We return now to our annual dishonorable mentions of the year, a group of films that pissed us off, were colossal misuses of talent and ideas, and/or just plain wasted our time. We have an especially worthy crop of terrible films this year, all of which dare you to find a reason to like them or to even tolerate them. Suffice it to say that we failed in this respect.
2016 Calvin Awards: Worst Picture
By Reagen Sulewski
February 24, 2016
What happens when you take a terrible concept, written poorly, that made for an awful series of films , spin it off into a terrible vanity project with an extremely loose connection to the original concept and then write *that* poorly? Well, you get our worst film of the year, 50 Shades of Grey, which doubles down on the misery of the Twilight series and adds bad sex to the mix. Surely by now we're all familiar with the story of how this book series came to life, as literal fan fiction based on Stephenie Meyers' spectacularly bad sparkly vampire novels, which had a formula that this adaptation slavishly copies, beat for beat. There aren't even any supernatural elements to the story for it to fall back on as an excuse, making this just lifestyle porn that aims at being real porn, and fails at all of that. With comically bad sex scenes and chemistry between its two leads that resembles helium and argon (ask your science teacher, kids), it's a film that's utterly without merit. So of course they're going to make two more (probably), much to the chagrin of even its leads. That's why you read your contracts!
Say what you will about the original Hot Tub Time Machine, but it had its charms, as a kind of demented twist on nostalgia and wacky '80s sex comedies, made that much more poignant by the presence of the spirit animal of goofy '80s comedy, John Cusack. And there's the only time the words "poignant" and "Hot Tub Time Machine" have been linked. For the sequel, cleverly titled Hot Tub Time Machine 2, the idea seems to have been, "Okay, but throw them into the future and see how that works," to which the answer is it doesn't, unless you like gay panic jokes and extreme scatalogical humor. A great deal of HTTM2 seems to have been improvised, which can work in the right hands, but when your basically just show up to the set gambling that you'll make the magic happen on the day, there'll be times when you roll snake eyes. That's more or less the case here, as the calm centering aspect of Cusack's performance is absent here, leaving the bulk of it to be carried by Rob Corddry in full jackass mode. It's a singularly unpleasant experience.
It's not impossible to see how Jupiter Ascending, our third worst film of the year, could have lived another life as a rollicking original science-fiction blockbuster. It's got all those elements – adventure, a hero's journey, space battles, a ready-made world that spans the galaxy... and yet, it's all just a mish-mash of ridiculousness, hammy acting and half-baked ideas that never really go anywhere. The Wachowskis are relentlessly inventive filmmakers, but sometimes your invention crashes and burn. This attempt to create something akin to Jane Austen's Dune aims for grandeur and hits only “silly and embarrassing” with things like “Channing Tatum as a half-wolf flying-rollerskate warrior”. I mean, just think about the majesty of the insanity of that idea, that they got someone to pay them to put on film. Cringe watching is usually something for bad comedy, but here we cringed for the sake of everyone involved.
In theory, there's nothing wrong with the idea of updating a classic comedy like Vacation, taking Rusty Griswold and giving him his own family to deal with, and sending him on a mishap-filled journey. The devil, of course, is always in the the details and we should have realized that the typical modern technique to update a classic comedy is to fill it with gross-out humor and to just generally get mean. The vast majority of these remakes (and you had better be listening, Ghostbusters) exist as cash grabs, and Vacation solidifies this – as the sight of the Griswolds frolicking around in raw sewage does attest.
Making films based on contractual issues almost never turns out well. Time-limited rights have given us the Amazing Spider-Man films and now a reboot of Fantastic Four, none of which have been worth even half a thought. While the assumption was that Josh Trank's version would have to improve on Tim Story's tepid FF films, we couldn't have anticipated just how much they'd mess up this family of superheroes by making them super-ordinary. Either there was direction to play every main character as spectacularly bored and anti-social, or else everyone just realized very quickly how terrible the whole thing was going to be very early on and stopped trying. It's the rare film that has its director publicly denounce it on opening day (and thus ensure no one hire him again), but Fantastic Four inspires just that much bile.
Aren't mustaches funny and also revolting? This appears to be the sole thought that went into making our sixth place film Mortdecai, the latest attempt to destroy any remaining goodwill we have towards Johnny Depp. Based on an apparently popular (but not for long) book series about a Clouseau-esque detective, approximately three-quarters of this movie is made of people reacting to the lead character's mustache with horror and revulsion, and then on come the dry heaves. No, really, a bunch of it is made up of sympathetic vomiting. How did no one stop this before it escaped?
Seventh place goes to the latest Alvin and the Chipmunks abomination, The Road Chip, which continues to inflict itself on, by this time, very suspecting parents of small children. Now, it's not as if there's any great tradition of singing rodents that they're ruining here, but it's more a question of what more they hope to wring out of this concept. Please, please, please, for all that is good and decent in this world – stop.
It's difficult to work up a great deal of hatred for Adam Sandler these days, as he's mostly in self-imposed exile to Netflix now, and it's mostly just pity you feel as he tries to recapture old glory days by repeating the same joke that worked 15 years ago. But then he had to go and make Pixels, which used up a *dynamite* premise about video games coming to life, and then make the laziest, dumbest jokes possible about it. Thanks for nothing again, Adam.
Ninth spot sees The Boy Next Door, an “erotic” thriller in which Jennifer Lopez is stalked by a barely legal student. Clunky dialogue, laughable and audience-insulting plot twists and boring sex scenes make this pretty much intolerable.
Wrapping up our list of 10 is Blackhat from a filmmaker I worry that we've lost for good, Michael Mann. Thor plays a hacker sent out to capture an international cyber terrorist group, because traveling around the world is exactly how you do that. We spent most of this film wondering when James van der Beek was going to show up.
Best Overlooked Film
Best Supporting Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Best TV Show
Best Use of Music