When a movie misfires, sometimes it’s simply a good idea gone wrong. More often, though, it’s a terrible idea whose execution reveals just how threadbare the concept really was — and, by extension, the cynical and/or inept process that would greenlight such a movie to begin with. They can’t all be masterpieces, but do bad movies have to be so … demoralizing? Variety chief film critics Owen Gleiberman and Peter Debruge grapple with those cases in their combined list of the Worst Films of 2017. It might surprise you which 10 nearly broke their spirit.
Owen Gleiberman’s 5 worst:
1. “Trespass Against Us”
It’s a wackadoo drama that hardly anyone saw or cared about, yet this degree of in-your-face ineptitude simply can’t be allowed to go unrecognized. Michael Fassbender and Brendan Gleeson play father-and-son criminals who live in a makeshift domestic trailer camp, where every moment consists of flamboyant bickering nonsense. The movie unfolds in a kitchen-sink-of-the-absurd nether zone somewhere between sitcom and Samuel Beckett, as if staged by Guy Ritchie with a broken motor.
2. “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”
This year, the recycled-franchise-blockbuster system saved the worst for last. A quartet of high schoolers get sucked into a video-game version of Jumanji, which means they’re stranded for two hours in a generic jungle, transformed, for no particular reason, into Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan. The four act out squabbling bits and pieces of what might be the lamest Indiana Jones sequel ever imagined.
3. “The Book of Henry”
Did director Colin Trevorrow get fired off of “Star Wars: Episode IX” because of the scathing reviews that greeted his cloying and absurd boy-genius disease-of-the-week heart-tugger? That wasn’t the stated reason, yet it’s hard to shake the suspicion that this dud didn’t help his cause. It’s the tale of an 11-year-old brainiac (Jaeden Lieberher) who lays a trap for a child abuser, all as a way to let the folks around him grieve. (The film should have stuck with him playing the stock market.) It’s never clear whether we should be laughing, crying, or waving a white flag.
4. “Slack Bay”
There’s a microscopic sliver of cinephiles who celebrate the fact that the French director Bruno Dumont is no longer making aridly obtuse misanthropic cosmic statements like “Humanité” and is now making aridly abstruse misanthropic “comedies” like this one. But to call that an artistic leap forward would be like saying that waterboarding is more tolerable when accompanied be a laugh track.
5. “T2: Trainspotting”
Twenty years later, the junkie rotters from “Trainspotting” have every right to be older and wearier. But do they have the right to be boring? Director Danny Boyle made a fatal mistake when he turned this sequel into a tale of middle-aged anomie, stripping it of energy, recklessness, and — except for one token scene — drugs. “Trainspotting” was a great movie because it found a degraded joy in throwing your life away. But “T2” doesn’t choose life — it chooses hollow moping by people with nothing left to lose.
Peter Debruge’s 5 worst:
Perhaps French director Bertrand Bonello sensed something in the air when he hatched this portrait of a bunch of disaffected young hipsters who coordinate a terrorist attack, then hide out in a Paris department store watching the aftermath unfold on the news, like so many blasé models in a provocative fashion commercial. Rather than scrapping (or at least adapting) his raw-nerve concept after the Bataclan shooting, Bonello withholds any relevant insights or social critique. It’s an insult not only to France, but to terrorists as well, who can be accused of many things, but never of lacking convictions.
2. “The Emoji Movie”
What’s next? “Selfie Stick: The Movie”? A transparently cynical cash-grab inspired by those little yellow smileys that vaguely correspond to actual human emotions, this Sony-made CG cartoon was a blatant rip-off of Pixar’s “Inside Out,” offering some generic “be yourself” message while teaching kids they need phones to be cool/attractive to the opposite sex. The movie’s message should have been: “Hey dummy, use your words! Turn off your phone and go talk to the girl!”
3. “Fist Fight”
Whoever thought it was a good idea to build a movie around a misunderstanding between two high-school teachers that escalates into an epic on-campus brawl clearly doesn’t have children — or else probably lets them play with loaded weapons around the house. American movies are already far too cavalier about violence, and a comedy that encourages it in such an inappropriate context isn’t funny; it’s downright irresponsible. (Between this and his role in Louis CK’s cringe-worthy “I Love You, Daddy,” Charlie Day should stick to the small screen.)
4. “The Snowman”
Mister Police, someone’s going to “movie jail” over this abomination, which Martin Scorsese was attached to direct at one point. The honors ultimately went to Tomas Alfredson, who claims that scheduling problems are to blame for this badly miscalculated Jo Nesbø adaptation, featuring a lame serial killer who signs his crimes by building a snowman in his victims’ front yards. Why not leave behind freshly baked cookies while he’s at it? And what is Val Kilmer even doing in this movie?
Whereas Alexander Payne makes delightfully insightful small movies, this one’s a massive disappointment, stemming from the fact that his abilities (so appealing in miniature) don’t scale well to a big-budget, high-concept studio project. Based on a faulty premise (that status-hungry humans would voluntarily agree to shrink themselves), this misbegotten satire is woefully artless from the opening shot and features a charisma-less lead performance from Matt Damon, whose character just accepts being ditched by his wife, when the film ought to be about trying to win her back.
|Variety’s Best of 2017|