This article is co-written by I_am_better who claims “Ron Howard is my hero” and Detective “Jerry Bruckheimer should make more movies” Dee.
Introduction by “I Am Better” (IAB)
There are great films, there are good films, there are bad films, and the so-bad-it’s-good-films. But the there are the other ones. The in-betweeners. The timekillers. The ones that have all the pieces of the puzzle, but are incapable of putting it together in correct order. Who knows what happened? Maybe a piece got broken and don’t fit in anymore. Or two pieces from different puzzles got entangled.
No one sets out to do a bad film, or a mediocre film. That I’m sure of. Sometimes, things just happen. Be it last minute cast/crew replacements, hasty script rewrites, shortened pre-production, a bump up of the All Important Release Date which muddles up the post-production, and makes that desperately needed final edit an impossibility. Studio meddling. Creative disagreements. Some films just come out… I don’t like to use the word “wrong” – let’s say they come out LACKING.
It’s impossible to predict these things, and some/many cases have proved, that a talented editor can cut an exciting-looking trailer from a total borefest. The truth is on the faces of the people walking out of the movie theatre. Be it in the middle of the film, of after it. They can’t all be classics. Or even good ones. But…BUT they still did get you outside from your home, maybe with a friend, or that Special Someone(in which case the movie was a secondary matter anyways). So – whether the film was bad/good/mediocre, it still did something. And if there’s nothing good coming from TV and you DON’T want to go out, a mediocre film works just fine as a timekiller. What the hell else would you wanna watch? News?
Introduction by “Detective Dee” (DEE)
“How do you want your movie?” “Medium please.”
Internet movie sites are all about the hyperbole. Some movies are the best life-changing things ever while others are a personal attack to one’s person, insulting our alleged intelligence and are presumably doing unspeakable things with our childhood. That phenomenon is easily explainable, as we tend to discuss things we are passionate about to keep conversation interesting and we exaggerate facts to create controversy. But by doing so we forget that there is a lot of stuff there that does not fit in one of those both categories.
Many movies are neither abysmally godawful nor insanely awesome but exceedingly mediocre. How do you define and recognize a mediocre movie? First I have to state that “conventional” and “mediocre” are not interchangeable. A conventionally made movie can be a perfectly fine piece of entertainment that even excels some more ambitious movies. Yet, conventionalism can definitely be a step into the region of “Mediocrity”.
Add a lack of undertones, subtext and originality and you are there – the main characteristic of a truly truly mediocre film is its outstanding blandness. Mediocre movies only work on one level, namely the slightly boring, mildly entertaining one. What you see is what you get, there is nothing else you can cling to.
“PSA: How do I recognize a mediocre movie?”
That’s easy, just take a look at the poster or the cover of the DVD/BluRay. Inspect the writing, mediocre movies are identifiable by the inclusion of secret code words like “Ron Howard”, “Jerry Bruckheimer” or “Tom Hanks”(you may look up a full list on the net), sometimes even in combination. The poster motive of mediocre films is usually dominated by giant floating heads (notable exception: “Zardoz”).
Why are mediocre movies made? Do they just “happen”? Are they “accidents”? In some cases, they surely are. But, believe it or not, a huge bulk of those films is made on purpose with the goal of making a really really mediocre movie. I don’t want to sound condescending or snobby, but some people just have not a single shred of imagination. They LOVE mediocrity- hell, there are folks who own both Kenny G. and Phil Collins- CDs and think Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin made a cute couple. Everybody enjoys an instant meal from time to time- but could you honestly “love” it? Snobbery aside though, it ain’t all bad about “the big M”. Not all people are that passionate about films- some just want to relax on the couch after they returned from a hard day of work and watch something that works in well-known patterns and is not straining. And there is nothing wrong with that. Mediocre movies are not a bad thing per se- they are needed as a gauge we measure other movies by and watching them here and then is good for the mental hygiene.
Still, sometimes we have to take a stand against them. Against all the unimaginative movies that get praised by innocent people who don’t know better. Against the fact that they make up for 80% of all the (sadly less and less) movies in the TV program. Against the notion that the Da Vinci Code is described as a “thriller”. Who mourns for all the people who were forced to watch Dangerous Minds or Changing Lanes on TV, during the mythical dark times before internet (B.I.)?
Who lived in the countryside, with a rental store nearby that had like four different movies available, three of them starring Julia Roberts? We do.
This time, it’s personal.
This is for all the hours we can never get back and all the hours we will surely waste in the future. I am better (I think I just found the real snob here) and Detective Dee take the bullet for you and present their “Mediocrest of”, reviews of the ten “Borebusters” that left them cold the most.
Prepare to be mildly entertained and slightly bored.
What the hell else would you wanna watch? News?
* RATING SYSTEM *
I am better (IAB):
The following titles are some collected examples of total mediocrity from me. The rating system based on how many listenings of Kenny G’s songs is the film equivalent to. Scale is 1-5.
The Antidote: The movie you need to wash away the stale aftertaste.
Detective Dee (DEE):
This movie is made for: (Assumed target audience)
It’s like…: (Comparing the movie-viewing to a real life experience)
It’s like listening to…:(A song that is comparable in terms of mediocrity, so you can have the movie-viewing experience in a nutshell)
The Antidote: The movie you need to wash away the stale aftertaste.
IAB’s choice #10
Tower Heist (2011)
Actually, this list could be compiled from ALL of Brett Ratner’s filmography. The man is the Grand Sensei of Mediocrity. I wonder what dirt on the Hollywood powerholders he has in his secret files; nothing else explains why he gets constantly hired and his films riddled with big names. Nevertheless, this is just a by-the-numbers “a group of underdogs rise against a big bad capitalist dude who stole all their money and plan a heist to set things right”-story all over again. Everyone seems to be in just for the paycheck, except a few supporting actors like Casey Affleck, Michael Pena and most of all, Gabourey Sidibe, who’s scenes with Eddie Murphy are actually quite funny. And Alan Alda as the Bernie Madoff-type villain is also good.
But some good performances can’t save the film from Ratner’s flat direction and complete lack of rhythm. Speaking of rhythm, where is Ratner’s usual composer of choice, Lalo Schifrin? This film sure could’ve benefited from some Schifrin coolness. The biggest crime this film does is NOT the heist the team makes, but that the film HAD a chance to give an edgy role to Eddie Murphy – something akin to Axel Foley of Reggie Hammond, but then it’s all pissed away by a PG-13 rating. There hasn’t been a worse example of an actor trying to avoid saying the f-word since Joe Pesci in Home Alone 1-2…If they would’ve just gone for “R”-rating and gave Murphy free hands, this could’ve been something really great. But alas, we still have to wait…
Antidote: Italian Job (1969 original) for a fun heist film, 48 hrs., Beverly Hills Cop, Raw, Delirious for R-rated Eddie Murphy.
DEE’s choice #10
First Knight (1995)
The myth around King Arthur is filled with magic, romanticism and bravery, infinitely variable and therefore a never ending source of inspiration for film makers and other artists. Hence it’s kind of wondrous why anybody should strip the story of it’s most appealing elements and create something as bland as possible. The man behind this devilish endeavour is naturally Jerry Bruckh- no, it’s Jerry Zucker!
This is why we can’t have pretty things.
Although revisionist historians have proven that the Middle Ages have not been as “dark” as we make them out to be, but in no way they have been as squeaky clean as in First Knight. Camelot, whose indigo blue roofing shindles match the clothes of its inhabitants in the most fabulous way, looks so fake, you expect Harold and Kumar walk around the corner any moment. Add the suspiciously tidy 90s hairdos and you could think this is a misguided attempt to create the first “Lego Knights” live-action adaptation. This assumption is only reinforced by a sequence in which Richard Gere has to pass an obstacle course that looks like it was made of cobbled together leftover props from the The Flintstones movie.
Furthermore does the love triangle not work at all and gives the one from Twilight a hard time in competing for the title of being the worst of its kind ever to be put on film. For a moment you feel glad for the bland Julia Ormond to be freed from her geriatric monarchical husband (Sean Connery), but her chemistry with Gere never sets in, maybe because chemistry wasn’t invented yet, who knows.
It does not even help that we see them fooling around under a tree with rainwater covered leaves like two lovestruck smurfs in a scene that could be straight out of a shower gel commercial.
Too much New Age, not enough Middle Ages. Connery (as King Arthur), who once again doesn’t seem to know in which movie he is in, shows off some acting whose phoniness is only trumped by that of his wig. Sometimes movies like this are salvaged by their bad guys, but Malagant aka Spock’s dad aka Ben Cross is only characterized as a villain by his constantly condescending facial expression and his disgusting table manners (a proven acting method to make the audience hate you). Mercifully nobody ever put his dirty mitts on the King Arthur myth again- wait, sh*t!
This movie is made for: Kids that are on the verge of being too old for most of the PG13 stuff, yet are not old enough for the R-rated movies and have to chose this movie as a compromise, only to end up being bored to death by the love story and annoyed by the teens who make out in the row behind them.
Rating: Attending a stage play of amateur actors at the local Renaissance fair, you cannot leave for reasons of courtesy as that one kid of that one friend is playing the singing blacksmith.
It’s like listening to: “This ain’t a love song” by Bon Jovi, another exhibit of faux emotions from the mid 90s.
The Antidote: Excalibur (1981) naturally, or you could also go with The Name of the Rose (1986), if you need the Connery-factor.
IAB’s choice #9
Mission: Impossible 2 (2000)
Oh gosh, this one… I loved the first M:I. Brian DePalma made something great out of an honestly over-convoluted story. One helluva good time in the theatre. So when it was announced, that John muthafuckin’ Woo was gonna direct the second one, as a HUGE Woo fan, I was over the moon. The trailer looked incredible. But alas, it didn’t show the massive bore that ended on screen.
The thing about this movie is, that in a two-hour movie there is an about 80- minute chunk in the middle, where NOTHING FUCKING HAPPENS. See Ethan Hunt awkwardly pine over the girl he falls in love after one glimpse of her. See the triangle drama between the girl, Hunt and the bad guy. A plot completely ripped out of Hitchcock’s Notorious (I guess they assumed it’s such an old movie, that no one notices). Apparently the way the movie was made, was that Woo created action scenes, and Robert Towne was hired to write a plot between the action. Talk about reverse engineering…
Also – no team to speak of. See Tom Cruise run, shoot, jump, climb, drive in slow-motion with an umpteenth level of hair-flipping…wait – is this Charlies Angels or Mission; Impossible? The PG-13 rating removes the little amount of balls that John Woo’s action scenes might have had. Some pretty photography, a few snappy lines(more or less from an uncredited Anthony Hopkins), moustache-twirling villains sans the moustache, an amazingly wooden performance from Thandie Newton (who’s only job seems to be to swoon over Cruise and be conflicted near Dougray Scott). Ah yes – Dougray Scott…it’s well documented that Scott lost the part of Wolverine as this film’s shooting went over time. Based on his bland performance here, it was a victory for us moviegoers. A few mildly entertaining PG-13 action scenes keep this film from getting the full “Kenny G”-dosage.
Antidote: The Killer (1989) for John Woo-greatness, The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) for spy romance.
DEE’s choice #9
Coyote Ugly (2000)
Rarely has a movie title been this misleading. “Coyote Ugly” is not the nickname of a infamous scarred gangster or a badass post-apocalyptic warrior, nor are the lyrics of the title song “Can’t fight the Moonlight” about the inner turmoil of a reluctant werewolf. No, it’s just Jerry Bruckheimer recycling the formula of one of his earlier hits, namely Flashdance.
As a byproduct of the wake of TV- casting shows, the motive of the aspiring dancer has been replaced with that of an aspiring songwriter/singer and the remaining charm of the 80s original has been erased in favour of an aseptic late-90s aesthetic. It feels so sanitized, like a fart that does not stink.
For a movie that has the word “ugly” in the title, it is also filled with too many attractive people. The story of the talented singer with stage fright that comes to the big city and has to work in a women-run night bar is so wild, it will rob your 12 year old sister of her sleep that evening. In one scene, the heroine (wide-screen mouthed Piper Perabo) has to defuse a bar brawl with an awful a cappella rendition of “One Way or Another”. It’s that bad.
Speaking of the soundtrack, be prepared for a “Mediocre-Of” of your local radio channel’s playlist. No song is too stale or too overused for the music department of that movie, that surely is consisting of very cruel/deaf people. A short while before the film is over, a scenario is unfolding as Piper catches her new boyfriend (played by Andy Garcia), a kind of Ken-doll amalgam of both the 1976 versions of Sly Stallone and John Travolta, in the middle of a conversation with his hitherto unknown sister. Instantly assuming she is his secret affair, Piper storms out, thereby creating the possibility of an obligatory romantic post-showdown reconciliation scenario. Why create drama with plot, if it works so much better with plot contrivances.
This movie is for: Your 12 year old sister, who will be secretly texting about it with her friends under her blanket that evening.
Rating: Like being at a “SingStar”-competition with your girlfriend/boyfriend at the house of that befriended couple you secretly despise.
It’s like listening to this song: Hell, just go with the title track.
The antidote: “Little Voice”(1998), a great underrated movie about the dark sides of music business, starring a hilariously sleazy Michael Caine and a wonderful Jane Horrocks.
For a movie that has the word “ugly” in the title, it is also filled with too many attractive people.
IAB’s choice #8
The 6th Day (2000)
“Cloning is baaaad, m’kay…?” That’s about all the Message we get from a two hour bore starring Arnold Schwarzenegger….and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Bland CGI, bland music score, bland acting(the main baddie lacks any kind of teeth, Robert Duvall is criminally underused etc.), bland production design….and energy-less direction by Roger Spottiswoode, who has actually made – well, at least one good movie once (Deadly Pursuit aka. Shoot to Kill, 1988, look it up). One of the most forgettable movies by Arnold.
The only interesting things are the security force led by Michael Rooker, and their several ill-fated attempts at capturing Arnold, and their resurrection after he kills them in some horrifying way. The film could’ve used that gimmick EVEN more. It’s kind of a clever inside pun at all the enemies in all the movies he has killed – how they are often actually the SAME stunt guys or bit-part actors. But more than that – it’s all generic Sci-Fi action bore.
Antidote: Total Recall (1990), Commando (1985) (the bad guys that Arnold mows down at the end are all the same 12 guys anyway).
DEE’s choice #8
Sixteen Blocks (2006)
Actually this movie starts out rather good. Bruce Willis plays a burned-out cop who has to escort witness Mos Def to a courthouse only 16 blocks away, but his assignment is severely hampered by a bunch of corrupt cops. The first confrontation is pretty suspenseful and we all know that Bruce Willis works best in high concept action thrillers that take place in confined spaces.
Too bad 16 Blocks is not a pulse-quickening action thriller but is revealed as a chatty buddy movie with the two whiniest buddies ever to grace the screen. Willis puts on his well-known self-pitying grimace (furrowed brows, squinting eyes and a slightly pouting mouth) we have grown to hate at least since his performance in Unbreakable, but he varies it this time with the daring novelty of sporting a moustache.
Mos Def is usually a surprisingly apt rapper-turned-actor, but it looks as he was still in full “twee mode” from his turn in Be Kind, Rewind, or how can his odd performance as fast-talking aspiring cake baker (!) be explained otherwise?
Unfortunately the movie’s pace adapts to Bruce Willis theatrical limping, that should underline the fucked-upness of his character, which he probably adapted in a flash of method acting genius. In the end, after a thrilling showdown filled with even more self-pitying confessions, drenched with bittersweet morals, you just wanna shoot the movie and put it out of its misery. The unintentional hilarity of the scene in the epilogue that shows Willis actually receiving a birthday cake from Mos Def, comes too late.
This movie is for: Guys over 40 who go through a midlife crisis and are longing for the times when “Rock was still Rock”, beer tasted like beer and men were still allowed to be men, ironically not realizing that “being whiny” does not exactly qualify as a sign for manliness.
Rating: Listening to your dad’s rants about how everything was better in the past during a long, long car ride.
It’s like listening to: “Desperado” by The Eagles, which is perfectly complimenting the movie’s treacly macho pathos.
The Antidote: “The Gauntlet” (1977) with Clint Eastwood has a similar plot, but with approximately 100% more fun and action.
IAB’s choice #7
The Terminal (2004)
The name Steven Spielberg does not automatically “film brilliance” make. In the aftermath of Skulls of the Crystal kind, we are all very painfully aware of that fact. After the fun periodical grifter-movie Catch me if you can (2002), he decided to make this.
Based on a true story. Only, the true story is never really that interesting, so the tale of a man with no country forced to live in an airport terminal has been reformed into something that seems to try and mimic, in a weird way, the mood Jean Pierre Jeunet’s films…with it’s group of eccentric characters forming a little family in the bowels of the airport terminal…and with the main character Victor (played by Tom Hanks with a baaaad accent) actually even becoming a match-maker akin to Amelie Poulain, and also developing a relationship with a stewardess Catherine Zeta-Jones (one Kenny G removed from the rating by her hotness).
But all of this moves at a snails’ pace, compared to Jeunet’s stories. There are basically three Steven Spielbergs out there: action-adventure Spielberg, drama Spielberg and sappy Spielberg. The sappy one can be entertaining, because usually the drama Spielberg gets in on the action there, but this film is just sappy Spielberg sapping the sap all over us and not bothering to offer us a napkin to wipe it off. Booooring….
Based on a true story. Only, the true story is never really that interesting (…)
DEE’s choice #7
National Treasure (2004)
Maligning National Treasure as a cheap Indiana Jones rip-off would be too easy and unfair. A “Da Vinci Code- Murica Version” and “Goonies with creepy adults” -mashup nobody ever asked for would be the more appropriate description. Apparently Nicolas Cage was too expensive for the lead so they pulled a ridiculous Nic Cage rubber mask over the face of a really bad actor- nice try, you’re not fooling anyone, Mr. Jon Mediocre Turteltaub!
Diane Kruger is as wooden as the stairs that lead to the Freemasons’ treasure chamber in the showdown (Spoiler!). This is a movie for the whole family: There is no violence, no nudity, no bad language, no surprises or anything else that could be remotely interesting. It’s also one of the few movies that have Sean Bean playing a character who does NOT die (Spoiler!). I think that should be warning enough.
This movie is for: Very naïve people. Who haven’t seen many movies. God bless ’em.
Rating: Like watching three bad “Scooby Doo” episodes in arow, followed by a boring History Channel documentary about George Washington’s pen friendships or whatever on late night TV during a sleepless night, while wishing there was still something in the fridge apart from that half-empty jar of mustard.
It’s like listening to: “Photograph” by Nickelback, as Chad Kroeger is the Nic Cage of music, only boring.
The Antidote: “Indiana Jones” would be the easiest answer, but I go with Jackie Chan’s action-extravaganza Armour of God (1986).
Hungry for more mediocre entertainment? Watch out for Part 2 of this article (Places #6-#1)!