Twelve Months of Shame
By Jim Ridley, Noel Murray, and Donna Bowman
DECEMBER 29, 1997:
Not only wasn't 1997 a notable year for great movies, it wasn't even a
notable year for lousy movies. There were no crime-solving
foam-rubber dinosaurs, no thrillers with Lesley Ann Warren singing show
tunes in Bulgaria. Even Steven Seagal failed to deliver the beet-faced
belly laughs of his recent vehicles. Which left 1997 with, oh, about three
dozen wastes of celluloid we'd love to see whittled into guitar picks. With
plenty of bile and bismuth, the reviewing staff of the Scene
presents its worst movies of 1997.
The Bottom Ten
- Batman & Robin. All the grating noise, vomitous color, wooden
acting, and visual incoherence $100 million can buy, courtesy of the
hardest-working hack in movies today, Joel Schumacher. Imagine Can't
Stop the Music with hundreds of Village People.
- U-Turn. In which Oliver Stone channel-surfs among 10
low-wattage stations playing the same shaggy-dog noir pastiche.
Judging from the results, the director has sampled every drug on the planet
- Kicked in the Head. How easy is it to make a movie? Watch this
tedious indie goof and see. How hard is it to make a good movie? Watch this
tedious indie goof and wonder.
- Alien: Resurrection. Subtract Aliens from Alien.
Divide by Alien 3. Keep the lowest common denominator.
- In & Out. Gays mince around and listen to Barbra Streisand;
straights go spastic at the mention of gays; Middle Americans are lovably
backward; and West Coast celebrities know everything. Now count how many
reviews praised this "subversive" farce for challenging stereotypes.
- The Devil's Advocate. Keanu Reeves is the protégé of Satan. That
explains his career.
- Event Horizon/Spawn. Two crappy computer-generated sci-fi
movies set partially in hell. They should both be set permanently in
- 187. A low point in urban exploitation--a hyped-up Counting
Crows video of a thriller that says blowing out your brains is more
purposeful than teaching inner-city kids. Filmed for about 30 times the
salary of an inner-city teacher.
- Kissed. Gauzy, laughably "tasteful" drama about necrophilia.
So what's it like, sleeping with corpses? Sort of like listening to
- Kiss the Girls. Excellent performances by Morgan Freeman and
Ashley Judd are squandered by yet another insipid serial-killer potboiler,
in which a rapist targets strong, independent women. There's a switch.
Dishonorable Mentions: George of the Jungle, Gone Fishin',
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, A Thousand Acres,
- Speed 2: Cruise Control. In which the title of a low-budget,
well-crafted action picture is carelessly applied to bloated, nonsensical
hackwork. The callous replacement of an uninterested Keanu Reeves, the lame
repetition of jokes from the first film, the impossible-to-follow
editing...this is everything Hollywood does wrong.
- Crash and Lost Highway. And this is what indie films do
wrong--taking creepy, hypnotic imagery and themes, and obscuring them with
chilly, off-putting "artistry." The two Davids (Cronenberg and Lynch) could
have combined their films into one decadent three-hour work, and the result
wouldn't have made any less sense.
- Double Team. Shot in "Sudden Zoom-o-Vision," this idiotic
action package is almost worth seeing for the scene in which Dennis Rodman
and Jean-Claude Van Damme avoid a megaton explosion by hiding behind a Coke
machine. Now, that's product placement.
- The Saint. The overuse of ambient noise reaches its nadir in
this film when characters can barely be heard over their own ceiling
- Star Maps. This film's contrived, pseudo-tough premise--a
father pimps his willing teenage son--gets a ridiculous "Shame of the
Nation" treatment by opportunistic novice filmmaker Miguel Arteta.
- The Devil's Advocate. A wannabe campy psychothriller that uses
rape, torture, and the ultimate degradation of human nature to advance its
- The Myth of Fingerprints. A wealthy family with no real
problems spends a holiday weekend avoiding conversation. Wheeeee!
- Smilla's Sense of Snow. In which one of the most compelling,
mysterious suspense novels of the decade becomes an inert, dour, choppily
paced episode of Murder, She Wrote.
- SubUrbia. A presumptuous "exposé" of shallow suburban
teens--Eric Bogosian puts inane words in his characters' mouths and then
mocks their inanity. Someone should write a script about a pious, overrated
New York playwright who scores easy points off subjects he can't be
bothered to understand.
- Hoodlum. A confused, insulting epic about which mob should be
allowed to exploit the people of Harlem.
Dishonorable Mentions: 187, Broken English, Event
Horizon, Fire Down Below, Spawn.
- Spawn. The darkest, grossest, most gratuitously effects-laden
movie of the year--and it's for the kiddies! It's easy to give comic books
a bad name when you only adapt the worst comic books.
- Chasing Amy. Representing all overhyped indies, this largely
unfunny, completely unrealistic, gutter-brained movie had critics fighting
over spots on the bandwagon. Note to Kevin Smith: Don't write another
relationship movie until you meet some women.
- The Devil's Advocate. Its subtle premise: Not only are lawyers
the devil's minions, they can be Satan himself! My favorite speech had Al
Pacino raving about radioactive bees.
- Batman and Robin. An attempt to turn the Dark Knight vision
back into Adam West camp, this installment in the franchise managed to look
tarty and cheap on a budget of over $100 million.
Al Pacino, hamming like the devil in Devil's Advocate;
the critics are in agreement--it's one of the year's worst films
Photo by Andrew Cooper
- Kiss Me Guido. Even independently financed movies can be
amateurish, clichéd, and driven by offensive stereotypes.
- Event Horizon. Too much sci-fi money is floating around when a
generic horror-movie "ghost ship" premise gets the full Industrial Light
and Magic treatment--just so we can see Pinhead in outer space.
- Speed 2: Cruise Control. The vision of the producers to cast
wooden Jason Patric in place of wooden Keanu Reeves must be admired.
- The Relic. The backstory of this "thriller" has an
anthropologist studying a primitive South American tribe that has somehow
made a deal with Satan. One wonders how this Christian concept entered
their belief system.
- Conspiracy Theory. My "good idea, bad execution" entry. Mel
Gibson plays it cute, and black helicopters land right in Manhattan without
- Double Team. More fun than any other bad movie this year.
Redeeming virtue: Hong Kong director Tsui Hark probably didn't know how bad
Dennis Rodman's acting was.
Dishonorable Mentions: Liar Liar, Murder at 1600,
Kicked in the Head, Romy and Michelle's High School
Jim: Dante's Peak and Volcano. Twin laugh-riot lava operas that brought
back the brain-dead hilarity of Irwin Allen's heyday. The former employs
more expendable nobodies than the starship Enterprise, but it does have
that cool scene with the lake of sulfuric acid. The latter had gallons of
glowing tapioca and an amusingly grumpy Tommy Lee Jones, whose action
figure must come with "Inflexible Scowl!" Runner-up: Romy and Michelle's
High School Reunion.
Noel: Leave It to Beaver. The lack of imagination so often
present when Hollywood producers purchase the rights to a well-known
property is admittedly in evidence here. But also present is a surprisingly
non-cynical, generally sweet-natured tone that captures the genial,
time-killing, episodic nature of the best TV sitcoms. Please, though--no
Donna: Out to Sea. This silly little farce brought back
memories of programmers from a bygone era. Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon
were an embarrassment in their Grumpy Old Men roles, but here
they're sweet and eager to please. And for your two bits, you get Donald
O'Connor, Hal Linden, Elaine Stritch, and a hilarious Brent Spiner.
Not-So-Great Performances -- Male
Jim: In 1997, audiences unwittingly joined Jon Voight's Accent of the
Month Club, whereby the talented actor hammed it up as a Latino bad-ass in
Anaconda, a Suthrun smoothie in The Rainmaker, and a heavily latexed Native
American in U-Turn. Next time you see Voight on the street, though, get him
to do that Foghorn Leghorn routine he used as a mad militarist in Most
Wanted. John Leguizamo and Martin Sheen proved even more obnoxious than the
deadening whizbangery of Spawn, while Matthew McConaughey was a margarine
sculpture of a spiritual advisor in Contact. And 20 minutes of Harland
Williams, the off-brand Jim Carrey, made me pop the escape hatch on Rocket
Noel: Dennis Rodman mumbled and exhaled throwaway lines in the
stupefying Double Team; John Leguizamo's obese, flatulent Clown in
Spawn made mindless crap blatantly appalling; George "Head Bob,
Smile" Clooney wore his Batsuit and his Bruce Wayne tuxedos like a
man carrying his wife's purse; Robin Williams did a series of manic
soft-shoes to cover his increasing lack of comic inspiration in Father's
Day; and Harvey Keitel was the wicked henchman who leads his fellow
overactors through the overwrought, directionless Copland.
Donna: Mickey Rourke was so disguised as a buff kickboxer in
Double Team and as a corrupt attorney in The Rainmaker that
he should have used a pseudonym. Chasing Amy's Jay and Silent Bob
were a crass attempt to manufacture coolness, like the "self high-five"
that the forgotten sitcom Too Something tried to popularize. James
Woods managed to play nothing but two-dimensional stereotypes in 1997--in
Hercules, Contact, and Kicked in the Head--while Ray
Liotta was like a loose, overacting cannon careening around the deck of
Not-So-Great Performances -- Female
Jim: Even by the loony-tune standards of A Life Less Ordinary, Holly
Hunter's performance as an angel was outlandish--can anyone explain the
Walter Brennan imitation? She still came off better than Alien:
Resurrection's Winona Ryder, who tried to squint her way into the
audience's heart. Meanwhile, Joan Cusack insufferably overacted her way to
a likely Oscar nod in In & Out.
Noel: Julia Ormond gave a fascinating literary character an
inflectionectomy in the moribund Smilla's Sense of Snow; Sandra
Bullock perverted the memory of her starmaking performance in Speed
by turning her character into an infantile obstruction in the sequel; and
Loretta Devine's sassy shopkeeper in Hoodlum helped reduce that
film's complex scenario to so much racist vaudeville.
Donna: Janeane Garofalo was ridiculously out of place in The
Matchmaker, Copland, and Romy and Michelle's High School
Reunion; she needs to click her shoes together three times and head for
home. Joey Lauren Adams wasn't so much a character as a smug sewermouth in
Chasing Amy. Demi Moore wasn't awful in G.I. Jane, but the
self-serving music video inserted into the film to showcase her buff bod is
a low point in her career.
Jim: The indie-film bandwagon. Long on slumming big-name ensembles,
short on inspiration, the year's sorry slate of independent films provided
an overload of pretentious, poorly constructed vanity projects. The most
infuriating of the lot was Kicked in the Head, in which director Matthew
Harrison wasted obscene resources of talent, networking, and money just
because he could. Now that self-indulgence is affordable to the masses,
expect more fashion-conscious crime thrillers, sitcom-derived contemporary
comedies, and earnest psychodramas--just don't expect the insight, vision,
or firsthand experience that would justify their existence. Memo to
aspiring filmmakers: Don't make a movie until you have a movie to make.
Noel: In a desperate attempt to be populist, critics across the
country continually praise entertainers that they once decried. How does
Jim Carrey go from being an embarrassment in Ace Ventura to a
national treasure in Liar, Liar? What makes Kevin Smith's
scatological dialogue disgusting in Mallrats and refreshingly honest
in Chasing Amy? And why does big box office tend to make certain
thumbs go from down to up?
Donna: Suck-up critics. Poster children for this category are
TV's Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. Not only have their opinions become often
indefensible, both have traded substantive reviewing for fawning interviews
with stars and for elitist name-dropping. Most embarrassing offense: Their
review of Private Parts was a mash letter to its star, Howard Stern,
whom they addressed directly as "Howard" while practically begging for an
invitation to his show.
- Earning her paycheck twice over in Volcano, Anne Heche gives
stone-faced Tommy Lee Jones the perkiest lecture ever on plate
- Overkill: the Wile E. Coyote-esque end of Con Air's John
Malkovich, who gets thrown from a runaway vehicle through several stories
of plate glass into a head-crushing derrick.
- After luring a spaceship crew to open the portals of hell in Event
Horizon, bad guy Sam Neill conveniently tells them the only way to
thwart his plan.
- The awful John Williams music that ruins the climactic Supreme Court
scene in Amistad--it sounds like the drivel that used to mock Eddie
Albert's highfalutin speeches on Green Acres.
- More inadvertent racism: Nothing to Lose's Martin Lawrence
plays an electrical engineering whiz, but he needs the help of bumbling ad
exec Tim Robbins to plan his robberies.
- "Masters of disguise" Clint Eastwood and Dennis Haysbert avoid
detection in a heavily guarded hospital by slipping into lab coats in
- Batman and Robin 's state-of-the-art effects mean that our
heroes leap into action on Mary Martin's old Peter Pan strings.
- In Masterminds, Patrick Stewart slips into a rugby jersey, hops
on a go-cart, and attempts to run down Brenda Fricker while shouting
- The character of Ricky in Career Girls--though well-acted and
poignant--is so pathetic that he distracts from the lead characters and
throws off the emotional balance of what could've been Mike Leigh's best
- To kill off a few socialites, The Relic throws a celebrity gala
with the convenient theme of "Total Darkness."
- In Dante's Peak, the old abandoned mine that Linda Hamilton
warns her kids to stay away from turns out to be--ironically--the safest
place in town.
- Crash perfected the shot in which people stare in fascination,
for minutes on end, at something offscreen.
- Apple computers have gotten a lot noisier since my last purchase,
according to The Saint. Shouldn't secret agents disable the sound on
their electronic devices before the mission starts?
- L.A. may be toast at the end of Volcano, but Mt. St. Hollywood
taught us that, black or white, we're all the same color under three feet
- According to the rules of super-hero origins, when Robin falls into a
vat of paint in Batman and Robin, shouldn't he become Paint-Man?
- The Fire Down Below Law of Casting: When looking for a
last-second villain, think Randy Travis!