The Movies/TV 8 Ball: The Top 8 Worst Films of 2016
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!
Last week we began our look at the worst films of 2016 with numbers sixteen through nine. There were some terrible movies in there to be sure, but now we’re heading into the absolute worst efforts that movie-making foisted on us last year. There’s no way to be nice about this so let’s just brace ourselves and get through them, shall we?
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
14: Alice Through the Looking Glass
13: Rules Don’t Apply
11: The Forest
10: Gods of Egypt
9: Yoga Hosers
First off on our list is a film I honestly didn’t expect to make my “worst of” list. Not that I expected When the Bough Breaks to be particularly good; all the marketing sold it as the kind of factory-line domestic thriller that we tend to get one or two of on a yearly basis. But Bough is impressively bad even for this tired genre and really starts to go wrong right from the get-go. The tale of a surrogate mother who fixates on the father is poorly-written, limply directed and overacted throughout. Morris Chestnut, Regina Hall, Theo Rossi, Michael K. Williams and Jaz Sinclair are fine actors but they either couldn’t find the right tone here or weren’t interested in doing so, instead just following the aimless path forged by director Jon Cassar, who did a much better film last year with the limited-release western Forsaken.
I can see the potential appeal of a film like this; it gives Sinclair the opportunity to cut loose in full crazy mode as the psychopathic Anna while Chestnut and Hall get starring roles to add to their resume. But the slick, overly-safe production value doesn’t serve the potential goofy fun that a cheesy plot like this could have and Jack Olsen’s script does nothing noteworthy with the material. Nothing is engaging, everything is thoroughly predictable and the PG-13 rating holds the film back from going places that could have punched up the fun factor. This is definitive proof that a theatrical budget and star casting can’t save a project that is made-for-Lifetime quality. The fact that the movie never should have made it to theaters slots it into the bottom eight.
A lot of people were quick to label the DC Extended Universe’s 2016 efforts, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, as the worst superhero films of the year. With respect to those opinions, I firmly believe that many of them said so without having seen Max Steel. They certainly wouldn’t be in the minority there, as Mattel and Open Road’s attempt to jump into the big money of superhero films made barely a peep at the box office and didn’t even make back its $10 million budget when international grosses are combined. That’s not because it’s an overlooked film; rather, audiences took one look at marketing for Mattel’s latest toy line-turned-movie and decided they weren’t interested.
It was a wise choice too, as this is just a preternaturally bad movie. One can see how Open Road thought they might have a hit on their hand though, having enlisted a Marvel Cinematic Universe writer to take on the script. Christopher Yost co-wrote Thor: The Dark World and while that film has some issues, it’s The Avengers and The Dark Knight compared to this lame dog of a movie, which spends most of its time rehashing the same superhero origins as many others — tragic past, dead father figure, family friend who turns out to be evil and so on. It takes a lot of inspiration from the 2013 animated series which was fine for a kid’s TV show, but less so for a big-budget action film. Stewart Hendler — whose past feature directorial experience are the mediocre horror film Whisper and the terrible horror remake Sorority Row – does nothing to make this film stand out with the exception of some silly-looking CGI that comes into play when Max starts manipulating energy. This is the kind of film in which the hero types “I have liquid energy coming out of my hands” into Google and gets answers. The action scenes are dull, the sidekick of Steel is irritating, the acting is leaden (including from vets Andy García and Maria Bello) and the end result is just a disaster.
Let’s not beat around the bush here. God’s Not Dead 2 isn’t much better that its ham-fisted, poorly-written predecessor. Pure Flix has shown that it is utterly incapable of making a film that is actually inspirational, instead focusing on creating elaborate and unrealistic straw man arguments that sacrifice character depth and nuance for cheap proselytizing. Harold Cronk’s second time at the helm of this franchise looks vaguely more professional but still suffers from blunt dialogue and half-hearted acting, most notably by giving Pure Flix founder David A. R. White an increased role as Pastor Dave. The story populates its cast of characters with barely even two-dimensional characters like a snarlingly evil ACLU lawyer (played with paychecks in his eyes by Ray Wise) who is just this side of a 1990s kid’s film villain in his caricaturized nature. It’s remarkably clear within a single line of dialogue how each person will turn out, without an ounce of complexity to be had.
It’s bad enough that the film is that hard to watch on a pure enjoyment level, but God’s Not Dead 2 also adds maliciously false propaganda to its sins in several instances — most notably, the idea that the government is performing some crackdown on sermons and control what they can say, based on a situation that happened in Houston where that was absolutely not the case. My problem is actually less with the falsehoods, because this is a narrative film and not a documentary; the expectation is that viewers interested in the facts will find them out for themselves. The problem is that when I want to see a film about faith — whatever the faith — my hope is that it inspires me. I want to feel a reason to be uplifted, not made to feel like the faith’s validity is in its level of persecution. The latter is the core message of God’s Not Dead 2 and stacked up with all the film’s other flaws, like many of the recent faith-based films it falls dead under its own weight.
Garry Marshall was one of the many influential names in entertainment we lost in 2016. The filmmaker was responsible for some of the most enduring comedies of the modern era, and it’s an absolute tragedy that Mother’s Day is the final entry on his resume. Following in the tradition of the successful Valentine’s Day and the far less successful New Year’s Day, none of Marshall’s wit or humor is on display in this ensemble mess that single-handedly wastes the talents of more stars than any four other films released in 2016 including Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Julia Roberts, Jason Sudeikis, Britt Robertson, Timothy Olyphant, Margo Martindale, Jennifer Garner, Héctor Elizondo, Sarah Chalke and many, many more.
Mother’s Day, like its predecessors, picks up several interconnected plot threads related to its titular holiday in question and none of them are executed well. There’s potential in all of them too, from Britt Robertson’s character’s quest to find her adopted mother and Sudeikis’ attempts to raise his daughters without their deceased mom to Chalke and Hudson playing sisters who are hiding big secrets from their intolerant parents. But every turn is the wrong one, with the script weighed down by horrid dialogue and Marshall favoring broad, dumb jokes over any sense of finesse. It’s a film that is too tame to be outrageous and too eye-rolling to play the comedy straight. The cast is pretty equally split between sleepwalking, trying nobly to make it all work and looking like they’re just happy to be working with Marshall. That none of the four writers could find a decent laugh line in here is confounding, making Mother’s Day the most tragically unfunny romantic comedy of the year by a long shot.
Animated kid’s films have really raised the bar over the years thanks to Pixar, DreamWorks, Illumination and other studios, to the point that it’s hard to remember how bad they often got in the pre-Toy Story era. These days the most mediocre we tend to get are the likes of Ice Age: Collision Course: lazy and recycled, to be sure, but at least watchable. It takes a truly horrendous movie to make us realized how good we have it right now, and if nothing else Norm of the North did us the public service of being that reminder. If Lionsgate put any effort at all into delivering something approaching quality in this cheap, original, ugly and unfunny waste it certainly didn’t show, because it’s almost shocking exactly how many things this film fails to get right.
To start off with, Norm of the North is lazy as hell. The script from Daniel R. Altiere, Steven M. Altiere and Malcolm T. Goldman basically rips off the plot of Madagascar (itself no great film) and reverses it while replacing the zoo animals with a polar bear. Norm, as voiced by the one and only Rob Schneider, finds himself brought to New York City and has to exist out of his element. There’s a vague notion of environmental responsibility, which is the sole good thing about this film, but it’s couched in a lame villain who wants to develop the Arctic as real estate. The animation reeks of low budget, sometimes registering barely above what you find on children’s programming, while the voice cast is remarkably unsuited for voiceover work for the most part and it shows. I’m no child, but I imagine the gags are largely insultingly dumb even for kids. Norm of the North was a financial flop and deservedly so, leaving this is the worst animated film not only of this year, but of the last few years with ease.
As in most years it was comedy and horror that dominated the bottom sixteen. It’s not that I hate those genres; rather, it is simply that both of these are very personal genres and what works for one many not work for another. As such, it’s easy to see where they all went wrong. I can’t imagine many worlds, however, in which someone thought Nine Lives would turn out right. I hate that I laughed even once at this movie. But dammit, a drunk cat wobbling its way through horrendous green-screen is worthy of a chuckle. That’s about all you can find worth watching in this film, which stars Kevin Spacey in a role that he can only possibly go upward from as a callous business mogul who, through a goofy act of fate, finds himself in the body of his family’s new cat where he must learn to care for his family if he ever wants to be two-legged again.
If that plot synopsis had you rolling your eyes, take comfort in the fact that you aren’t even close to the only one. It’s a 1990s family comedy gone horribly wrong; the stupid plot gives all the human performers nothing to do outside of Christopher Walken, who basically plays a typical wacky-branded Walken archetype. Jennifer Garner (in her second film on this list) is incredibly wasted as Spacey’s wife and while Spacey does try to have fun with it, the terrible CGI and lame dialogue seriously hamper him. There’s nothing in here that you’ll find as funny as going on YouTube and watching some cat videos, and with those you at least don’t have to pay for it or spend an hour and a half to get maybe a minute and a half of amusement.
Greg McLean’s The Darkness doesn’t rest its laurels on being a mind-numbingly incompetent film. It certainly fits that description, but then it decides to up the ante by being offensive at the same time. The story is a garden-variety horror version of Mad Libs: Happy family goes to (location) “the Grand Canyon” and the (person) “autistic son” picks up a (cursed item) “set of demonically-infused rocks” which threaten to (danger) “open a portal to Hell.” McLean and his fellow writers cobble together a script that has no natural flow to it and introduces character twists just because, only to drop them later. These include a past affair by Kevin Bacon’s character and an eating disorder for his character’s daughter.
There are no real scares here and nothing is remotely surprising, except the notion that McLean thought demonizing autism in an almost-literal fashion was a good idea. Poor David Mazouz had to play these scenes off in a way that at least approaches reasonable, and he tries mightily, but he can’t do it. Bacon, Radha Mitchell and others do their best to lift the script but can’t. There’s no getting around the fact that of all the horror films released in theaters this year, The Darkness was the dirt worst.
Last year, Fifty Shades of Grey came very close to topping my worst films of 2015 list. So perhaps it isn’t surprising that the Marlon Wayans film parodying it managed to make #1 this year with a bullet. Without joking here, it’s honestly amazing that Fifty Shades of Black is actually less funny than the film it’s trying to parody. That’s so much worse when you consider that Fifty Shades of Grey’s comedy is unintentional, whereas Wayans and his cast are actually trying to be funny here. The key word there is “try” because like his other parodies (A Haunted House and A Haunted House 2 being the most recent examples), I literally found nothing to laugh about.
The plot is exactly what you think it is: Wayans lampooning cartoonishly around as the obviously-named Christian Black while Kali Hawk, Jane Seymour and others seem vaguely embarrassed to realize that they’re actually going to be on the big screen in it. Packed with dull pop culture references and obvious, humorless slapstick sex jokes, director Michael Tiddes shows himself no more capable at helming an erotic thriller parody than he is found footage ones. No joke really lands and it’s poorly paced; even at ninety-two minutes this feels way too long, in part due to the heavy padding that the script needed. I know these films are cheap cash grabs for Wayans and his distributors, but enough is enough already. Without any doubt in my mind, Fifty Shades of Black is the worst film of 2016.
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.