Reel Opinions

Friday, December 31, 2021

The 15th Annual Reel Stinkers Awards

After a short hiatus in 2020, the Reel Stinkers Awards are back to highlight the low lights of cinema in the past year!

It's New Year's Eve.  And as the clock ticks down the final moments of 2021, 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 2022!

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




10. TOM & JERRY -
Though I highly doubt the demand for a live action/animated hybrid featuring the famous cat and mouse duo was very huge, it was apparently heard by someone at Warner Bros. who seemingly tracked down an old romantic comedy script they had lying around, and then awkwardly inserted some Tom and Jerry antics into it.   This movie ends up being a bizarre mix of bland cartoon-style slapstick that tries, and mostly fails, to recreate some of the classic gags as Tom the Cat and Jerry the Mouse chase one another through a luxury Manhattan hotel, and an even more bland story about a young woman trying to con her way into a job at said hotel, which requires her to pull off an elaborate wedding for a power couple.  Needless to say, these elements don't quite mix, and the movie never comes to life in the roughly 100 minutes that it runs.  I understand that you need a lot of human characters and plot to fill up an entire movie to go with the cartoon fights and gags.  But why make the human elements so aggressively forgettable?  Have anyone who watches this film take a quiz about what happened and who these people are 24 hours after watching it, and they're sure to flunk.  Tom & Jerry would be bizarre if it weren't so boring. 

There are sequels that exist to continue a film's story, and there are also sequels that exist to repeat the same successful formula as before.  And then there are sequels like Coming 2 America, which largely play on the nostalgia audiences hold for the 1988 original, and repeat the same ideas and gags, only in a different setting.  You know a movie is lazy when it feels like roughly 40% of the jokes are taken directly from the original script, and they seem fresher than the new jokes that it attempts.  You know a movie is really lazy when it resorts to showing you clips from the first movie in different scenes.  And you know a movie has completely given up when you give two characters an entire conversation about Hollywood sequels, and how lame it is that they just repeat a successful formula from years ago.  All of this is at the service of a script that repeats the same "fish out of water" romantic comedy story as the first, only with no heart or inspiration.  All of this simply rams two points home.  1:) The writers were grasping at straws to play up on any nostalgia whatsoever, and 2:) The original probably didn't need a follow up in the first place.  It was a perfectly self-contained movie that left no lingering questions unanswered.  This is a sequel that never bothers to answer why it needed to be made in the first place, outside of corporate greed.

2019's animated take on The Addams Family was a huge disappointment for a lifelong fan of the characters such as myself, as the film was fairly generic and dull, and lacked any of the classic macabre humor from the previous attempts to bring Charles Addams' cartoons to life.  The Addams Family 2 does have a stronger mean spirit behind it, and most of the strong original cast is back for more.  But due to a meandering and unfocused plot, and a lot of lame gags, there's very little to recommend here, and even less worth watching.  There is just this overall aimless quality to the film that made its fairly brief 93 minute running time feel a lot longer.  Nearly every joke here doesn't work, there's a horribly blatant and nauseating product placement shot thrown into the movie for no reason other than corporate greed, and it once again misuses a phenomenal cast that includes the likes of Chloe Grace Moretz, Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Nick Kroll, Bette Midler, Bill Hader, and Wallace Shawn.  There is a hollowness to The Addams Family 2 that is simply inexcusable.  The line readings don't land, the jokes don't hit, and while I admire that the character designs seem to be somewhat inspired by the original cartoons, the animation is nothing to get excited about.  While I wasn't a fan of the 2019 film, it at least seemed to be going somewhere.  There have been attempts to bring these characters to life in the past that have failed, but due to the incredibly talented voice cast that this movie somehow managed to attract, this one feels more heinous than others.  This is a shallow and stupid experience that does a great discredit to the Addams name.

If 2017's The Hitman's Bodyguard was an affectionate and funny tribute to mismatched buddy action comedies of the 80s and early 90s, then the awkwardly-titled Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard (Yes, there's no "The" in the title.) is an all too modern day cash-in where the original made a lot of money, and the original director, writer, and main cast have returned for the encore, but are embarrassed to discover that they have nothing to say or do for their unexpected and obviously unplanned follow up.  The first movie mainly worked on the dynamic chemistry that Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson and Selma Hayek shared together.  Here they are once again, only they've been plugged into a generic plot that no one in the audience could ever care about, and the connection these actors had with each other and to their characters is now completely absent.  Antonio Banderas is here too in the villain role, as is Morgan Freeman in an extended cameo, but they're given little if anything to do as well.  So, what are we left with?  A bunch of over the top action that is hyper edited and too fast for the mind to sometimes comprehend what is going on, and jokes that simply don't land like before.  The movie throws in one endless and unmemorable action sequence after another, while it blasts old pop music on the soundtrack, but it's all a lot of sound and fury.  What the movie never does is give us a reason to be engaged or entertained.  This is a movie where you simply watch in silent puzzlement.  What did the filmmakers think they were making here?  Was this really the best script they could come up with?  Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard gives you a bad feeling from the title, and only gets worse from there.

06.  CRY MACHO -
  Clint Eastwood has directed and starred in some great movies.  This time, however, he has decided to direct and star in Cry Macho.  This is a movie that goes beyond merely being slow and plodding, and simply becomes lifeless, inert, and dead in the water as it goes on.  There are moments where the film resembles an experiment to see just how lethargic and uninteresting a movie can be before the audience gives up hope.  How could Eastwood, who is responsible for Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby, be behind this?  Cry Macho is a screenplay that's been floating around Hollywood since the 70s, and has almost been made numerous times with a variety of stars ranging from Roy Scheider, Burt Lancaster, to even Arnold Schwarzenegger in the lead.  From the evidence of the film I watched, I have no idea why so many people were desperate to make this.  It has absolutely no impact, no dramatic angle, and what little amount of character building there is to be had is so shallow as to be non-existent.  I was never involved in any way, shape or form.  Every emotion and scene is spelled out as if the movie somehow thinks the audience can't figure it out.  The movie simply drags its feet for 105 minutes, supplying nothing to the audience.  It's like sitting on a long bus ride through uninteresting scenery, and you're stuck sitting next to a snoring old man, only this time, that man just happens to be Clint Eastwood.  The movie has the dry, lifeless tone of a barren desert with the sun beating down on you.  You just want to pack up and go home long before the experience is over.

  I can understand why Sandra Bullock wanted to do a project that allowed her to play against type, but she should have kept on looking when the script for The Unforgivable came across her desk.  This is a heavy-handed sad sack of a melodrama that suffers from contrived storytelling, some confusing editing and casting decisions, and an overall indifference to some of the potentially challenging themes its story brings up, choosing instead to just wallow in misery.  The film is based on a British TV miniseries from 2009, and apparently Hollywood has been trying to get a cinematic remake off the ground for years.  I can see how the story here could work in a serialized format expanded over multiple episodes, but in a movie that runs just under two hours, it feels incredibly dense and unsatisfying.  The film touches on a lot of sensitive subjects, such as redemption, how former criminals are treated in society, how the desire for revenge can ruin us, and even a jealous love triangle.  But due to the unsatisfying and rushed narrative, the movie never really gets to explore these ideas in any depth, and simply tosses them in the script for cheap sentiment or plot convenience.  A movie that honestly shows the hardships those who have served lengthy prison sentences have in returning to society would be honestly compelling, but this doesn't want to be that movie.  It wants to be exploitative, and use its ideas for the purpose of cheap thrills.  Rather than truly explore the pain and anguish these various characters are feeling, it plugs them into a "feel bad" story where all we can do is watch them be miserable, and make terrible decisions that will potentially lead to tragedy for everyone involved.  You can easily see how with a different script and approach, The Unforgivable could have been a masterful and hard-hitting drama.  Unfortunately, the movie is way too simplistic to make much of an impression.  Instead of truly exploring its subject matter, it takes the easy and commercial route of manipulation, rather than genuine emotion.

It pains me to place this on this list, as I am a big fan of the original stage musical, which I've seen twice. (Once with the original Broadway cast, and again with a touring company in Chicago.)  The film adaptation of Dear Evan Hansen is an example of something that works beautifully on the stage, but never quite connects on the big screen.  There's just something curiously flat about this film, and I think a lot of elements contribute to it.  The direction by Stephen Chbosky (Wonder) is lifeless, as are the musical sequences, which aside from a few select instances, are usually filmed by simply showing the actors just standing around not doing anything.  This is a powerful story that's been flatly told on the big screen by a cast that is sometimes giving it their all, and in other cases, seem a bit adrift.  This is despite the film's casting of the original Broadway star, Ben Platt, in the title role.  Platt, who turned 28 on the day the film was released, looks a bit awkward blown up on the big screen playing the 17-year-old Evan Hansen. His make up that tries to make him look younger and Platt's presence up on the screen is more awkward than how he came across on the stage nearly five years ago.  There is just something off about the film in general, and it's frustrating, especially for those who know the power that it holds on the stage.

03.  F9: THE FAST SAGA -
  I know the appeal of a movie like F9 is to just check your brain at the door, and escape into the over the top action and car-based mayhem.  But, there comes a point when a summer blockbuster asks me to check too much of my brain, and I start fighting back.  This happened early on in the film, and as it got intentionally dumber with each passing minute, I began to think that a total abandonment of any kind of coherent thought would be the only way I could take pleasure from it.  The Fast and the Furious franchise (which started out as a movie about illegal street racing back in 2001) has morphed into something that resembles James Bond if the super spy were dreamed up by a hyperactive idiot.  The increasingly convoluted plot now makes a regular habit out of bringing characters back from the dead, shocking revelations on a routine basis, forced flashbacks and backstories for the main characters that feel like they're crammed into the narrative, and stunts so preposterous that there's no way we can believe that they are actually happening.  Even judging this film as a live-action cartoon does not help, because I just did not believe a single second of this.  Not one frame is plausible, not one stunt (vehicle or human) looks like it was performed physically, and by the time the characters are literally launching themselves past Earth's orbit and firing automatic weapons at each other in broad daylight in public spaces without anyone noticing for the climax, I had long stopped caring, because I knew the movie simply didn't care either.  It just wants to throw a lot of big, stupid stuff at us.  Why is any of this thrilling?  That's a question the filmmakers never get to answering.  

This is a confused, mean-spirited, sloppy, and downright idiotic Christmas comedy that not only tries and fails to combine the sentimentality and cartoon slapstick violence of the John Hughes-penned original, but it also tries to look at the story from both the point of view of the kid stuck home alone, and the adults trying to break into his house.  The twist that Director Dan Mazer (Dirty Grandpa) and his screenwriters throw in this time is that the burglars are really not bad people.  They're a married couple named Jeff (Rob Delaney) and Pam McKenzie (Ellie Kemper), who have been hit with hard times, and may be forced to sell their beloved home in order to make ends meet.  Home Sweet Home Alone bends over backwards to try to look at things from the point of view of the McKenzies, and emphasizes that they really are not bad people, but desperate.  Then it devotes a good 20 minutes or so to it's young hero setting them on fire, shooting them with pool balls, giving them multiple concussions, and slamming them with weight equipment.  The tonal misguidance here couldn't be more obvious.  You have a struggling couple being comically beaten by a self-entitled little brat from a wealthy background.  The fact that not once does the kid ever come across as likable or even sorry for his actions, even when things are eventually explained to him, is the least of the film's problems.  Despite having some talented actors in the cast, nobody gets to stand out, or create a believable emotion.  There are no laughs, and no real moments of heart or empathy.  Instead, the filmmakers have decided to throw a lot of "tributes" to the first movie.  Home Sweet Home Alone is one of the most misguided attempts at comedy of this year, and possibly previous years.

Here is a movie that starts out like it wants to be about something, until it eventually devolves into a shapeless and indistinguishable blob of special effects, and references to as many movies and TV show properties that the filmmakers could think of to squeeze into the background.  It may be a soulless corporate product, but hey, it has a father-son message, so that means it has a point.  Kind of.  Sort of.  Maybe.  And no, I am not forgetting that the original Space Jam from 1996 was just as much of a corporate monstrosity as the follow up.  This is as soulless a corporate cash grab that has ever been produced, and that's even before the sight gag where a Toon version of basketball star Lebron James crashes through the ground, and leaves a mark in the shape of the Nike symbol.  The plot makes no sense, and would be insane if the movie ever slowed down long enough for us to take it all in.  But it never stops for a single second, and just keeps on throwing nods, references, and special effects to the point that I almost want to take back some of the things I have said about other failed blockbusters in the past.  This Space Jam is a literal assault on the senses, and I felt like it was constantly hitting me over the head with post-production work that I'm sure was very expensive and took a lot of time for the artists to make, but is literally meaningless, because absolutely nothing gets to resonate here.  There are no characters, no real motivations, and nothing that resembles a coherent plot in the nearly two hours of the film.  I simply didn't know how the filmmakers expected me to respond to this.  It's a total bombardment that never comes close to establishing a tone or a goal.  


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!



Mortal Kombat, Spiral, Spirit Untamed, Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, Respect, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City, A Journal for Jordan 




Home Sweet Home Alone


Space Jam: A New Legacy


Uninspired nostalgia trips like Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Home Sweet Home Alone, Space Jam: A New Legacy, Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, and Mortal Kombat


Charlize Theron in F9: The Fast Saga


Lebron James in Space Jam: A New Legacy


Home Sweet Home Alone


Samuel L. Jackson in Spiral and Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard

Morgan Freeman in Coming 2 America and Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard

Chloe Grace Moretz in Tom & Jerry and The Addams Family 2

Charlize Theron in F9: The Fast Saga and The Addams Family 2

Rob Delaney in Tom & Jerry and Home Sweet Home Alone



Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson in Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard



Warner Bros. for Tom & Jerry, Mortal Kombat, Space Jam: A New Legacy, and Cry Macho 


Well, that's the worst of 2021 in a nutshell.  Time to look ahead to 2022, and hope for the best.  Have a wonderful and safe new year, everybody!



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