THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Any movie year will produce its share of turkeys. We all know that going in. The real issues are: how many will come our way and how painfully awful will they be? The past twelve months have seen some pretty crappy films hit our nation’s screens, in probably about the same proportion as any other year. Perhaps the best I can say is that there were no films in 2004 that got any less than one star from me. That’s pretty good, right?

Not so fast, partner. You haven’t strolled down memory lane with me yet. Filling up a Ten Worst list was not a difficult task. And if you think this year was a piece of cake, consider some of the films that didn’t make this list: Surviving Christmas, Torque, Troy, Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid, Twisted, The Village, The Prince and Me, and Chasing Liberty. Yes, I found ten pictures even worse than these!

There were more runners-up. Envy was embarrassingly unfunny, but I give it some props for at least being an ambitious failure. I can’t say as much for A Cinderella Story. I was apparently in the minority in believeing that National Treasure was a shallow, ridiculous piece of junk; I’ve left it off the list because it was so bad that it made me laugh, which again is more than I can say for A Cinderella Story. If there were an 11th place on this list, Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement would fill that slot. The supposed feminist-statement-for-girls was crudely obliterated by the screenplay’s desire to have its central character wind up with the man of her dreams. Nice message, Hollywood.

The criteria for this list are simple: no low-budget indies that nobody ever saw, no straight-to-video releases. The titles on this list have to have had potential. Aside from being bad, they had to have disappointed me. And they did.

Before we begin, a confession: a last-minute scheduling conflict caused me to miss a planned screening of the Olsen twins’ New York Minute; I didn’t exactly go out of my way to make up for that. I also skipped Taxi, partly because I can’t stand Jimmy Fallon and partly because the preview was so bad that I couldn’t bring myself to see the whole film. Not surprisingly, not one reader complained.

Here then are my picks for the Ten Worst Films of 2004:

10. Christmas with the Kranks - Here’s a holiday comedy so bad that it makes the Ben Affleck dud Surviving Christmas look like It’s a Wonderful Life in comparison. Based on a presumably better novella by John Grisham, the movie starred Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis as the Kranks, a couple who decide to skip Christmas after their daughter runs off and joins the Peace Corp. The neighbors – led by Dan Aykroyd – then bully them into decorating anyway. Most of the “laughs” in this putrid comedy come from watching people slip on ice or fall off the roof while hanging Christmas decorations. These jokes are older than that fruitcake you’ve been using as a doorstop since 1972.

9. Raising Helen - Another movie in which an Irresponsible Career-Minded Person (ICMP) is forced to grow the hell up already after suddenly having to care for a group of precocious kids. In this treacle from director Garry Marshall, the ICMP is Kate Hudson, a party-girl left to raise her dead sister’s three kids, much to the dismay of the responsible third sister, played by Joan Cusack. By the end, we’re supposed to believe that Hudson’s character is a Better Person; the movie doesn’t seem to care about the fate of three orphans left in the custody of a woman who is a child herself. The Child Protective Services worker is supposed to be the bad guy but I kept hoping he’d find these poor suffering children a nice foster home.

8. Alien vs. Predator - I generally liked the two individual series that are linked here, but what a mess when combined! Because the film has been watered down for a PG-13, the creatures don’t have the same gory shock value they had in their individual movies. The story was also incomprehensible and dull. Writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson previously made Event Horizon, Soldier, Resident Evil, and Mortal Kombat. This one makes it five bad films in a row. I don’t mean to be rude, but how does this guy keep working?

7. Alexander - This pains me because I’m a big Oliver Stone fan. Still, there’s no denying that he turned out a big, expensive turkey in 2004. Considering that Alexander the Great conquered 90% of the known world, it’s surprising how much of this picture consists of people standing around talking and/or pontificating. By the end of the second hour, I realized I was no longer even paying attention; that’s how badly the boredom sets in. Along with the almost equally-leaden Troy, it seems like the final nail has been driven into the coffin of the historical epic. A genre that was once invigorating has become downright stultifying.

6. Catwoman - I love anything even remotely associated with the DC comics world of Batman, so this horrid adaptation of the DC character/Batman nemesis offended me on multiple levels. Halle Berry looked fabulous in her barely-there leather costume. Everything else completely sucked. The story – about an evil cosmetics tycoon – was laughably bad, and the movie had no visual style whatsoever. Visual style is essential in a comic book movie. Without one, it appeared as though director Pitof made the world’s most expensive Revlon commercial. This is a perfect example of established material being given to people who don’t understand its appeal in the least.

5. You Got Served - The truth is that I probably wouldn’t have gone out of my way to catch this dance competition drama starring the members of R&B group B2K; however, my wife is a fan so we ended up going. I hated the picture and so did she. The dancing is great but the B2K guys couldn’t act if their lives depended on it. Making matters worse is the incompetent screenplay which simply repackages stale hip-hop clichés (keepin’ it real, kickin’ it, etc.) in lieu of an actual story. You Got Served isn’t the bomb; it’s a bomb.

4. Saw - I will concede that there’s an audience for this morbid gore-a-palooza, but I’m not in it. It’s hard to escape the feeling that the filmmakers simply wanted to engage in unadulterated shock value to draw attention to themselves. While the box office numbers suggest that their plan worked, I found the whole thing a shallow exercise in boundary pushing. Beyond the hideousness of the mystery killer’s gimmicky games, there’s absolutely nothing of substance to provide even a single genuine scare. The twist ending is also the most unintentionally hilarious movie scenes of the year.

3. Paparazzi - Look up the word “inept” in the dictionary and you’ll likely be referred to this film. Cole Hauser played a movie star who decides to get revenge on the photographers who make his life miserable. Oddly, the screenplay knows absolutely nothing about the celebrity/paparazzi relationship. It makes it appear as though photographers stalk celebrities simply to make their lives miserable and not because one picture can be worth thousands of dollars. Anyone who’s ever read the National Enquirer or watched “Celebrities Uncensored” is already way ahead of this stunningly awful movie. The press notes announce that first-time director Paul Abascal was previously “one of the most sought-after hair dressers in Hollywood.” Sounds to me like Abascal, who was hand-picked to direct by producer Mel Gibson, needs to stop cutting film and go back to cutting heads.

2. The Butterfly Effect - Here’s definitive proof that Ashton Kutcher cannot act. Not even remotely. In this dark and unpleasant drama, Kutcher somehow keeps rewinding time in an effort to undo the damage caused by a mistake he made. No matter how he changes his actions though, things get even more screwed up than they already were. Consequently, the movie’s message seems to be that life sucks and you’re screwed no matter what. That’s probably not what anyone intended. Kutcher, meanwhile, proves that any emotion beyond smug self-satisfaction is well out of his range.

And my choice for the Worst Film of 2004 is:

Jules Verne must be rolling over in his grave thanks to Jackie Chan's Around the World in 80 Days, the Worst Film of 2004.
1. Around the World in 80 Days - That sound you hear is Jules Verne rolling over in his grave. As directed by Frank Coraci (The Waterboy), this expensive misfire re-imagines Verne’s classic adventure as a Jackie Chan movie. The chop socky scenes are surprisingly lame and, even worse, everyone in the film has been instructed to overact wildly. This is two hours of actors shouting their lines and mugging shamelessly at the camera. Adding insult to injury is the end credit sequence, which features the Baha Men (ugh!) doing their rendition of “It’s a Small World” (aargh!). Around the World in 80 Days is so excruciatingly awful that by the time Rob Schneider turned up in a cameo, I was audibly groaning.

There you have it – the worst of 2004. Starting right this second, I’m done thinking about them. Forever.

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