Big screen blunders: disappointing films of 2009
(Editor’s Note: This is an updated version of an earlier story published on December 9, 2009.)
No best-of-the-year film list would be complete without a glimpse at the films that made audience-goers cringe in 2009. From harebrained comedies to ambitious prestige pieces that just fell short of the mark, the following is a list of films that failed to scintillate at the Cineplex.
“Year One” With his puppy-dog looks and anxious delivery, Michael Cera seems like the ideal straight man to counter Jack Black’s increasingly frenetic on-screen antics. Paired in a comedy that promised to take the two on a quest across the annals of human history, Cera and Black didn’t disappoint with their chemistry. Rather, the blame for this mammoth failure rests on the shoulders of a director who ought to have known better. As the driving force behind “Groundhog Day” and 1981’s “Stripes,” Harold Ramis should have taken a quick glance at this puerile screenplay – rife with awkward scat and sodomy jokes – and kept on walking. Instead he stuck around; it may be the only joke in “Year One” that sticks.
“Whatever Works” Larry David inhabits the neurotic, hyper-intellectual New Yorker stereotype first originated by Woody Allen back in the 1970s. While David’s acerbic wit has served him well in other ventures, including a 9-year stint on “Seinfeld” and his current show “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” he’s total overkill in the role of the already bitter and curmudgeonly Boris Yelnikoff. Get ready to squirm as David turns suitor to then 21-year-old Evan Rachel Wood, a young talent trying to make due with a character whose limitations – she’s a runaway who speaks with a Southern twang and dons her fair share of scrunchies – are painfully obvious. For his part, Allen, whose script for “Whatever Works” is over 30 years old, seems like he might still be jet-lagged from his recent European vacation (see “Match Point” and “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”).
“Observe and Report” Creepiness, thy name is watching Seth Rogen date rape a barely conscious Anna Faris for gags. No, let’s amend that. Creepiness, thy name is watching an amply endowed (just not in the right areas) Randy Gambell jaunt across a shopping mall and assail unsuspecting ladies with the sight of his manly bits flapping like a flag at half-mast in the wind. While Rogen’s mall cop was debased before the film’s trailer even made it into regular rotation due to it’s similarity to another mall cop movie, the issue with “Observe and Report” is not that it followed too closely on the heels of the much more successful (though equally mediocre) “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.” Rather, Rogen’s film lacked the jocular goodwill that pervaded “Paul Blart.” Viewers were left with a disturbing look at a semi-demented wannabe cop teetering on the brink of psychosis as he struggles to gain respectability in his chosen profession.
“X-Men Origins: Wolverine” I enjoy fan fiction just as much as the next geek. But this, the work of director Gavin Hood, errs on the side of just plain ludicrous. Still sweating up the ladies, Hugh Jackman returns as the titular hero for another bout of mutant walloping in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” While Wolverine’s creation into an adamantium-filled powerhouse is well known, “Origins” goes further back into his history. Try antebellum-era history, which binds the future Wolverine with a half-brother, the villainous Sabretooth (played by Liev Schreiber). Before Weapon X transforms the boys into their famous alter-egos, their mutant power appears to be immortality, as a quick montage early in the film reveals they’ve fought in almost every notable American war (forget the fact that the boys are supposed to be from Canada), starting with the Civil War. I suppose any explanation for those perennial muttonchops of Wolverine’s will suffice.
“Precious” Sixteen-year-old Claireece Precious Jones (newcomer Gabourney Sidibe) is poor, illiterate and by the time director Lee Daniels finds her, about to give birth to her second child. But Jones, who in a sad twist of irony prefers to be called Precious, doesn’t have any boyfriends to speak of; boiled up every night along with the pig’s feet and collard greens her mother (Mo’Nique) cruelly demands are visions of the abuse she’s suffered since childhood at the hands of her sweaty, shadow-figure father. “Precious,” based on the bleak novel “Push” by Sapphire, has all the horrors of Sapphire’s original work but lacks much of its soul and gravity. Blame Daniels and screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher, who intrude upon the natural dark flow of the story with fantastical montages and a noxious soundtrack of inappropriately chipper soul tunes. And while Mo’Nique delivers a tour-de-force as Precious’ bellowing mother, the sharp nuances of her performance are dulled by the heavy hand of a director who seems confused about whether he’s directing a glossy music video or straight-up drama. The answer, of course, is the latter, but far be it from Daniels to realize there’s a big difference.
Shayna Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.