Reel Opinions

Monday, December 31, 2018

The 13th Annual Reel Stinkers Awards

It's New Year's Eve.  And as the clock ticks down the final moments of 2018, and everybody gets to look to the year ahead, I get to go back in time, and look at the movies that stole my money and my time the past year.

Yes, it's time once again for the Reel Stinkers Awards.  A time when I get to "honor" the worst of the worst that I sat through.  As you all know, bad movies come in all forms.  We've got blockbuster bombs, comedies with no laughs, thrillers that couldn't startle a mouse, unnecessary sequels, star vanity projects that went horribly wrong, and so much more!  I try to pick through the garbage, and find the really big stinkers.  Sure, I could easily make an entire list of cheap exploitation and low budget horror films, but where would the fun in that be?  I want to look back on the films that were big, or at least supposed to be big, and featured big talent, but still managed to fail.

As always, my "Best of the Year" article will likely come around February or so, as there are some late year releases still stuck in limited release at the moment, and will go wider during January and February.  I want to see and review as many of them as I can, so I always hold off on my Best list until then.

So, with all that out of the way, it's time to carve some cinematic turkeys!  Here's hoping that you didn't waste your money and time on them, and let us also hope that everyone involved with them will get to work on a good movie in 2019!

And now, I'm proud to give you...


10. A WRINKLE IN TIME - I actually did not write a review for this film, as I was away on a week-long Caribbean Cruise with my girlfriend the weekend it came out.  I did see it when I got home, and it immediately earned a spot on my "Worst" list, from which it never left.  Based on the classic children's novel by Madeleine L'Engle, this is a confused and muddled fantasy about some children who go on a quest across multiple worlds and alternate dimensions in order to search for their scientist father (Chris Pine), who disappeared while doing research on time and space.  The kids are aided in their quest by three otherworldly women (played by Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling), who don't really do all that much in the film, other than speak in unhelpful inspirational dialogue like “You can do this!” and "You are a Warrior!".  This big budget adaptation disappointed the fans of the book by ignoring many of the subtleties and complexities of the story.  As for those who were not familiar with the novel, they were confused by the movie's time and space-bending plot, and how the movie just never really bothers to explain anything. (One of the main characters just literally walks into the movie and starts talking, even though we haven't been introduced to him up to that point.) The movie explains little, and makes even less sense.  And despite the big name acting talent, none of the characters or performances register.  This is simply a misguided movie all the way around.

09. JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM -  If 2015's Jurassic World was a soulless attempt to cash in on the nostalgia audiences held for the 1993 original film, then Fallen Kingdom is simply soulless.  This is a garden variety sequel that just throws non-stop action up on the screen, while making no attempt to engage the audience.  For all the rampaging dinos and narrow escapes that the film throws at us, the whole experience ends up being as thrilling as cardboard because there is nothing to care about here.  Yes, the movie has been expertly made, but so what if there is nothing here for those in the audience to grab onto?  This is a film that gives us nothing to think about, and nothing to discuss when it's two plus hours are up.  It's a cynical and mechanical device that gives us a lot of special effects, but creates no sense of wonder.  The dinosaurs are like targets in a video game, and the human characters either blunder their way through one close call after another, or in the case of the villains, make one bad decision after another.  The script reads as if it were written on a bunch of post-it notes, hitting the expected plot points, but not going any deeper than that.  There are movies out there that can make you feel, make you excited, and even thrill you.  Don't let Jurassic World steal your time with an experience that will make you feel nothing.  As popcorn entertainment goes, it's the cinematic equal to dumping all the popcorn out of the cardboard box it came in, and eating the box itself.

08. TAG -  This is a relentlessly mean-spirited comedy that turned me off early on, and was never able to win me over.  It has a premise that seems to suggest a good time at the movies, but when I left, I felt nothing but hatred for the characters at the center of it.  The movie (loosely based on a true story) is about five guys, all friends from childhood, who for over 30 years have spent the month of May playing the game of tag.  Why do they do this?  To feel young, they say.  And at one point, one of the guys even says, "It brings out the best in us".  I might have believed this if the movie didn't go so far in making the five guys such violent, aggressive, insufferable a-holes.  In the movie, the characters play the game not on friendly terms, but mostly to be jerks to one another.  They not only use the game to interrupt important events in their lives like the birth of a child, the funeral of a father, or a wedding, but they even go so far as to implement torture when they threaten to waterboard someone.  As the movie got meaner and dumber with each passing scene, I started to feel dirty watching it.  If Tag is dismal as a comedy, it becomes downright unwatchable when it tacks on a sentimental ending, which plays by the unwritten rule that most recent adult comedies must go mushy and soft in the last half after devoting a majority of the movie to jokes about masturbation and including every four letter word and obscene insult in the English language.  After 90 minutes of unfunny obscene humor, the movie suddenly throws in a terminal illness and weepy bedside hospital scenes.  Let me tell you, when the movie went in this direction, I was so moved I wanted to throw up.

07. THE PREDATOR -  Here is a movie that will please no one.  Say you're a fan of the long-running Sci-Fi franchise, and are anxious to see how it's been updated.  Well, you will be disappointed to learn that this is a slapdash effort to cash in on the recognizable name.  But, say you're not a fan, and you just want to be entertained.  Again, prepare to be disappointed, as there is nothing inspired, thrilling or original here. The movie is an assault on the senses - Overly loud, replacing CG blood and gore for genuine thrills, and downright incoherent in its editing, plotting and pacing.  This movie has all the markings of a project that got out of control, or perhaps never had a clear vision to start with.  The Predator is the kind of film that feels it doesn't have to tell a genuine narrative or give us character motivation.  All it has to do is crank up the gunfire and explosions really loud, splash a lot of blood around, and hope the audience doesn't catch on that nothing is happening.  This is such a shockingly inept movie, you're almost surprised to see seasoned professionals were behind it.  This is especially true of the plotting and writing, which frequently falls back on forced exposition dialogue to move the story along.  There is just this overall sense of laziness to the filmmaking on display.  Instead of revitalizing the franchise, this might bury it even deeper into obscurity.

06. LIFE OF THE PARTY -  I'm willing to admit that the problem lies with me.  I detested Life of the Party with such ferocity that I have to wonder if the movie really is as bad as I remember it being.  This is a film that rubbed me the wrong way from beginning to end.  It's not just that this is yet another comedy with no laughs.  It's toothless, pointless, and just obnoxious.  The movie is just a colossal miscalculation on every level.  The film stars Melissa McCarthy as Deanna, a 40-something woman who gets dumped by her husband, and decides to go back to college where her young daughter is currently attending.  If you want to see this exact same idea done with actual humor, go and watch Rodney Dangerfield's 1986 film, Back to SchoolLife of the Party just wants to be nice, and not ruffle any feathers.  It's so insistent on not letting its audience think, that it virtually has no plot.  It's simply 105 minutes of failed sketches that revolve around Deanna bonding with Maddie's sorority sisters None of these plots go anywhere, mean anything, or build to any substance.  Some don't even get resolved, the movie just seems to forget about them. I guess the filmmakers feared that things like plot elements and actual humor would take away time from more pivotal scenes where Deanna wears funny clothes, falls over things, and does goofy dances.  Life of the Party is so bad, it makes Billy Madison look like a thoughtful and quiet meditation on the education process.

05. HOLMES & WATSON -  The distinct smell of flop sweat permeates from the screen during Holmes & Watson, as actors who seem to know they're trapped in a bomb struggle to rise above.  Scene after desperate scene, they soldier on, performing through moments that the movie thinks is funny, but they know are not.  This is yet another movie where the studio knew the script was a stinker, and they hoped throwing some talent at it would save it.  The movie is being advertised as a comedy, but it has too strong of a hollow, aimless tone to it to generate any laughs.  It places Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly in the roles of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, respectively, and then pretty much hopes that they can recapture the chemistry they shared in the previous films they did together.  The thing is, those movies had life to them.  They had a pulse.  Here, Ferrell and Reilly mug for the camera, pretending that they're enjoying themselves.  But both of them look like they can hardly contain their doubts about the project.  Talented as both are, you can't throw a dud script at them, and expect them to make gold just by playing off each other.  There has to be something in the material for them to work with.  Holmes & Watson is the kind of desperately unfunny comedy that will likely be swept under the rug, and never spoken of by the stars or their fans ever again.  

04. THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS -  A lot of bad movies get pushed out of Hollywood every year, but it's rare to get an inexplicably bad one like The Happytime Murders.  It exists solely to shock and offend, but it can't even do that.  This is a one-joke movie, and that joke is "puppets are dirty".  We see characters that resemble the sort of Muppets we see on Sesame Street or The Muppet Show chain smoking, snorting lines of sugar like cocaine, hanging out in porno stores, inhabiting strip clubs, acting like mobsters and prostitutes, and having rough sex with each other.  Put those images in your head, picture if you would like to watch that for 90 minutes, and you will know whether or not you are the audience for this film.  The screenplay by Todd Berger does some customary world building in the first 10 minutes or so, then forgets all about it, and just plops its puppet characters into a forgettable murder mystery story about an assailant who is knocking off the puppet cast of a popular 90s sitcom one-by-one.  Now all the puppets are junkies and sex addicts, and are turning up dead in brutal gangland-style murders.  Melissa McCarthy (pulling double duty on this year's list of Stinkers) plays a foul-mouthed human cop put on the case, and basically is giving the same performance she gave in The Heat a few years ago.  All it does is make us wish we were watching that movie instead.  The Happytime Murders never builds to anything worthwhile, and is simply lazy in its desire to shock audiences. 

03. LIFE ITSELF -  Life is messy and hard, but Dan Fogelman's Life Itself is messy, convoluted, disjointed, and just a real sad sack of a movie.  The movie is divided into four separate chapters, and takes a series of seemingly unconnected plotlines and characters, and shows how they are all connected to create that funny thing called life and death.  Despite the title, Fogelman seems especially fixated on the death part, as well as on the misery of life.  During the course of the film's two hours, we see and hear about suicide, a bus plowing into an innocent bystander numerous times, cancer, a little girl's father getting decapitated, and a young boy haunted by nightmares of a deadly accident that he inadvertently caused.  None of these plots add much of anything to the film.  They're just there to add to the misery of the characters as they cope with loss, depression and isolation in the most basic and dramatically unsatisfying ways imaginable.  The movie wallows in pain and misery, while never really finding a way to connect emotionally with the audience.  Everything has been oversimplified, from the dialogue, to the way the film constantly feels the need to feed us how we're supposed to be feeling through narration or obvious visual montages.  It doesn't take long for the movie to feel like it's stopping itself every few minutes to point out the obvious.  Life Itself so desperately wants to tug at the heartstrings, but it takes so much more than just piling death and misery into the narrative to do so.  We need to feel a connection with the people it's happening to, and we never do.  Instead of emotional, the movie feels cheap and exploitative.  Instead of tears, we feel used.  And instead of joy at the end, we feel anguish.  

02. WELCOME TO MARWEN -  Here is a movie of stunning awfulness, one that only truly talented filmmakers could achieve.  Welcome to Marwen is based on the life of New York artist Mark Hogancamp, who came into acclaim in the art world with his elaborate World War II photos using dolls and models.  It's a touching story, and it even inspired a documentary.  What director Robert Zemeckis does with his take is bury the heart and emotion with a lot of pointless CG fantasy sequences where the dolls come to life, and reenact war atrocities and bloody gun battles.  It's about as appealing as watching a CG Ken and Barbie reenact the Battle of Normandy.  It's a total mess of a film, and one that had me watching in silent disbelief.  When it was over, I actually had to question what I had just seen.  This is not only the worst movie Zemeckis has made, but it's also the worst that Steve Carell (who plays Mark in the film) has been involved with.  The movie wants to tell the inspirational journey of Mark's emotional recovery after he is attacked by some thugs at a bar, which led him to lose all of his memories, due to the head trauma he suffered.  But it keeps on getting distracted by the expensive and stilted "fantasy" animation scenes, so that we never learn all that much about Mark, or the people who supposedly inspired him to create his work.  That's because Zemeckis really has no personal stakes to the story.  He just wants to play with the technology of the CG fantasy sequences.  This is one of the most misguided dramas I have seen in a long time.

01. THE 15:17 TO PARIS - I have no doubt that Clint Eastwood had the best of intentions in making The 15:17 to Paris.  He clearly admires the three young men at the center of the story, and why shouldn't he?  On August 21st, 2015, Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler helped prevent what could have been a tragedy when they stopped a terrorist attack on a train bound for Paris, France.  Their actions on that day deserve to be celebrated, but I don't know if this movie was the right way to do it.  Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler portray themselves in the movie, and while it's a neat idea, they quickly prove their inexperience with acting before the camera, and the movie becomes awkward almost from the moment they open their mouths.  Thanks to the clunky script and the inexperienced actors at the center, The 15:17 to Paris quickly becomes a failed experiment.  What starts as a well-intentioned tribute to the men and their heroic deeds quickly dives right off the deep end of pointlessness when the movie literally becomes a home movie of their European vacation.  A good half hour or so of the film is devoted to the guys doing nothing but walking about Italy and Amsterdam, before they catch that fateful train to Paris.  Another annoying thing that Eastwood does throughout the film is that he flashes forward to the events on the train at random moments.  We see a flashback with the guys as little kids being yelled at by their gym teacher for talking back to him, and then we suddenly cut to the train to Paris for no reason, as the terrorist begins his attack on the first couple potential victims.  Then, the movie will suddenly cut back to the flashback of the three main characters as children.  I was practically dumbfounded by this movie.  Eastwood has made great movies, and likely will make another one soon, but he completely strikes out in just about every conceivable way here.  This is simply an overly padded movie that never finds a sense or purpose in the telling of the story, because it refuses to dig deep enough.

Well, that covers the Top 10, but I am far from finished.  It's time to cover the Dishonorable Mentions, the films that were bad, but not quite bad enough to break into the top spots.  Don't let that fool you into thinking these movies are somehow better than what's come before, however.  You should avoid any and all movies that appear on this list.  With that said, let's roll out the next batch of stinkers!


Winchester, Pacific Rim: Uprising, Sherlock Gnomes, Rampage, Truth or Dare, Super Troopers 2, Overboard, Breaking In, Show Dogs, Action Point, Unfriended: Dark Web, The Spy Who Dumped Me, Slender Man, Mile 22, A.X.L., Kin, Peppermint, Night School, Nobody's Fool, The Girl in the Spider's Web, The Possession of Hannah Grace


Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Sherlock Gnomes (a sequel to 2011's Gnomeo and Juliet)


Helen Mirren in Winchester

Three-way tie between Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler in The 15:17 to Paris. (These guys may be real life heroes, but actors they are not.)

The Happytime Murders

Melissa McCarthy in Life of the Party and The Happytime Murders
Maya Rudolph in Life of the Party and The Happytime Murders
Thomas Jane in A.X.L. and The Predator
Tiffany Haddish in Night School and Nobody's Fool

Melissa McCarthy and her equally foul-mouthed Muppet police partner in The Happytime Murders

Universal Studios for bringing us Pacific Rim: Uprising, Truth or Dare, Breaking In, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Night School and Welcome to Marwen


Well, that's the worst of 2018 in a nutshell.  Time to look ahead to 2019, and hope for the best.  Have a wonderful and safe new year, everybody!



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