhaul the system or throw it on the scrap heap.

Noel: Tales of female empowerment, written by women, that have a distinctly male chauvinist leaning. In Runaway Bride, The Story of Us, and A Walk on the Moon, the exploration of women's sexual, political, and romantic awakenings turns into self-flagellating tales of "how I screwed over my boyfriend."


Lowlights

Jim:

* In the most telling moment of the excruciating yak-a-thon that is The Story of Us, director Rob Reiner spends five minutes comparing the mysteries of human perception to his ass.

* A new twist to that stuffy old Bible: Adam and Eve bond in The Loss of Sexual Innocence by peeing in a river.

* Conveniently for the brilliant crime-stoppers of The Mod Squad, the bad guys stand on the other side of a fence and lay out the entire plot of the movie.

* The merry cut-ups of American Pie secretly Webcast an exchange student taking off her clothes on the Internet--a prank that gets the girl shipped back to cheery Central Europe.

Donna:

* The nadir of The General's Daughter was almost unwatchable: A woman ties herself, naked and spread-eagled, to stakes on the ground--making some kind of sick point in the plot, but really providing cheap titillation.

* Lili Taylor makes the end of The Haunting unintentionally comic by defiantly yelling "It's all about family!" to a cheesy computer graphic.

* As Arlington Road comes to a climax, the star finds that his spur-of-the-moment decisions have all been anticipated by an eerily omniscient Tim Robbins.

* They didn't burn Milla Jovovich at the stake for talking to God; they were just fed up with the half hour it took her to finish a line of dialogue.

Noel:

* The lowest point in The Story of Us comes 15 minutes into the film, when Paul Reiser and Rita Wilson launch into interminable monologues about computer porn and toilet paper.

* At the end of The Mod Squad, the three principals gather on a pier to decide whether to continue as undercover cops. They all shrug. That about described the artistic commitment behind this shrug of a movie.

* If I take one thing away from Varsity Blues, it will be this brilliant piece of football philosophy--forget the fundamentals, and play every down as though it were third and 27.

* In End of Days, when Arnold Schwarzenegger jokingly asks if the doomsday timetable is on Eastern Standard Time, Rod Steiger angrily snaps that the time doesn't matter, then goes on to explain exactly why it does matter.


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