Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene 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

Jim:

  1. 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.

  2. 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 except Ritalin.

  3. 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.

  4. Alien: Resurrection. Subtract Aliens from Alien. Divide by Alien 3. Keep the lowest common denominator.

  5. 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.

  6. The Devil's Advocate. Keanu Reeves is the protégé of Satan. That explains his career.

  7. Event Horizon/Spawn. Two crappy computer-generated sci-fi movies set partially in hell. They should both be set permanently in hell.

  8. 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.

  9. Kissed. Gauzy, laughably "tasteful" drama about necrophilia. So what's it like, sleeping with corpses? Sort of like listening to Enya.

  10. 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, Wishmaster.


Noel:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. The Saint. The overuse of ambient noise reaches its nadir in this film when characters can barely be heard over their own ceiling fans.

  5. 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.

  6. The Devil's Advocate. A wannabe campy psychothriller that uses rape, torture, and the ultimate degradation of human nature to advance its plot. Wheeeee!

  7. The Myth of Fingerprints. A wealthy family with no real problems spends a holiday weekend avoiding conversation. Wheeeee!

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.


Donna:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

    Hellish
    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

  5. Kiss Me Guido. Even independently financed movies can be amateurish, clichéd, and driven by offensive stereotypes.

  6. 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.

  7. Speed 2: Cruise Control. The vision of the producers to cast wooden Jason Patric in place of wooden Keanu Reeves must be admired.

  8. 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.

  9. Conspiracy Theory. My "good idea, bad execution" entry. Mel Gibson plays it cute, and black helicopters land right in Manhattan without anybody noticing.

  10. 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 Reunion.


Guilty Pleasures

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 mas.

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 Man.

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 Copland.


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.


Disturbing Trend

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.


Head-Scratching Moments

Jim:

  • Earning her paycheck twice over in Volcano, Anne Heche gives stone-faced Tommy Lee Jones the perkiest lecture ever on plate tectonics.

  • 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.

Noel:

  • 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 Absolute Power.

  • 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 "United! United!"

  • 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 film.

Donna:

  • 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 of ash.

  • 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!


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