There’s something wrong with the world today. Aerosmith might not know what it is, but here at The Fourth Wall we’re pretty sure that it’s Marmaduke. Not the harmless daily comic strip, but the upcoming feature film adaptation that appears ready to do irreparable damage to the human condition. Don’t believe us? Check out the trailer, which has been described unironically as ‘the worst thing ever’ since its release:
Marmaduke got us thinking about a special breed (no pun intended) of movie. It’s not a genre, since there aren’t any guidelines to making them other than an apparent hatred of the audience. Films like Marmaduke may qualify as ‘art,’ but only on a technicality. They exist to make money more than tell a story, and are fully satisfied to merely distract an audience rather than actually entertain or – heaven forefend – enlighten them. In this installment of The Weekly Listicle, Julia Rhodes and I (William Bibbiani!) present ten films, in no particular order, that insulted your intelligence… and expected to be rewarded for it.
Street Fighter: The Movie (dir. Stephen E. de Souza, 1994)
Videogame movies get a bad rap, and movies like Street Fighter: The Movie are the ones responsible. It wasn’t the first embarrassing videogame adaptation. Super Mario Bros. had already come out a year prior, although it was at least ambitious enough to add a dystopian Blade Runner angle that had nothing to do with the game but at least seemed to indicate that someone was really trying. Nobody expected much from the Super Mario Bros. movie. That videogame was based on the thinnest of plotlines, focusing instead on a series of hallucinogenic images that were easy to render in a scant 8-bits. Street Fighter, or rather Street Fighter II, was a different story. This was a videogame with a large cast of colorful characters with detailed backstories and conflicts, based on a simple but proven effective cinematic plot device of a fighting competition. Even little kids like myself (well, I was a little kid at the time) were expecting Enter the Dragon… or at least Bloodsport.
What we got was an insult, not just to the game (which wasn’t exactly Criterion material to begin with) but to the target demographic. We were adolescents, maybe a little younger, and writer/director Stephen E. de Souza, along with everyone else in the credits, made a film for babies. Gone were the martial arts influences, and for that matter most of the martial arts. The already simplistic characters were reduced to walking costumes. The plot was pretty much a G.I. Joe movie with the names changed, the stakes lowered, and the brain removed. They didn’t even bother with the central conceit of the game they were adapting: without a fighting tournament this wasn’t Street Fighter, it was just another brainless action movie with an unusually large cast. Wes Studi, who had previously played my favorite movie villain in 1992’s Last of the Mohicans, was completely wasted. Raul Julia, in one of his final cinematic roles, played Bison like the character was completely wasted. Actually, his performance as a Kim Jong-Il-ish psychotic dictator is the only redeeming quality in this piece of crap. His belief that his fascist superstate will be a magnet for fast food franchises is positively endearing.
Street Fighter: The Movie is full of insults to not just the audience but also the very integrity of the film. There’s an invisible boat that leaves a mile of clearly visible foam behind it, nullifying the reason for its existence. The Japanese character is forced to fight in a miniature city like Godzilla. And Ryu and Ken, the actual stars of the game, are relegated to second string status, and their original storyline cut completely.
Some people would defend excrement like Street Fighter: The Movie by saying that it’s ‘made for children.’ That’s no excuse. If it was made by children I might be more forgiving, but it wasn’t. It was made by a veritable army of fully-functioning adults who decided that your children were stupid enough to be entertained by pointless drivel. Every time you take your child to see a film like Street Fighter or Marmaduke, what you are really saying is that you think your children are stupid, and are willing to make that a self-fulfilling prophecy. Street Fighter has ironic entertainment value, but despite that I hate it with every fiber of my being. Moving on!
Batman & Robin (dir. Joel Schumacher, 1997)
Ironically, I actually have less hate for Joel Schumacher’s universally reviled box office bomb and franchise-killing turdfest Batman & Robin. Yes, it’s just awful. Yes, it’s little more than an excuse for product placement. Yes, Schumacher can’t direct an action sequence to save his life. Yes, they showed no respect whatsoever for the characters. Actually… maybe I do hate this train wreck. But there’s no denying that it’s as spectacular a train wreck as has ever been released by a major studio.
Joel Schumacher was brought on board the Batman franchise after Batman Returns, a thematically rich movie with some admittedly silly elements, was deemed ‘too dark’ by the studio. Schumacher’s first effort, 1995’s Batman Forever, managed to remain a little creepy while injecting a bit more levity into the franchise. It’s not a good film, but it’s also not quite as bad as some people seem to remember. It was simply a step in the wrong direction. In contrast, Batman & Robin stepped in that direction, followed it as far as it could go, and then it colonized the land and raped the native inhabitants.
It would take a poet to describe just how much Schumacher & Co. screwed up this movie. They took a character who was defined by a lack of emotion and gave it to Arnold Schwarzenegger (makes sense), and then directed him to emote intensely (less sense). They gave Batman a personalized credit card. They… I’m sorry, they gave Batman a personalized credit card. There goes the ol’ secret identity, I suppose.
Joel Schumacher’s commentary track for Batman & Robin is worth a listen just to hear how many times he apologizes for what you’re seeing on screen. He claims that the studio insisted that the film be more ‘toyetic’ – his word, meaning ‘designed to sell toys’ – but takes full responsibility for taking orders like a good little soldier. It’s mildly vindicating, but despite his self-flagellation this movie still exists, and that’s a fact we’ll have to live with for the rest of our days.
Incidentally, Batman & Robin becomes infinitely more watchable if you turn on the Spanish-Language audio track and pretend it’s just an over-the-top Luchadore movie. I learned this by accident one night while watching Telemundo, but it really helps. Just sayin’.
Rollerball (dir. John McTiernan, 2002)
John McTiernan knows how to make great action movies. This here is the man who brought us Predator, Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October after all. So when we heard that he was remaking Rollerball, an intriguing little sci-fi success from the 1970’s that had admittedly aged poorly, there was every reason in the world to get excited about it. Then we saw it, and lost all faith in him forever because it was so ridiculously insultingly bad.
Chris Klein stars (and really, most of us would be willing to stop right there) as an extreme sports enthusiast (while the rest of us would be willing to stop right there) who is invited to a third world country to compete in the deadly new sport of ‘Rollerball,’ the rules of which are never adequately explained by the end of the film. Even if they were, the choppy editing and slapdash cinematography would have made the games incomprehensible anyway. There’s an entire sequence of this film which I’ll never forget because for no discernible reason whatsoever they shot the entire thing with a grainy night vision filter, making all the action impossible to follow even in a theatrical viewing environment.
Not that anything makes sense in Rollerball, of course. The plot hinges on a Nielson Ratings system that demonstrates how ratings increase the second something violent happens in the game, meaning that people who weren’t watching the game knew exactly when something violent was about to happen and changed the channel just in time throughout the entire planet. Late in the film, a character who was actually from the fictional country in question is murdered at the game, and his family and friends start to rise up against the oppressors by… chanting dramatically for Chris Klein to score more points. Hurray for Whitey, apparently. Boo for everyone else.
The Spirit (dir. Frank Miller, 2008)
The Spirit was and remains my personal pick for ‘The Worst Film of the Decade,’ but the biggest problem I have with The Spirit is that it’s seemingly impossible to describe just how bad it is without making it seem entertaining. Every time I try to describe the part in which Eva Mendes inexplicably photocopies her ample ass and then inexplicably leaves it at the scene of the crime, leading The Spirit to take the picture on a montage throughout the city, showing it to every citizen in the hopes that somebody might recognize it, only to find a little person who recognizes it because he is clearly at the perfect height to get a really good look at her posterior, I am forced to acknowledge that it sounds like fun. It’s not, of course. It’s a piece of crap.
Frank Miller ‘directed’ this monstrosity based on Will Eisner’s masterpiece, a comic book series about a masked man whose determination and anonymity were his only assets in the war on crime. Although occasionally a little broad (he eventually ended up in outer space once the sales started sag), the series was brilliantly presented using lush black and white art with framing that still feels revolutionary today. Some elements are no longer defensible, like a fairly racist black sidekick character, but it was a product of its time and remains for all intents and purposes the Citizen Kane of comics (or The Birth of a Nation, if you want to get snarky). Frank Miller, who was close friends with Will Eisner, took over the long in-development film project and proceeded to defecate all over Eisner’s accomplishments, turning The Spirit into a camp superhero with superhuman abilities and taking Eisner’s full-figured and beautiful female supporting cast and making them into oppressively sexist stereotypes (effectively replacing the offensive black stereotype he ‘tastefully’ chose to write out of the story).
Everything about this movie is wrong and stupid. Miller’s Spirit has a literally mythological ability to take damage and heal from mortal wounds – completely missing the secular point of Eisner’s work – and in one of the first scenes of the film jumps off of an extremely tall building onto a mugger without so much as a scratch on him. Later in the film a lengthy sequence is dedicated to the Spirit desperately trying not to fall off of a building of about the same height, while his quarry is on the ground floor beneath him, easily reachable by simply falling downwards. The only explanation for this behavior is that The Spirit is an idiot, which once again contradicts the spirit, if you will, of the original work.
Miller’s recently famed sexism and lazy writing are prevalent in The Spirit, which is a shame since neither of those qualities used to be inherent to his work. He took a classic noir hero and turned him into macho Roger Rabbit, and for no good reason that can be surmised. Non-comics fans might read this Listicle and assume that I’m over-reacting, but I’m not. If somebody made a movie about Phillip Marlowe and made the entire story about how he has superpowers you would be at least confused, right? Why make a movie that sullies an existing character if that character has nothing to do with the movie you’re making? It’s insulting, to say the least.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (dir. Stephen Sommers, 2009)
I am sick to death of writing about G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, my pick for the ‘Worst Film of 2009’ (narrowly edging out Avatar, which is saying something). This is a movie in which ice doesn’t float. In which a character can die on-screen in one scene and then join back up with the group in the next without so much as a “What happened back there?” A movie in which a super scientist can invent a spectacular new weapon but can’t arm it without getting a henchman to marry a different scientist a year in advance in order to force them into doing it for you. A movie in which a master of disguise has a signature tune that he always whistles so everyone always knows who he is. A movie in which they gave Snake Eyes’ costume lips, despite the fact that he never talks (making those nipples on the batsuit seem outright practical in comparison). A movie in which the villains genetically engineer supersoldiers who are explicitly shown to be incapable of feeling either fear or pain… supersoldiers who are then repeatedly shown screaming in fear and pain. A movie which takes about three months of training and crams it into a montage expecting us to believe it all happened in about an hour.
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra hates you. There is no other explanation for this piece of crap. There is no other explanation for why anyone would allow this movie to be made in its current form, particularly with the budget they had. They assume that you are stupid and will take anything they give you and say, “Please sir, I want some more.” They are monsters, pure and simple.
I am done writing now. I think I can feel a vein popping out of my forehead that threatens to gain sentience and conquer this pitiful universe. That’s how insulted I am by these movies. Take it away, Julia!
She’s All That (dir. Robert Iscove, 1999)
In the ‘80s, there was John Hughes and the Brat Pack, who managed to make a series of teen movies that were funny, smart, and sometimes heartbreaking, all while granting teenagers respect. In the late ‘90s there was a resurgence of decent teen movies like “Taming of the Shrew”-based 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) and smart, frenetic farce Can’t Hardly Wait (1998). Along with the few good ones, there was a whole slew of really, really terrible ones. She’s All That led the pack.
Freddie Prinze Jr. was the ultimate heartthrob there for about two seconds, and his kind, bland features and coiffed dark hair led the cast of She’s All That as Zack Siler. Tiny beauty Rachael Leigh Cook, over-the-top Matthew Lillard, always-bitchy Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, and surfer dude extraordinaire Paul Walker supported Prinze’s dull-as-a-box-of-rocks hot guy. Oh yeah, and there was that black guy (Dulé Hill), and for some reason, Usher.
Okay, so here’s the premise: after the Hottest Girl in School (O’Keefe) dumps Prinze’s Hottest Guy in School for one of “The Real World”’s most obnoxious jerks (Lillard), Prinze says cockily, “I can turn anyone into the Prom Queen.” So his friends (Hill and Walker) point him in the direction of art student Laney Boggs (Cook), who…well, she wears glasses. She has paint-splattered jeans and messy hair. She works at that falafel place. Oh, no, she’s hideously ugly. Insult number one: making it seem like dating Rachael Leigh Cook in any form is like asking out a mutant.
When Laney takes off her paint-splattered overalls at the beach, revealing (gasp!) breasts, it suddenly occurs to Zack that she’s not a mutant. Ding ding ding! And of course, Laney makes it past the ridiculous bitchery of Popular Girl and classmates, only to discover that she’s a “f*!@ing bet” (I will give She’s All That credit for using the F-bomb when so very few of the teen movies were). But of course shallow, vapid idiot Zack is actually a good guy at heart, so she takes him back (insult number two). I was deep in the midst of my angsty teen years when this one came out, and it was insulting then. Basically, the overriding message is that all teenagers are superficial, insecure, status-obsessed, boy-crazy, hormonal idiots. Sure, some of us were those things, but most of us? Not so much. (As an aside, the brutally, stupidly funny Not Another Teen Movie lampooned She’s All That to high heaven, along with about ten other late-‘90s teen flicks).
Sex and the City 2 (dir. Michael Patrick King, 2010)
The last few years have seen some appallingly disrespectful “chick flicks,” including The Ugly Truth, He’s Just Not That Into You, and Valentine’s Day. In these movies (which I generally avoid so as not to go into fits of rage) women are scheming, selfish, penis-obsessed idiots who will do anything to get the guy, even if (maybe especially if) he’s a jerk.
I already made my point(s) about Sex and the City 2 pretty clear in my review, and I’m obviously not the only person insulted by its vapidity, its shallowness, and its achingly bad screenplay. Roger Ebert ripped it a new one, and The Stranger’s Lindy West is, if anything, more bitter than I am (NSFW language). Even more tellingly, the movie is currently scoring 3.5/10 from everyday users on IMDb.
Confession: I wish Fandango didn’t have my credit card information on file so that I could say I had nothing to do with furthering that movie’s box office gains. Every time someone (mostly women because not a lot of men, at least not straight ones, will go see it) pays to see something like Sex and the City 2 or the other rom-coms listed above, Hollywood responds by making more of them. If we’re saying what we want is to see schlock that depicts us this way, the studios will keep on churning it out. As far as I’m concerned, it’s past time to let them know we want to see ourselves in movies: large, small, working, single, married, with children, divorced, without children, in college, broke, rich, silly, smart, gay, straight. Please, Hollywood, take note: most of us are not that stupid. I’m not even going to touch on the blatant cultural insensitivity SatC2 has to offer.
The trailers preceding Sex and the City 2 looked promising. Drew Barrymore-Justin Long comedy Going the Distance looks smart and fun, and the Annette Bening indie The Kids Are Alright is probably going to be a good one. Crossing my fingers we’ll see smarter rom-coms in the coming months.
Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen (dir. Michael Bay, 2009)
The tag team of terrible that is director Michael Bay and writer Ehren Kruger created the Transformers sequel, which is the last movie pre-Sex and the City 2 toward which I had such vitriol. Bay’s movies are shallow explosion-fests, but I would’ve liked to think he had a higher opinion of women, of African Americans, and of American intellect than what was depicted in this piece of trash. Granted, Bay’s camp never tried to defend the film’s intelligence, and certainly it was just a summer popcorn movie. However, with the economy in such a slump and human rights struggles predominant in the news, big-budget idiot flicks like Transformers 2 feel doubly vapid.
The only female characters are Sam Witwicky’s goofy, annoying mother Judy; an alien with overtly threatening sex appeal; and sexpot too-good-to-be-true girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox, who was publicly fired from the franchise recently after trashing Bay’s treatment of women behind the scenes. It’s rumored he auditioned Fox by making her wash his car in a bikini, and that he’s already auditioning models for the third film). Oh, there was one other female with lines in the film: an Air Force officer who’s shown approximately two hours into the movie for about fifteen seconds.
Newcomer Alice (Isabel Lucas), the freshman hottie/Decepticon, stalks Sam with the sole purpose of being attractive on camera (and to create clichéd romantic tension between Sam and Mikaela, of course). I knew in the pit of my stomach that Mikaela would have to take out Alice, and I was not incorrect. The word “bitch” was only effective in woman-on-woman onscreen violence in Aliens.
New additions to the Autobots force were The Twins, a pair of sassy, loud, obnoxious bots whose sole purpose seems to be to bicker and throw around slurs. One of them has a big, floppy gold tooth and a notable accent; in terms of obvious, horribly racist stereotypes, I’d liken him to Jar-Jar Binks. The “token black guy,” model-turned-actor Tyrese Gibson, has nothing more interesting to say than, “This is not good. This is not good,” and “I do not like that guy.” His one attempt at deep thought is a scene in the beginning, in which he gestures to Optimus Prime and says, “If God made man in His image, what made him?”
I wrote almost 1000 words on Transformers 2 before throwing my hands up and quitting. This movie was truly awful, completely insulting to women, men, African Americans, and anyone who has a brain.
Volcano (dir. Mick Jackson, 1997)
Volcano was one of a slew of terrible disaster movies that popped up on movie screens in the late ‘90s. Sure, it’s harmless summer entertainment, but I can’t help imagining the studio heads and filmmakers gathering in a high-rise conference room, tenting their fingers and chuckling evilly at the stupidity of an American public that would make Volcano a box office success.
Volcano was truly a stinker. Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche play awkwardly off each other, reciting stilted lines and trying to look pretty. As magma seethes above the L.A. streets and creeps toward Cedars Sinai hospital, the scientists decide to make a tunnel with concrete road barriers. Because lava that has the ability to melt through, well, almost anything, will surely be halted in its nefarious tracks by the teamwork of resourceful Los Angelenos. The subplot of white cop-black possible-criminal who have to see past their skin color and work together to save the day is cringe-inducing.
Fellow ridiculous blockbuster Twister featured a number of completely unrealistic scenes (how on earth can a cow fly through the air in front of the characters while they sit firmly on the ground? Did de Bont really think our protagonists would survive an F5 tornado by strapping themselves to the plumbing?) but Volcano’s overdramatized relationships, utterly silly plot, terrible script, and assumption that we’ll buy it all without question make it a slap in the face to the American consumer.
Chasing Amy (dir. Kevin Smith, 1997)
I love Kevin Smith. I enjoy Chasing Amy. For all its raunchiness, it’s actually remarkably sweet and smart. Nonetheless, the premise is, well, a little insulting. Holden McNeil (Smith staple Ben Affleck) falls in love with Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams), only to discover she’s gay. But the appeal of Holden’s masculinity causes Alyssa to realize maybe she’s not gay after all. It’s a straight guy’s fantasy (and Smith knows it, and makes fun of this at every turn).
At one point, Holden’s best friend Banky (Jason Lee) poses a rhetorical question. Say there’s a one hundred dollar bill at the center of a four-way intersection. Down each road are Santa Claus; the Easter Bunny; a friendly, man-loving lesbian; and an angry, man-hating butch. Which one of them gets the hundred dollar bill? The man-hating butch, because, as Banky says, “The other three are figments of your f*@&ing imagination!” (Link to this scene, which I love despite—or possibly because of—its offensiveness here. Absolutely not safe for work).
Chasing Amy falls at the low end on the offensiveness scale. Smith has a knack for making horrible people lovable, for annoying the hell out of us while also making us laugh. Banky’s bigotry in Chasing Amy is a facet of his character’s idiocy, and the audience is meant to realize it. What redeems it eventually is the ending—a bittersweet, realistic culmination in which Holden doesn’t get the girl and Alyssa realizes she actually is gay. For a lot of people, sexuality is fluid, and this movie depicts that in a smart way, but many are offended at the notion that all a lesbian needs is a man.