Just as the gifted Scarlett Johansson contributed a double-feature to the top of my Best of 2003 list, Kate Hudson very nearly did double-duty at the top of my Worst list, starring in "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" and "Alex & Emma," two of the most hackneyed, obnoxious romantic comedies I may have ever seen.
But then along came Mike Myers as a crass, rhyme-impaired slap in the face to the memory of Dr. Seuss, and suddenly "Cat in the Hat" had no equal.
The insufferably padded plot substituted the beloved book's simple messed-up house for insipid sci-fi chicanery about transmogrifying gloop from another dimension, "dirty 'ho" punchlines and a rave-scene cameo by hoochy hotel heiress Paris Hilton. As rabidly ad-libbing Myers plied the picture with his own tiresome schticks (Scottish accents! Infomercial spoofs!) and bellowed "Oh, yeah! Oh, yeah! Oh, yeah!" as some poor excuse for a catch phrase, it was easy to imagine a sad, Lorax-like cartoon of Theodore Geisel crying his eyes out.
But while this kid's flick hated even by kids topped the 2003 cinematic junk heap, it had to climb over a lot of garbage to get there in what may be the worst year at the multiplex in more than a decade.
Here's a genre-by-genre breakdown of the year's worst disasters:
Getting back to Hudson, I hereby officially crown her the year's Queen of Cinematic Catastrophe for playing two insufferable, irritating-passing-as-cute chatterbox dingbats in two pictures driven by asinine gimmicks.
In "Alex & Emma" she's a stenographer who keeps second-guessing a writer's-blocked novelist (Luke Wilson) as he brainstorms his new book, which unfolds on screen in story-within-a-story vignettes. The not-so-funny thing is, no matter how many times Hudson interrupts the secondary story with suggestions, she never once points out that it's trite, cliché-riddled, charmless nonsense. Then again, so is her sparkless, opposites-attract head-butting with Wilson.
In "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days," Hudson is a relationship columnist who wants to write a story about catching some handsome rube then deliberately drive him away by committing "all the classic dating mistakes." By an incredible coincidence (read: pathetic screenwriting contrivance) the guy she picks (Matthew McConaughey) has just bet that he can make any woman fall in love with him, so he can't break it off. The problem (besides the pathetically gimmicky set-up) is that by putting on an act as the world's most annoyingly clingy, jealous, baby-talking, cutesy-nicknaming, territory-marking, marriage-obsessed, insecure, neurotic girlfriend, Hudson becomes excruciatingly, agonizingly unbearable for 95 percent of the movie.
Further jeers to Hudson for pulling off a trifecta of terrible romantic comedies by also starring in the "Le Divorce," a pseudo-sophisticated French sexual roundelay full of trivial characters so selfish it's a chore to spend two hours with them.
How badly bungled was this laughable chase picture? Suffice it to say that 15-year-old Frankie Muniz was a more convincing covert operative as a kiddie spy in "Agent Cody Banks" than Benicio Del Toro is here as a Special Forces assassin gone rogue who can't even best a man 20 years his senior (Tommy Lee Jones, the man sent to hunt him down) in hand-to-hand combat.
"Cold Creek Manor"
In this no-surprises, straight-to-video quality family-in-peril psycho-killer thriller, oblivious cityfolk (Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone) are terrorized by an unhinged redneck parolee (Stephen Dorff) after they buy his cavernous countryside fixer-upper in a foreclosure sale. Director Mike Figgis seems to be aiming for the essence of "Cape Fear" -- if "Cape Fear" had been written by a room full of monkeys.
|SHOULDA STUCK TO 'SNL'|
A criminally laughless, lowbrow waste of talent in which "Saturday Night Live"-spawned Adam Sandler missed a golden opportunity to play his milquetoast office drone sentenced to rage therapy as a real rage-aholic who sees the world through a skewed perspective of false calm. Instead, the picture sticks with sketch-comedy set-pieces in which he really is normal and it's his court-appointed therapist (Jack Nicholson, volume turned up to 11) who's nuts.
Occasionally (very occasionally) a slight (very slight) snicker boils to the surface of this otherwise deplorably inept comedy about unhappy, 30-something losers (including "SNL" alum Will Ferrell) trying to recapture their youth by belatedly starting a college fraternity. But a few cheap laughs can't begin to make up for the movie's structureless script, feeble direction and half-hearted yet ham-fisted acting.
"Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star"
Another ill-conceived mish-mash of puerile humor and disingenuous sap from Sandler's Happy Madison production company, starring snarky, one-note "SNL"-offcast David Spade -- perfectly cast as a Hollywood has-been -- who barely even tries to create a character beyond being his tactless, uncouth self.
|DARK & DUMB|
"Final Destination 2"
Aside from inventing absurdly elaborate and gory new ways of doing in the victims of its unseen supernatural menace, this is just another 100 minutes of proof that the people who make horror movies couldn't care less about acting ability, dialogue or common sense -- right down to the idiotically obligatory, sequel-baiting it's-not-over-yet finale.
Thick with mold-breaking potential that goes completely unexplored, this "Matrix"-aping action-horror flick about a war between Goth-fashioned vampires and headbanger werewolves exhausts every trite and tired facet of monster folklore while tripping over the remnants of a romantic subplot clumsily left on the cutting room floor.
A discombobulated, pretentious, psycho-sexual excursion into a cold-blooded, under-the-table world of 21st century corporate porn, this self-important indie features a score by art-punk band Sonic Youth that really captures the film's essence: It's deliberately abrasive, rapidly pulsing electronic black noise designed to put the viewer on edge but ultimately signifies nothing.
|BRAIN-DEAD WITH A BADGE|
This one-dimensional, well-worn police corruption drama has had all its grittiness over-rehearsed and Hollywood high-glossed right out of it -- and has such a tenuous grip on reality that even though it takes place during the worst hours of the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, the script places half the movie's LAPD characters at a simultaneous promotion ceremony as if these cops have nothing better to do.
When even dynamic, charismatic Samuel L. Jackson seems bored on screen, you know your action movie is a lifeless failure. This assemble-the-team super-cop movie, in which it never even occurs to the heroes to shoot out the tires of a bad guy's car, is long on testosterone but short on everything else -- there isn't even mention of a plot until the half-way mark.
Inept security guard Martin Lawrence employs his hyperactive, increasingly embarrassing ghetto clown routine to drive odd-couple patrol partner Steve Zahn to vein-popping frustration. Car chases and shoot-outs ensue, all taking place near stocks of flammable 55-gallon drums, which explode in slow-motion at the slightest provocation.
Easy-on-the-eyes, thin-on-the-talent Jessica Alba is an indomitable, candy-sexy Bronx babe who becomes a music-video choreographer with ridiculous ease, turns down a director's demand for sex, gets black-listed, then realizes what's really important in life is opening a neighborhood dance studio to help street kids avoid the thug life. All together now: Oh, brother!
"Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde"
After using her coincidentally convenient knowledge of hair care products to acquit a murder suspect in "Legally Blonde," one-dimensionally ditzy Harvard Law grad Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) becomes a naively sanguine congressional aide for this insipid sequel -- and once again her dumb luck masquerades as unsuspected smarts.
"View From the Top"
To the endless soundtrack of grating girl-empowerment country music ditties, Gwyneth Paltrow crash-lands this inept and lifeless comedy about a white-trash dingbat who dreams of a "glamorous" life as a flight attendant.
A band of good-looking scientists and astronauts plan to set off a nuke in the center of the Earth to restart the dying molten core. Shopworn characters and ignorant physics seem right at home in a feeble plot -- basically "Armageddon" going down instead of up -- with Grand-Canyon-sized gaffes in common sense.
A silly cybersexual fantasy hinged on the fetishistic sci-fi gimmick of replicant women who need sperm to survive, this bargain-basement indie isn't much better than what it sounds like -- a porn spoof.
|WHY, OH WHY?|
And in an uncatagorizable class of bad-beyond-description calamities, let us not forget (or better yet, please do let us forget) "Gigli," in which supposedly lesbian hit-woman Jennifer Lopez demands oral pleasure from Ben Affleck with the line, "Turkey time! Gobble, gobble!"; "Boat Trip," in which Cuba Gooding Jr. set out on a cruise ship of vulgar gay stereotypes to learn an insincere tolerance lesson in the last 30 seconds; the skateboard movie "Grind," which was basically "Blue Crush" without awesome surfing footage, beautiful girls in bikinis or anything else worth watching; and the uncalled-for prequel "Dumb & Dumberer: When Harold Met Lloyd," in which even the closing-credit bloopers and out-takes are flatliners.
Here's hoping next year's list is shorter!