At times it seemed as if every reliable genre of moviedom was cursed in 2004.
It was a year in which monster movies, romantic comedies, science fiction, musicals, road trip flicks and Ben Stiller (so repetitive he's become a genre unto himself) all scraped the bottom of the barrel.
But none crashed and burned harder than the Christmas comedy. It started in October with "Surviving Christmas" -- a rotten-to-the-core holiday ham-fest about a suburban family paid $250,000 to take in a shallow, selfish millionaire for the holidays so he can relive his childhood -- which I declared "very possibly the worst Christmas movie ever made." But that was before seeing "Christmas with the Kranks."
Violently stripped of any semblance of humanity, this supposed comedy starred Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis as a couple whose plan to bow out of holiday festivities begets an army of angry, plot-device suburban neighbors beating down their door like some Yuletide Gestapo, demanding they decorate and participate.
That's it. That's the joke. But just when it seems the movie could not possibly get any more hackneyed, the Kranks' college-age daughter decides to come home for the holidays, sending Curtis into a zany emergency backtracking of everything the movie spent half its run-time setting up.
But these two holiday debacles were just the year-end nadir to a trend that saw genre flicks succumb to some of the most asinine scripts and inept filmmaking that can be bought with a big Hollywood budget.
|Genre low point: monster movies|
The epitome of everything that's wrong with $150 million B-movies, this inane, soulless, 19th century vampire-hunting action flick was nothing but computer-F/X overkill, ridiculous gadgetry and ham-fisted actors chewing on stale catch-phrase dialogue as if it were stale bubblegum. Despite being inspired (if you can even call it that) by a character in "Dracula," writer-director Stephen Sommers couldn't be bothered with anything more than Cliffs-Notes character development, opting instead for a numbing, style-without-substance approach.
|Genre low point: fantasy romances|
"First Daughter" &
"The Prince & Me"
Two insultingly gimmicky, aggressively unoriginal fairytales set on absurd, patronizingly unreal college campuses (where no one ever studies), "Daughter" starred Katie Holmes as a president's kid falling for an undercover Secret Service bodyguard posing as a student, and "Prince" featured Julia Stiles as a down-to-earth Midwestern med student who goes head-over-heels for an incognito Danish royal posing as a student. Forget the rampant lack of authenticity, the complete lack of chemistry between romantic leads, the stomach-turning cutesy-poo elements and the rigid adherence to flaccid formula (insert sassy dorm-mates here). The bigger problem with both pictures was that they took downright embarrassing stabs at pseudo-political sincerity, yet neither had the courage to address any real issues. In fact, "Prince" even forgoes its feminist bent for a crowd-pleaser ending that is a pathetic, contrary cop-out.
|Genre low point: ironic romances|
"Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason"
The "singleton" Everygal neuroses of the titular British sweetheart went from endearing to downright insufferable in this awful sequel. Although still warmly played by the perfectly plus-sized Renee Zellweger, Bridget became such an embarrassing bundle of infuriating stock insecurities (jealous, suspicious, clingy, marriage-obsessed and irrational) that she is, in effect, the antagonist here. The hero is boyfriend Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) for putting up with the torrent of rampant, relentless sitcom antics that stream unflatteringly and unchecked from the girl's vacillating self-confidence.
|Genre low point: drag comedies|
Marlon and Shawn Wayans ("Scary Movie") underwent hours of daily makeup to play idiot FBI-agents who go undercover (of their own accord) as two dingbat blonde heiresses -- half-hearted "Omigod!" spoofs of Paris and Nicky Hilton. But little good it did them. Their layers-of-latex Caucasian faces look like shrink-wrapped Halloween masks. Giggling in Valley-gal falsettos and wobbling around the Hamptons in high heels and tight, tacky pink outfits, the guys furiously mug through every off-the-shelf drag gag known to Hollywood, supposedly "really learning something" about women in the process.
|A genre low point unto itself: the histrionic Ben Stiller comedy|
Stiller appeared in six lousy movies this year, doing the exact same eye-bugging, eyebrow-dancing schtick. The only variation was whether he played an eye-bugging, eyebrow-dancing fretful straight man ("Envy," "Meet the Fockers," "Starsky and Hutch," and the almost watchable "Along Came Polly") or an eye-bugging, eyebrow-dancing, irritatingly arrogant jerk ("Dodgeball" and his cameo in "Anchorman"). But it hardly matters when the plots of his movies are so slap-dash and one-dimensional.
The three worst were "Envy," a cobbled-together mess of scenery-chewing high jinks and under-rehearsed improvisation; "Dodgeball," nothing but a playground gimmick plugged into a fill-in-the-blank underdog sports comedy, and "Meet the Fockers," a retread sequel to "Meet the Parents" with the same ill-at-ease comical circumstances that depend entirely on the characters being dishonest, secretive ninnies learning trite Sunday School lessons about communication and trust.
|Affleck: another Ben that needs to be stopped before he becomes a genre|
Besides starring in the aforementioned "Surviving Christmas," in which his insufferable egoist character learned nothing but still got the girl (Christina Applegate, the movie's only grace) in an off-the-shelf happy ending, Affleck also helped drag down "Jersey Girl." Drowning in every workaholic-single-father-gets-his-priorities-straight cliché you could imagine, this bomb was charmingly crude writer-director Kevin Smith's disastrous attempt at saccharine sincerity.
|Genre low point: zombie flicks|
"Resident Evil: Apocalypse"
In an era of resurgent zombie creativity that has seen the likes of "28 Days Later," this year's "Dawn of the Dead" remake and the hilarious true-to-genre spoof "Shaun of the Dead," the leaden mindlessness of this limp sequel was nothing short of pathetic. Slinky, half-naked, heavily-armed, 105-lb. star Milla Jovovich was devoid of personality but always ready to machine-gun and kung-fu kick loping flesh-chompers while jumping motorcycles through stained-glass windows for no apparent reason.
|Genre low point: science fiction|
In turning Isaac Asimov's groundbreaking, intellectually and morally challenging series of stories into a summer blockbuster, director Alex Proyas ("Dark City," "The Crow") stripped it of even the smallest hint of intelligence or originality. Instead the movie offered Will Smith as a wisecracking, future-cop action-hero cliché -- a newly divorced, rebellious cop (complete with a butt-chewing lieutenant to take away his badge) who has a theory no one believes about domestic robots being part of a Giant Conspiracy to Take Over the World. What, did robots write the script too?
|Genre low point: art-house kung fu|
"House of Flying Daggers"
Although directed by the same man behind this year's "Hero," perhaps the best the genre has ever been, "Flying Daggers" was an outsized and endlessly pretentious romantic melodrama in which the director has clearly lost any sense of moderation or self-discipline. Every overly polished moment of visual refinement was dragged out to the point of absurdity. Every hint of emotion became an excuse for floodgate histrionics. Each swordfight (or combat of any kind) slowly, slowly, s-l-o-w-l-y built past an initial stage of breathtaking stylishness into a protracted mockery of itself. This film was the snooty, subtitled equivalent of a Jerry Bruckheimer action movie.
|Genre low point: stage-to-screen musicals|
"Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera"
A garish, puerile melodrama with songs so vociferous and beyond campy that if Beavis and Butthead were theater fans, they'd have the T-shirt and would head-bang along to the soundtrack. Director Joel Schumacher was responsible for one of the most tawdry, terribly cliché-riddled action-movie bombs in Hollywood history -- 1997's "Batman and Robin" -- so when he and Webber teamed up to make this movie, it was a match made in hell.
"Johnson Family Vacation"
The long, laughless road trip of tiresome set pieces and second-rate slapstick began when the standard Dumb Sitcom Dad (Cedric the Entertainer) just says "I know a shortcut."
"Agent Cody Banks 2"
Without even an infinitesimal hint of the clumsy junior-James-Bond charm that got Frankie Muniz's first kiddie spy movie though its trite save-the-world plot, this slapdash sequel couldn't have been more insipid and transparently uninspired.
"Welcome to Mooseport"
A fusty, rusty, laugh-track-lame comedy about two petty, immature men running for mayor of the same stereotypically idyllic, condescendingly quirky small town while vying for the affections of the same woman. One of them (an unusually humdrum Gene Hackman) was the newly termed-out President of the United States. Sad what passes for political satire in the George W. Bush era.
Ashley Judd seems to go out of her way to find hole-riddled women-in-peril B-thrillers anymore. Here she played a hard-drinking, procedure-breaking San Francisco homicide cop with some daddy issues that lead to a habit of sexually aggressive one-night stands. Soon she's investigating the beating deaths of several lovers. Did she do it while blacked out from booze?
"Starsky & Hutch"
Even Owen Wilson's smarmy-cool, utterly natural screen persona of crooked smiles and cheeky ad-libs couldn't overcome the Ben Stiller factor in this lifelessly stale parody-remake of the none-too-great-in-the-first-place 1970s cop show.
A mega-budget version of the Camelot legend advertised as "the untold true story" -- you know, the factual version in which Arthur was a brooding bore, Lancelot had hip runway-model facial hair and Guinevere was a half-naked post-feminist warrior hottie. A tedious blockbuster blur of PG-13 blood, mud and swords going thud.
'Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing)' arrives in April.
The two awards have made for a great 72nd birthday present for the country music icon.