Monday, June 02, 2008

Movie Rewind: Bad Movies

Despite trying to cram in as much fun as possible while in Costa Rica, I did wind up watching the last 3/4's of the first Fantastic Four movie in my hotel room (in English with Spanish subtitles). And its funny, because I remembered being dissatisfied with the movie when it was released, and I believe I grumbled a bit about it here at LoM.

On a second viewing, its worse than I thought. It's typical of the 90's-era takes on superheroes in that the creative team diverted from the formula enough (in this case, primarily with Doom) that it sort of detracts from the whole.

It doesn't help that the movie is really broad and really stupid.

The creative team played the charatcers and situations almost entirely for wackiness and laughs, which would be fine, if the gags were funny. It all sort of feels like someone explained the basics of the FF to a group of amateur night comedians, and let them riff as to the possibilities of each character for slapstick, rather than "what can we do that's new or interesting". And, typical, of 90's era movies, the final act makes no sense what-so-ever.

I place the blame at the feet of director Tim Story, who clearly wanted to exercise his comedic muscles (he directed Barbershop) rather than try to bring the movie up to Spider-Man levels. And, in aiming low, Story achieved his goals.

I also watched Transformers again synched up with Rifftrax (the web-project from the guys who used to do MST3K). And, as displeased as I recall feeling at the time of the initial viewing (I almost walked out), its amazing to see how god-awful the movie is on a second viewing when you aren't sort of dazzled by the gigantic, shiny robots and the promise of Robosaurus. Also, its a bit stunning how terribly Shia LeBouf's character is handled by both Shia and the writers. They seem to be challenging the audience to dislike "Spike" with every scene. All line delivery set to "wacky stammering", and a character who can best be described as a stalker and, worse, eBay re-seller.

Mostly, the script is just dumb. The Transformers take a long, long time to actually appear. There's a complete and unnecessary storyline involving some random Australian girl and Anthony Anderson (never a good sign for your movie when you've involved Anderson). And John Turturro in a career-crippling appearance as some sort of a-hole G-man. Add in the 70's-funktastic (read: black is funny!) stylings of the Autobot known as Jazz, and robots peeing on John Tutturro, and... man.

It seems almost as if no plotline or idea was ever completely scrapped as the movie was assembled. The story of the damn MacGuffin Cube (or whatever its called) is complicated enough. I don't need for Megan Fox to have a backstory (Spike never gets one). Nothing really comes out of the story of the soldiers in Qatar who are moved to the US. And the hackers' storyline ends about 1/3rd of the way into the movie, but they still stick around. Meanwhile, the titular Transformers are given nothing to do.

Its supposed to feel, I think, like an epic disaster movie with all the moving parts coming together in the final reel (think ID4. Wait. Don't do that, either.), but, instead, the mashing of pieces feels like a 2.5 hour trainwreck.

But, worry not, they're filming a sequel. Bumblebee will be back in action soon enough.

I don't often revisit the really bad flicks. I saw them once. That seems to be enough (enough being able to say "yeah, I saw that" when a particularly awful movie is mentioned at work or in a social setting.) But once you begin watching one of these flicks again, its tough not to sit and begin cataloging all of the problems with a movie, and wonder where, exactly, did things go so far off track? How did they decide that Doom, a well defined, Vader-like character, should be redesigned from the ground up into a guy who delivers each line with the bombast of Jerry Seinfeld? Why did they make Jazz the Autobot sort of offensive, and how did that make it to the final cut? Who writes like that? Who, at the studio, green lights something so... dumb?

I also, just FYI, watched part of "Basic Instinct 2", which scored a 7% on Which is still 50% better than I would have guessed, but the polling of top critics does, actually, land it squarely at 3%. The movie seems constructed solely to stroke the ego of Sharon Stone, assuring her that she is good enough, smart enough and sexy enough to get everyone around her to behave in the kowtowing manner of personal assistants and the Hollywood press corps' deferential treatment she somehow still receives despite the fact that nobody really cares about Sharon Stone.

But within the context of the movie, Stone's "mysterious sexiness" is hilarious.

The character of Catherine once again has the personality of a bullying DMV employee mixed with that girl in the dorms who needed attention, so she'd use lots of four-letter words for shock value. And, seriously... Stone just isn't that physically attractive. She sort of falls into that realm of Nicole Kidman, where I just don't get the appeal. It's like going to the mall and hanging out a bit too much around the mannequins.

The movie would probably be laughably bad with the right audience, or if they actually pushed it to the next level with unnecessary nudity and/ or violence. That would be something, at least. Sadly, the proceedings feel plodding and dull, and I didn't see either enough mayhem nor premium-cable worthy nudiness to keep my attention. Characters seem entranced by Catherine Tremmel for no particular reason other than the dictates of the script, and rather than sensibly avoiding someone accused of multiple murders, seem eager to hang out with her. Because, we're told, Sharon Stone is SEXY. and MYSTERIOUS.

Also, the protagonist who falls into Catherine's web-of-deceit is some pale British dude who seems like little more than a walking plot device so Stone can all but twirl a mustache and wring her hands while cackling.

Anyhow, I coudn't finish watching it. Maybe the end vastly improved the whole package?

I like to watch some bad movies. I've seen R.O.T.O.R. twice. But something about big budget, low delivery movies is particularly irksome. It seems with that mush riding on a movie, why not run the scripts and idea past some folks whose careers don't depend on agreeing that Sharon Stone is still red hot, or that jive-talkin' robots (seen in both Transformers and R.O.T.O.R.) aren't full of comedic value. Nor is that "characterization".


Simon MacDonald said...

I completely concur with your statements on FF2. I had nothing to do one night in Boston so I started watching it on HBO only to shut it off 20 minutes later to go to bed.

Now Transformers on the other had was a great movie as long you omit everything but the 25 foot tall robots beating each other up. Who actually went to see the Transformers expecting plot and character development?

The League said...

Man. Yeah, the weirdest thing about FF2 is that the FF doesn't really DO anything for the second half of the movie. They go places, but they mostly stand around.

Also, Galactus is a shiny cloud. You did the right thing by abandoning the movie.

J.S. said...

Yeah. Transformers was cool. That girl was hot. And the robots peed on people.

In all seriousness, Transformers was pretty much a movie for kids. Whether you liked it or not, there was something about that movie that somehow appealed to the little kid in me. I'd bet that today's kids will be looking back on it pretty fondly 10 years from now. Those robots are just cool.

The League said...

Possibly. I just am of a school of thought that just because something is for kids doesn't mean it should be either (a) sanitized, which this movie was not, or (b) a narrative and creative mess.

I agree that kids will probably remember the movie fondly. But would Star Wars have been better if Chewie stopped to pee on Storm Troopers? If they'd added masturbation jokes to Return of the Jedi?

I agree that the robots were why I was there. But it also taked f'ing forever to GET to the robots. Before that its an hour of Shia Lebouf with his lines set to stammer stalking Megan Fox.

Its just a mess of a movie. And as disappointing as Phantom Menace might have been, at least the plot made some sense.

J.S. said...

The overall plotline of Transformers was no more nonsensical than any number of other sci fi flicks. There were some plot elements that were obviously done more for dramatic effect than for reasons of pure logic, but even Star Wars is rife with such items (why are the tractor beam controls at the top of a bottomless air shaft again? why does Luke the moisture farmer have a grappling hook on his belt?). Honestly, I find all of the politics involved in the Star Wars movies (including the Trade Federation, The Republic, The Empire, The Rebel Alliance, etc.) to be a lot more confusing than the simplistic plotline in Transformers (where good robots and bad robots fight over the magic box of creation). In episodes 1 through 3 of Star Wars I found it relatively easy to get confused about who was allied with who, and who Palpatine was working with, and who was good and who was evil (the clone army is made by who for who? but wait, it's really working for who? then there's the flying bug alines. who are they friends with? and isn't there a banking guild in there somewhere? and so on and so forth...) The only thing that always makes Star Wars seem more simple than its convoluted plotlines would imply is that the good guys typically always look and act good and the bad guys typically always look and act bad (but I think the actual plotlines are pretty freakin' complicated)

The League said...

Yeah, but Episodes 1-3 were kind of dumb.

I think, to my point, the plot was more or less straighforward: robots in diguise as Earth vehicles seek MacGuffin. Had they stuck to that, it would have been fine.

Star Wars did have some illogic (not just the location of power for the tractor beams, but that Obi Wan knew right where to go...). But all of this stuff pushed the story forward.

The focus on Spike's private life had little-to-nothing to do with the robots obtaining the MacGuffin. Nor the random Gone in 60 Seconds backstory for Megan Fox. Nor any of the other million little things thrown in to cover up the lack of an actual story to the movie.

And I think there's a difference between an unnecessarily byzantine plot like Star Wars 1-3 and a movie like Transformers that thinks Narrative Economy is a dirty word. This isn't to defend Lucas's storyline, which ended up reading like a Reuter's account of some Capitol Hill maneuverings.