The Movies/TV 8 Ball: The Top 16 Worst Films of 2016 (#16 – 9)
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I’m your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You’re free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is “wrong” is just silly. With that in mind, let’s get right in to it!
2016 is officially in the books (thank the gods). The year is now over, which means that I get to try not to type everything as “2016” for the next few months. It also means that it’s time to look at the past year in the 8 Ball Year in Review. That starts this week, as we begin our look at the best and worst in film with…well, the latter. 2016 was a very odd year cinematically, as superhero films hit their peak (and dipped a bit in some cases) while sequels, original projects, revivals and reboots alike crashed and burned at least as much as they succeeded. This year’s “worst of” list is populated with films across genre and since there’s nothing else to do but get right down to it, let’s brace ourselves and begin to journey through the absolute worst that Hollywood had to offer on big screens over the last twelve months.
Caveat: I do not include non-theatrically released films in my yearly “Worst Of” lists. No one really expects great things out of a straight-to-video film after all, and if I did than the list would likely just be full of cheap rip-off movies. So the list only includes films that made it to more than twenty theaters. The only other caveat is that while I’ve seen almost everything, there were a couple that could have potentially made the list based on reputation and such that, try as I might, I wasn’t able to see. The big one is Collateral Beauty but the others are Why Him?, The Disappointments Room, Boo! A Madea Halloween, I’m Not Ashamed and The Perfect Match.
• Ice Age: Collision Course
• Assassin’s Creed
• The Choice
• The 5th Wave
Morgan is a film that can easily be summed up in three words: “Deuce Ex Machina.” Okay, that’s a bit pithy but it’s also true. Luke Scott’s feature film directorial debut is a science fiction thriller that might have felt a little fresher if it didn’t basically lift its plot full-cloth from last year’s AI suspense film with a stunning level of shamelessness. The script from Seth Owen centers on a woman who is brought in to investigate a research project from a company, which turns out to be a genetically-engineered human hybrid. That hybrid, the titular character, proves to be a sympathetic character but also a greater threat than anyone could have predicted. Owens has the Ex Machina format down to a tee, including a tension-filled interview segment and the sentient artificial being proving herself quite the adept at bringing certain characters to her side.
Outside of picking the wrong film to sign on to, it’s hard to blame the cast here because they work hard. Anya Taylor-Joy is able to bring a couple of layers to Morgan and everyone else is fine in their pigeon-holed, one-dimensional characters. Scott is a journeyman director at best here; nothing stands out on a visual level and he can’t find any real thrills to amp up. This one is a perfect example of where a poorly-executed script can ruin an otherwise-interesting idea; the big closing plot twist is easily identifiable earlier on and character logic is thrown out the window at regular intervals. What could have been a modestly-enjoyable little sci-fi slasher ends up being an utter bore and with the talent in front of the camera, that’s inexcusable.
if there’s one positive thing you can say about Incarnate, it is this: it is far the best horror film featuring David Mazouz as a child possessed by evil this year. Unfortunately, we’ll be seeing the other one next week when we get to the eight worst films so that’s in no way a compliment. Demonic horror films are a dime a dozen these ways, and I do have to give scripter Ronnie Christensen credit for coming up with a unique take on the genre in this film. However, much like Morgan this is an interesting idea given lackluster execution. Aaron Eckhart slums it in his role as the hilariously-named Seth Ember, an exorcist who uses pseudoscience rather than religion in order to help his subjects escape possession. To his credit, he’s committed to the role but there’s only so much that he can work with and the film finds itself more interested in recycling tired tropes about his own dark connection to the entity that it can exploit.
It doesn’t help Brad Peyton’s work behind the camera is as bad as the words on the page. Peyton has become a bigger name in Hollywood in recent years thanks to hits like Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and San Andreas, but he’s also the mind behind the camera on Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore and this film is more like that than his modest contributions to his hits. Everything has the dark, gritty and ugly look that you find in straight-to-video horror and even segments where Ember enters the minds of his exorcism subjects have no real style to them. Eckhart, Mazouz and the rest of the cast are deeply wasted with material like this and even Blumhouse and WWE Studios’ best publicists would be hard-pressed to consider this a winner by any measure.
Morgan and Incarnate are very bad movies, but at least they can say that they never had particularly high expectations. Disney cannot say the same about Alice Through the Looking Glass. Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland may not be the greatest movie adaption of a Disney animated film to date, but it has loads of fans and was incredibly successful for the studio. That, unsurprisingly, is also the problem with this sequel which was commissioned solely on the strength of the first film’s grosses. Alice Through the Looking Glass unfolds in a manner that suggests that Disney, recognizing its predecessor’s success, focus grouped the hell out of it to see what people liked and made a film centered around those things. The problem is that those elements, the Mad Hatter and Queen of Hearts, only worked in small doses. Centering a full film around them doesn’t work, especially when Linda Woolverton saw fit to shoehorn them into an overly-complicated time travel story.
The big question here is: why go this route? No one needed origin stories for these two characters, who were fine as presented in the first film. We get them anyway, and the results are spectacularly dull despite the bright colors. Mia Wasikowska is fine as Alice for a second go-around but she’s almost an afterthought. Anne Hathaway has had the fun demented creepiness drained out of her White Queen performance and Helena Bonham Carter is on pure cruise control as the Queen of Hearts. Johnny Depp gives one of the worse performances of his career, with an accent so thick as to be nearly incomprehensible at times. Director James Bobin steps in for Tim Burton but gives this one none of the first film’s zany charms, opting instead for a tale that is somehow both by-the-numbers and messily convoluted. There’s a lot of pretty things to look at but in the end, that’s not nearly enough to justify the film’s existence. The good news is that due to its spectacular crash-landing at the box office, this is likely the end of the line for these films.
Warren Beatty seems like such a natural choice to play Howard Hughes in a film that it’s shocking to realize he hadn’t done so before 2016. Now that we’ve seen the result, it probably would have been better off if it had never happened. Beatty, one of the great movie stars of all-time, had been away from films for several years before writing, directing and starring in this tale about a young man and an actress who fall in love in Hughes’ shadow. To say that just about everything went wrong here is an understatement. To start with, while Alden Ehrenreich and Lily Collins are fine actors (and, in fact, their performances one of the few good things about this film), their characters are paper-thin and not particularly interesting. The romance between the two and the complication Hughes throws in the way are supposed to be the primary plotline here, and there isn’t anything compelling about it. As both writer and director, Beatty tries to give this an old Hollywood feel but comes off more stilted than gilded and the muddled narrative can’t decide whether to devote itself to the lovers or to the relationship Ehrenreich’s Frank has with Hughes. The result is that neither arc is compelling in any meaningful way.
It doesn’t help that the film seems either bloated or too thin thanks to a pacing that starts and stops so many times it’s liable to give people whiplash. There is no rhythm to the storyline, unevenly lurching between its two arcs right when you’re starting to get invested in one or the other. Beatty is a fine Howard Hughes and he’s directed good films before, but he has no idea what to do here and both arcs feel incomplete to the point that one should have been cut down severely or both should have been expanded. A film about old Hollywood should have appealed to me in a big way, but this was one of the most boring and frustrating mainstream film-watching experiences of the year for me.
Oh, Mr. Langdon, how far you’ve fallen. There was a point when Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon stories had taken the world by storm on both the page and the big screen. The Da Vinci Code was a worldwide box office smash and while it was somewhat less impressive a performer, Angels & Demons was also hugely successful. That, however, was upwards of a decade ago. Time may make the heart grow fonder in some cases, but this is one franchise where it wasn’t the case and the fact that Inferno was a complete mess didn’t help much.
And truly, “complete mess” is about the most apt description I can come up with for this film, which takes all the goofiness and exposition dumps of Da Vinci and Angels & Demons and then mixes in a healthy dose of mind-blowingly nonsensical plot twists, all set to a weirdly uneven pace. Sony and Ron Howard made the poor decision to bypass the much stronger Langdon novel The Lost Symbol, presumably because an American history-centered film wouldn’t be able to rely on strong international grosses as much as the previous two films. Instead they picked this silly tale about Dante’s Inferno and a worldwide pathogen threat, then cast great actors like Felicity Jones and Irrfan Khan to try and bring their implausible and poorly-written roles to life. Howard’s direction of the action scenes creates a lack of cohesion and not even Hans Zimmer’s score and a couple of trippy hallucination visuals can do much to salvage this. It brings an ignominious end to the Langdon saga on the big screen, but one that is probably for the best given the circumstances.
Our second horror film on this list is yet another one that wastes its star, as Natalie Dormer labored for naught to make The Forest work. Dormer is a likable presence in this film in dual roles as a troubled teacher in Japan and the twin sister who follows her into Aokigahara Forest, the famed “Suicide Forest” where a chilling number of people in the country go to die every year. The concept behind the film is intriguing, to be sure; Aokigahara Forest is a tragic, solemn location with a lot of mythology around it and it would be an ideal setting for a well-executed horror film with a good idea. Sadly, this is not that film as the script (coming from a trio of writers) takes far too much time building itself up in the first act and a half, then doesn’t deliver enough payoff to make the whole experience worthwhile.
To some credit, Jason Zada (who makes his directorial debut here) does manage to imbue the film with plenty of mood. There’s a somber tone to the movie and occasional sense of ominous build-up, but those are way too few and far in-between. Instead, the movie relies on the usual cheap jump-scare tactics early on to try and get the blood pumping, but ultimately have no effect because they’re followed by a second act which could be used as a treatment for insomnia. Once we hit the final act of the film, Zada remembers that he’s working on a horror project and so he shoves more shock scares at us in a desperate attempt to distract from the nonsensical plot developments. Dormer is a likable presence here but the rest of the film fails her, giving us little to do but hope that she can find a future film more worthy of her talents.
The primary problem with Gods of Egypt isn’t the whitewashing of its cast, the overuse of sometimes-sketchy CGI or the campy dialogue. These are problems to varying degrees, but they’re not the main issue. The primary thing dragging this half-baked action-fantasy film down to the Underworld is its inability to make a cohesive or engaging storyline out of the wealth of epic lore that Egyptian mythology has to offer. There are a lot of ways to make a visually arresting spectacle without devolving into the silliness that Alex Proyas’ money sink revels in.
There are some good ideas here in a basic, sketched-out format. The film plays with the overwrought style of the classic sword-and-sandals films, and that at least is commendable. But every time the script or film calls for a decision, Proyas and writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless go in exactly the wrong direction. The plot doesn’t bother to sketch any of the characters out by more than the slightest shades and Proyas’ CGI work is bold but often distracting. Proyas leans far too hard on the failed Clash of the Titan remake and its sequel for ideas, making the story feel awkwardly contorted to fit within those guidelines. Credit to the cast for trying their damnedest to make this work; Gerard Butler, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Chadwick Boseman and Elodie Yung to what they can but there’s only so much they’re capable of with dialogue like this. Add in a bland lead character in the mortal Bek (given little life by Brenton Thwaites) and you have the final ingredient for a failure of a film. It’s 2016’s Jupiter Ascending in almost every way, and that’s not a legacy this film should have aimed for.
It would be easy to write off Kevin Smith’s Yoga Hosers with a line like “Well, this is what happens when you decide to center a film around a couple of movie stars’ kids.” In most cases, that would be a fair critique. But the problem is that Harley Quinn Smith and Lily Rose Depp are not only the best things about this movie, they’re the only things remotely worth watching. Smith wrote the film as a spin-off from his bizarre but fun 2014 horror film Tusk. It would not be insane to suggest that he was punishing some of us for liking the bizarre nature of that film by going so far out into left field that he’s practically in self-parody by now. The younger Smith and Depp do fine as the Colleens, two Canadian girls who find themselves wrapped up in a story about a resurrected Hitler devotee in Winnipeg and his army of Bratzis (Bratwurst Nazis — I kid you not) but they’re working aimlessly in a horror comedy that is only ever funny when it’s not supposed to be.
Let’s give Smith his fair due here; it would be fine to have created a film this strange. It’s certainly not the most outlandish plot I’ve seen and in a world where there are four Sharknados (no judgment), it’s not crazy to think that a film about two young female versions of his famous Clerks characters fighting Satanist would-be boyfriends and meat product mini-Hitlers alongside Johnny Depp’s Guy LaPointe would be something that could work. The execution drastically fails though. Depp is — well, remember how I criticized his acting and accent in Through the Looking Glass? It’s worse here. Justin Long is basically one long running joke as a yoga guru named Yogi Bayer, Jason Mewes and Stan Lee look extremely out of place in their cameos, the visual effects are bargain-basement even at $5 million and the script relies on tired gags about Canadians (Aboot? Tim Hortons? Check those boxes off!) or humor than no one above the age of twelve likely finds very funny. It’s a low point in Smith’s career and I say that as a fan who desperately, sincerely hopes he bounces back from this in some way.
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don’t forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.