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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 32 - An Alan Smithee Film Burn Hollywood Burn (1997)

And Alan Smithee
Film Burn Hollywood Burn
(1997; Hollywood Pictures)
If the title sounds like a run-on sentence, or some poorly-written unpunctuated graffiti written in pencil on a middle school desk, then guess what?  You are not too far off.  There was a point on this list where the films went form having SOME redeeming qualities to having none.  So what is beneath those?  Well, every film that follows, including this one.  So, how can this wordy-titled movie be this bad?  Well...

Now, some setup may be needed here.  Alan Smithee is an industry standard pseudonym created in the late 60’s by a director of a movie called The Death of a Gunfighter (the first “official” major studio film to hold this credit).  The film’s director, Don Siegel, did not want his name attached to the doomed project so he used this pseudonym, something that was unheard of and even actually forbidden.  However, there are now 76 directorial credits listed on IMDB under the name Alan Smithee.

The idea was to make a mockumentary about the making of a movie so bad that all involved sought to disown it.  The film-within-the-film, called Trio, supposedly starred Whoopie Goldberg, Sylvester Stallone and Jackie Chan, who all play themselves and their respective characters in this movie.  The plot centers on a director who’s real name is actually Alan Smithee (Eric Idle), so this obviously complicates him hiding his name from this project.  Aaaaand... That’s it.  That’s the joke. So, throughout the film we got a lot of talking head segments about the film, with actors playing themselves and other famous people of the era in various cameos.  

This film is the epitome of empty.  There is absolutlely nothing here.  It’s soulless. There is no heart, brain or spirit to the material in this movie.  The screenplay by Joe Eszterhas (Oh, ho boy!  You’ll be seeing THAT name again. TRUST ME!) is so weak that nobody is convincing and none of the dialogue feels in any way natural, despite the fact that it is obviously meant to mimic the “reality behind the scenes” in a comical way.  Still, this movie has nothing redeeming.  There isn’t one laugh or one single moment where you might have seen the possibility of a good film here.

A final note on the acting in this film.  Everyone is terrible.  Stallone, Goldberg and Chan have all been bad before (quite regularly actually. In fact Stallone appears again in the upcoming number 31 slot), but this just might be the most unconvincing performance by any of them.  That’s really, really sad considering this is meant to be a documentary, and they are supposed to just play themselves.  Now, I will say, the direction (by Arthur Hiller) probably had a lot to do with that, and, as if this film was cursed from the very start, and ultimately Hiller actually refused to have his name credited to THIS film.  Thus, An Alan Smithee Film Burn Hollywood Burn is most often credited to the titular Alan Smithee himself.  It is kind of a strange self-fulfilling prophecy is it not?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 33 - B.A.P.S. (1997)

B.A.P.S. (1997; New Line Cinema)
Speaking of utterly offensive films, B.A.P.S. (an acronym which stands for Black American Princesses; that is not even an accurate abbreviation if you think about it), is a movie that degrades its stars, depicting them as stupid, shallow and through them manages to fulfill every single stereotype that many people have worked very hard to put behind them.  This is a film that is meant to be a funny romp about two black women that make it big in America.  Do they make it big by becoming successful business women?  Nope!  That wouldn’t be offensive enough!

Two waitresses (Halle Berry and Natalie Desselle) from the suburbs of Atlanta decide to move to L.A. to make it big in Hollywood.  They dream of opening a beauty shop that doubles as a restaurant specializing in soul food.  They try to get work in the entertainment industry for money in the meantime and ultimately end up trying to scam a wealthy elderly man (Martin Landau) out of a fortune.  

This is one of the most offensive films ever made.  It really is.  It depicts its two leads as dimwitted but conniving, loudmouthed and gaudy, and it depicts most of the remaining characters as snobbish and/or just plain stupid.  The screenplay relies on ruthless stereotypes that aren’t funny, they are just plain vitriolic.  This is a mean-spirited film as it treats its characters as fools and assumes its target audience is dumb enough to find this muck funny.  Well, they were dead wrong.  This one was a flop.  American audiences found it offensive and critics universally bashed it.  

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 34 - The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (1990)

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane
(1990; Twentieth Century Fox)
Because everyone in America absolutely wanted him to, Andrew Dice Clay made a movie!  The Adventures of Ford Fairlande introduces us to the Dice Man as a leading man and boy is it bad.  I mean, really bad.  The plot is circular, the story, stupid, Andrew Dice Clay is obnoxious (what a shocker!) and everyone else is just terrible.

The plot follows Ford Fairlane, a P.I., who is charged with investigating the murder of a rocker on stage.  His leads bring up the same name, a mysterious girl, and everyone who names her seems to end up dead.  So this is the film.  He talks to a person, he yells at a woman he’s slept with at some point, the person gets killed, he can’t believe they got killed, he gets a hint about another person who knows about the killer, rinse, repeat.  This really is one of the most redundant films ever made.

Let’s put aside for a moment the fact that Andrew Dice Clay isn’t funny (God, he isn’t).  Let’s assume he can act (God, he can’t).  This is still an artless, poorly-written, amateurish film.  The plot is weak, it is incomprehensible, it is shallow, it is definitely misogynistic and it is utterly senseless from start to finish.  If there has ever been a movie that should be lost to the throws of time, never to be restored or archived, this is worthy of being that movie.  The Aventures of Ford Fairlane is a disgusting, utterly offensive film and I hated every single minute of it.  However. it is not my number one; not even close.  So, what movies could I possibly hate more than this film?

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 35 - Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992)

Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot
(1992; Universal Pictures)
Roger Ebert said it best when he said “This is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.”  I greatly respect Mr. Ebert and here I completely agree with him; 100 percent!  Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot is the title that comes from an amazingly unfunny line in this epically unfunny load that was released at a point in Sylvester Stallone’s career where I, honestly, think he was just desperate.  Keep in mind, I hated this movie MORE than Cop and a Half!  That should tell you something.

The paper-thin plot involves a cop named Joe (Stallone) who gets a visit from his meddling mother who enters his life and begins to turn everything upside down.  She shows his baby pictures to his precinct, he interferes with his love-life, she breaks the law a few times, and ends up in danger.  For fun!

Estelle Getty plays Tutti (Joe’s mother) and while she can be funny, the material here is predicable, weak and is really just miserable.  Stallone still moans and slurs every line as he rolls his head and gives a bemoaning “mooooooom!” to emphasize his embarrassment.  Actually, I like to think he’s more embarrassed by this film rather than his character’s mother.  I don’t really know what was going on with action stars in the 90’s but there was a trend there where I think they all felt like they had to emasculate themselves for our amusement.  Bruce Willis had North, Hulk Hogan had Mr. Nanny, and Schwarzenegger had, well, almost everything.  I just don’t get it.

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 36 - Highlander II: The Quickening (1991)

Highlander 2: The Quickening
(1991; Lamb Bear Productions)
Some may be surprised that this one is not higher.  Highlander II is one of those famous bad movies that just came out of nowhere and failed all over American audiences and fans of the first film.  This one gets a couple (only a couple) bonus points for me just because I respect this film so much for having the most laughable plot ever.  Also, the dialogue is terrific, including some of the silliest lines you’ll ever hear in a major motion picture.

The awesome plot, in a nutshell, involves Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert), who is tasked with restoring a rapidly depleting ozone layer.  So Connor has to fix a hole in a field of gas, okay.  How does he do this?  A giant forcefield!  Of course!  He, the guy, is put in charge of a team of scientists (because he’s the guy) and they build a machine that fixes the problem with people dropping dead and stuff, but has the unfortunate side effect of casting a permanent night on Earth.  So, over the course of this silly film, we get touches on corporate greed, terrorism, facing your past and all while completely pissing on the legacy of the first film.  

This film has so many gaping plot holes and such a contrived and idiotic plot that it actually tries to retroactively rewrite the entire back-story of the first film, when there was no reason to do so. The only reason we have this unnecessary back-story is so we can be introduced to the obligatory new villain in the form of General Katana (played by Michael Ironside) and his goons in the form of gibbering technopunk idiots who shriek, growl and chuckle loudly while they get their asses handed to them in one of the most least engaging action scenes I have ever seen in a major action film. All this is stacked on top of the main plot of the film which is thrown out almost entirely during the middle of the film until it is clumbsily picked back up again, like an off-balanced drunk trying to carry an arm full of empty water cooler bottles.

Highlander II: The Quickening does have some following as a fun “bad movie”.  It does fall into so-bad-it’s good territory, and I do like to laugh at its absurdity, but I don’t love to watch this one like I love to watch bad movies like the Room or Plan 9 From Outer Space, this one just lacks the charm those crappy movies have.  It’s far too bombastic and has a strange feel to it that sucks some of the camp value out of it for me. Oh, and one more thing. What the HELL is the Quickening. Sure, it's mentioned in the movie, but what is it? If you know, please tell me, because this question has haunted me for the better part of twenty years and I have been too damn lazy (and indifferent) to actually try to find out.

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 37 - Jury Duty (1995)

Jury Duty (1995; Tristar Picture)
Pauly Shore returns!  In Jury Duty he plays an obnoxious hack who gets jury duty and, needing a place to live, decides to manipulate himself into a suite via taxpayer's dollars and exploit his state-funded accommodations for as long as possible by bogging down the trial with endless delays and disputes during deliberation.  The movie even tries to take the route of 12 Angry Men, and does so badly.  

Pauly Shore is so aggrivating!!!  His antics aren’t funny (Have I said that already!?) and this movie just shows how bad he can be because we see his over-the-top behavior juxtaposed with the other more normal characters.  Nowhere do we see this more obviously than with his supposed romance with Tia Carrere, who we never believe could fall in love with this dope.

Jury Duty is one of the worst examples of court on film because the court scenes lack any of the depth that we saw in other films of the like.  Even the film it is trying to immitate, 12 Angry Men, took place almost entirely in an enclosed room around a single table and was all dialoge and it was 10,000 times better than this loud, excessive display.  Jury Duty is not only one of the worst films of the 90’s, it is one of the worst comedies of all time.  

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 38 - Bébé's Kids (1992)

Bebe's Kids (1992; Hyperion Films)
The last contribution by likable comedian and writer Robin Harris, Bébé's Kids is an obnoxious, unfunny, boring animated film about a man who cares for three horrible children in order to win the affection of a woman.  This is a poorly animated, badly written would-be comedy that is not only offensive, but actually goes one step further by being degrading to its target audience and to younger audiences in general.

Robin is trying to get with Jamika, and in a desperate attempt to spend time with her he agrees to aid in watching over her friend’s three kids.  They go to an amusement park and they bring with them all the chaos you’d expect from undisciplined little brats.  So, after the three kids lead a revolt of all the kids at the park, Robin reaches the end of his rope, but his discipline actually results in him bonding with the three kids, or something.  It doesn’t matter.  The ending is very abrupt, out of nowhere and stupid.

This is a bad movie not only because it depicts its target audience as hooligans, which is offensive in itself, but because it finds this behavior funny.  The movie is basking in the character’s blatant delinquency and we are supposed to enjoy it.  Add to that the poor quality of the voice acting, the really horrible musical numbers and the shoddy artwork and you have a truly dreadful animated feature.

A final note on the animation.  It’s bad.  It’s lazy actually.  The characters look like Slinkys when they walk, bobbing exaggeratedly as they stride along the weak backdrop.  The character designs are not all that bad, it is mainly just the way they move.  The background art is also poor, with a flat night sky with mostly featureless buildings taking up most of the scenery and building interiors seem cavernous due to the lack of any attempt at detail on the walls or ceilings.  

Bébé's Kids would be utterly forgettable if it were not for the offensiveness of the characters.  With the two elder siblings spouting bad one-liners while they wreak havoc and the deep-voiced, diaper-bound baby grunting scatological humor throughout.  There was no attempt at originality in this movie.  Robin Harris’ lead does nothing but stand, mouth agape at the destruction the kids are causing then simply grunts out a few frustrated lines as we are carried off to the next stupid set piece.  It is a shame too, because there is a big deficit in animated comedy featuring an African American family, so the fact that this one is so damn condescending is just sad.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 39 - Lawnmower Man 2: Beyond Cyberspace / Jobe's War (1996)

Both titles for Lawnmower Man 2
(1996; August Entertainment)
The first Lawnmower Man was hardly a masterpiece, but wasn’t absolutely terrible.  The Stephen King novella adaptation followed a scientist's experiment involving the use of virtual reality on a slow man named Jobe (Jeff Fahey) to improve his intelligence, it backfires however when the man’s mind merges with the reality in the computer and he becomes a danger to himself and everyone around him.  Lawnmower Man 2 has nothing to do with any of that crap, it’s a whole bunch of nothing.

The plot in this sequel revolves around Jobe (this time played by 90’s perennial C-grade actor Matt Frewer) being revived to build a powerful computer chip that can interconnect every computer in the world into one super-network (isn’t that technically what the Internet does in a sense?).  The film takes place in a post-apocalyptic-type future (of course it does) where Peter (Last Action Hero’s Austin O’Brien) is now a street kid who is a hacker by skill.  He and his friends are then lured in by Jobe along with a scientist named Benjamin Trace (Patrick Bergin) to aid in the construction of the powerful chip.  Ultimately, Jobe betrays them and they must team up to stop him from taking over the world!

Man is this movie dumb!  This is low-budget all the way, but it’s worse than that.  While the first film explored touches of science fiction, it at least tried to appeared to take place in some form of reality.  This film looks like it was filmed on the set of Super Mario Bros. and has some of the worst dialogue of any action flick of the 90’s.  The kids look like they climbed out of a dumpster and the computers look like broken hardware picked up at a flea market.  Everything in this movie is ugly, dirty and obscured by grey smoke.  The movie is also a bore, lacking even a touch of camp that may save it from being straight up trash.  This one is a disaster.

As far as the alternate titles are concerned, I tried to find more information on this but there didn't' seem to be much. However, it is not uncommon for bad movies to have alternate titles. Some have many more than two. I even found one alternate title for this movie listed as Lawnmower Man 2: Mindfire (source: I have not heard this one before, but it is certainly worse than the other two. I mean, Mindfire sounds like a Rush song.

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 40 - Buddy (1997)

Buddy is a family dramedy that is largely forgotten, for good reason.  The plot follows Trudy Lintz (Rene Russo), who has a habit of raising animals as children.  She and her husband adopt a gorilla who they name “Buddy” and as he grows older he becomes more and more difficult to control.  This all culminates to an ending that is supposed to be both touching and fact-based.

First off, there are some people that liked this movie.  It has a sort of cult following with some audiences.  I don’t see why.  The unconvincing animatronics and poor depiction of wild animals as domesticated and fun-loving was the subject of a lot of scrutiny.  But that’s not solely why this movie is on this list.  

Buddy is just a bad movie.  It isn’t cute, it isn’t clever, the performances are bad all around and the idea of a gorilla as a pet is not only absurd, but it is laughable.  This movie, like so many others about primates, focuses a lot on how cute they are, and kind of forgets that they like to take your face off on occasion.  Given better screenwriting and performances, this might have been an enjoyable movie.  Though, I doubt it.

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 41 - Armageddon (1998)

Armageddon (1998; Touchstone Pictures)
This one would be much higher on the list except it actually isn’t as bad as the other films that follow it.  Think about that one for a minute.  Armageddon is Michael Bay’s big-budget answer to Independence Day, a film that came out a couple years before that eclipsed his actioner The Rock in the year‘s grossing.  It’s his “destroy the world” disaster movie, except his has a happier ending, and Ben Affleck crying like a baby (hilarious).  

Armageddon follows a group of rag-tag deep-water oil drillers recruited by NASA to land on an impending doomsday rock, drill a hole, and plant a nuke to split the giant asteroid so that it misses the Earth in two diverging pieces.  The drillers are a big fat group of cliches and we get the typical character-introductions voiced over vignettes of each character doing what defines them as characters in the film.  These are executed like the opening credits of a bad television actions series, attempting to set the characters apart by giving us visual clues to their personalities, but here it is done without any of the style or flourish.

Now, as this is a film featuring the NASA logo, you’d think they would have spent a lot of time working with some physicists to get all the little details right.  Rigt?  Well, this film shows no regard for the laws of physics, the laws of nature, or even the laws of man.  It is a silly exercise that is emotionally exploitative while at the same time showing the destruction of entire cities for our amusement.  It is also an ugly movie, particularly on the asteroid, where it gives you just enough light to show how much work went into the rock but not enough for us to see how bad it looks.  

It’s no secret that Michael Bay is a terrible director, and he does not know how to direct dialogue, which is why he usually just resorts to spinning the camera around and cutting to noisy distractions in the form of loud explosions, falling buildings or crashing planes (or shuttles as is in this case).  The writing is bad but it only amounts about 60 minutes worth of actual on-screen dialogue, the remaining 90 minutes are all visual fluff designed to hide how terrible this movie is.  It doesn’t work.  It’s pretty bad when Bay is so impatient with dialogue that he literally cuts his stars’ lines off to jump to a more “fun” scene.
Lastly, a note on the acting.  There isn’t a good performance in this film.  Despite having some talented actors on board, including Bruce Willis, Steve Buscemi, and Billy-Bob Thornton.  The problem is Bay doesn’t care about story, or characters, or the script, or anything for that matter that isn’t something exploding.  

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 42 - Clifford (1994)

Clifford (1994; Orion Pictures)
How does one define creepy?  What about terrifying?  Well that’s what you get with Clifford.  It is an uncomfortable, unfunny mess about a young boy (the title character played by Martin Short... I’ll let that sink in for a moment) who is a real troublemaker, so he is dumped on his uncle (played by Charles Grodin).  From here the young Clifford is obsessed with going to a theme park called Dinosuar World.  That’s not all though!

This entire piece of garbage is told in flashback, where Father Clifford (also played by Martin Short in creepy old person makeup) is telling this story of his childhood to a young troublemaker played by Ben Savage (the Boy Meets World guy).  So we get a lot of creepy scenes where this priest is telling this already incredibly creepy story to a boy in a park.  A lot of them.

The idea of a kid causing trouble for adults was all the rage in the early 90’s because of the massive success of Home Alone and a couple other greatly forgotten family films like Curly Sue and this genre dominated the scene until Jurassic Park came out and every movie was a dinosaur flick.  Clifford, however, is easily the worst of this trend.  It’s a film that didn’t really even try and it shows.  You can take every reaction Charles Grodin has in this film to Clifford’s behavior and replace it with “Beethoven!” and it will fit.

Now, to be fair, Clifford was actually finished four years before its release.  It fell victim to one of many studio collapses in the late 80’s and early 90’s due to massive production costs, excessive contractual obligations and expensive pensions for mechanics, technicians and the like.  The year of Clifford’s scheduled release was 1990, but it was during that time that the film suffered a major drawback in the form of growing fiscal difficulties for it’s production company Orion Pictures.  Orion would sell off this and a number of other projects but will ultimately file for bankruptcy in 1991.  The company would limp along through the 90’s until the closing of its doors in 1998.

Back to Clifford.  I will close in saying that this is one of the most aggravating movies I’ve ever seen.  Martin Short gives the most annoying performance of his entire career as a leering, creepy and disturbed ten-year-old.  His expression is both evil and curious, in the way a first time serial killer is curious.  I hate this character.  Every scene he has is disturbing and uncomfortable, and none of the other characters (including those played by Mary Steenbergen or Richard Kind) have enough to do.  Nope.  This is all about Clifford... Unfortunately.

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 43 - Chairman of the Board (1998)

Carrot Top has one film credit; Just one major film credit to his name.  Why?  Have you SEEN Chairman of the Board!?  This movie is so bad, I’m amazed it got pushed back to #42.  But when I closely examined my list, I found I hated this movie just a little less than the next 41.  Ranking number 63 on IMDB’s Bottom 100 (of ALL TIME!!!), Chairman of the Board is one of those special movies that doesn’t try to be good.  In fact, I don’t think this one even tries to be a movie.

The utterly contrived plot follows a surfer named Edison (Carrot Top) who meets an elderly man who also likes to hit the waves.  When the man dies, he bequeaths his majority share of his invention company to the surfing Edison.  Edison becomes the titular chairman and reopens the defunct R&D department.  Meanwhile a disgruntled shareholder played by Larry Miller tries to sabotage Edison’s success.  

So, we have a film with a completely cliched plot, a very annoying lead, a maddeningly unfunny screenplay, and a host of unbearable gags that are all centered around Carrot Top’s stand-up comedy which is all laugh-free prop humor and the supporting cast tries to carry that hack but they aren’t given much to work with.  The late Jack Ward is wasted on this movie as the elderly surfer and that guy was in 12 Angry Men (The ORIGINAL 12 Angry Men with Henry Fonda!  One of my all-time favorite movies!), how the HELL did they get him do appear in this load of garbage?  Another wasted talent is that of Larry Miller.  The guy’s snarky attitude is perfect for satire, but this movie is not satirising anything, it is merely a forum for all of Carrot Top’s worst joke ideas.

Chairman of the Board is terrible crap; the bottom of the barrel.  The only reason why it’s not at the very bottom is Larry Miller manages to squeeze some (very, very few) laughs out of this garbage and that’s it.  Overall, this one will have you banging your head against the wall.

Monday, February 20, 2012

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 44 - Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995)

Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995;
Morgan Creek Productions)
The first Ace Ventura did not make my list.  While it was bad, I did not find it as stupifying, offensive or annoying as the other films here.  The sequel..? Well, that’s another story.  When Nature Calls begins with the titular pet detective in a Tibetan Monestary, overcoming the loss of a raccoon.  He is brought out of retirement to help find a missing bat in Africa that, if not returned, will result in a bloody tribal war.  

The majority of the movie has Ace offending other cast members as he behaves like an escaped mental patient.  His actions, if performed by anyone in real life, would likely result in his detention and possible death.  He was obnoxious in the first film but here the gloves come off.  He goes out of his mind and throws every single low-brow joke at the audience that it can muster.

This film is the product of Steve Oedekerk, an immensely untalented writer/director who is responsible for some of the worst films of the last twenty years.  Here he relies on bathroom humor, focusing on the absolute bottom of the barrel for desperate gags as he tries to milk the already weak material for all he can.  Jokes drag on a lot longer than they should, sometimes for entire scenes and the few laughs are quickly ruined by the film’s tendency to rub it’s humor in.  This is a bad one, and an example of how some movies just don’t need sequels, especially ones featuring a character as shallow and weak as Ace Ventura.

Jim Carrey, who stars as the lead in this film, is far more talented than his filmography, or this list, may imply. He has shown glimmers of talent but always bounces back to these dumb movies. I just don't understand it myself. Like so many other talented actors he has been damned to play the same character over and over again, and if he attempts to deviate from this path, the fans cry out and the studios go into convulsions until he goes back to his old ways. Do better Mr. Carrey, you were too good for this movie, and far, far above Mr. Popper's Penguins for that matter. (Lol. As if he actually reads this crap.)

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 45 - Godzilla (1998)

Godzilla (1998; Tristar Pictures)
What can you say about Roland Emerich?  He is a connoisseur of bad filmmaking.  His films like Independence Day and the Patriot are revered as sloppy pieces of nostalgia blurred in the beer goggles of time.  Godzilla, however, is where most people realized that something was very wrong.  It was the point where two things happened: Matthew Broderick’s career faded, and Roland Emerich became the schlock-meister of the next generation of Hollywood.

Godzilla does not center on Gojira, the great radioactive lizard born of bomb tests in the Pacific Ocean.  No, it focuses on a hapless scientist named Nick (Broderick) who studies the effects of radiation on worms in Chernobyl, Ukraine.  He is recruited by a general to aid in the profiling of a creature that attacked a Japanese ship.  After the creature makes his way to New York (seemingly only a few days later.  What did he do?  Teleport?  Fly?), it wreaks havoc on the Big Apple and Nick, an ex-flame reporter and her cameraman (Hank Azaria) take on the creature with the help of a french national (Jean Reno).  

Yeah.  Godzilla is dumb, but it goes further than that, it is flat-out illogical.  It would make more sense for the beast to attack L.A., or some other city on the Pacific Coast, but to think this creature could swim to New York from the Pacific Ocean in just a few days or so is just ridiculous.  This is a film filled with flawed science, annoying characters and cheap action in the form of big explosions that destroy New York landmarks.  Roland Emerich doesn’t try to make his films make sense, he just tries to make them loud.  If you like nonsensical crap, then maybe you enjoyed this one, since I prefer to use my brain, I hated every second of it.

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 46 - Jack Frost (1998)

Jack Frost (1998; Warner
Bros. Entertainment)
Jack Frost is a truly terrifying film.  Note that I’m not referring to the horror movie about a killer snowman from 1997, no, this is a family drama about an absent father played by Michael Keaton who is on the road as a musician and he feels bad about not being there for son.  When he dies in a car accident he gets a second chance; as a truly horrifying snowman.

The CGI creature in this film is scarier than any dinosaur from a distant island, and more menacing than any masked slasher.  The dead eyes and emotionless face is just one of the factors as to why this movie is so dark.  There’s also the fact that snowmen melt.  I always wondered what it would be like if the kid had to watch his dad slowly melt as the Spring brought rising temperatures.  Oh wait, we (sort of) get that!  How depressing...

Part of the horror of this movie is that it actually follows a horror movie with the same title and almost the same premise that came out a year earlier.  Except in that one, the father was replaced with a serial killer!  I don’t get why this movie was made except to be a “fresh?” take on the frosty the snowman story.

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 47 - Double Dragon (1994)

Double Dragon (1994;
A bad video game movie!  Is  there any other kind?  Double Dragon follows the video game movie trend of not even attempting to follow the game by setting Double Dragon in a post apocalyptic setting with a flooded out Los Angeles and attempts to justify itself with a lot of really bad martial arts scenes.  The movie is more forgettable than Super Mario Bros. or Street Fighter because it fails to even offend the senses as those movies do.  If there was ever a game that didn’t need to be adapted to film, Double Dragon is it.  

The plot centers on the Lee brothers who are in possession of part of an amulet of great power.  When crime boss Abobo, who has the other half, learns of the brothers, he begins a mission to obtain their half and to reunite the pieces to form the Double Dragon Amulet. The film, from start to finish, is just like the game, an aimless progression through a series of fights with nameless baddies.  It is a bore, and it is exceptionally silly.

The film has two easily recognizable faces, Robert Patrick and Scott Wolf.  Alisa Milano also has a smaller part and is just as bad as the rest of the cast.  Oh! Yeah! Then there's that creepy dude from Iron Chef America! Anyway, this is a film where everyone seems out of place, and every fight out of nowhere.  Every scene ends in somebody getting knocked out or flying into or through a stack of something.  There isn’t enough plot to keep the film interesting so the movie just spreads out a lot of poorly choreographed fights to fill in the time so it seems like a feature film rather than a short with lots and lots of filler.

I honestly cannot think of much more to say about this movie. It is far too dull to be considered truly bad, but the bad acting and paper-thin and overused plot give it a slight bump down on my list from where it would otherwise be. I also take points off for Robert Patrick's metrosexuallity that is prevalent in this film. There is no way anyone could have thought that he looked menacing or cool. Even in the early 90's!

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 48 - Cop and a Half (1993)

Cop and a Half (1993; Universal Pictures)
Jake Lloyd eat your heart out!  We have a winner for the worst child actor ever!  Norman D. Golden II appeared on the scene in a small part in the very forgotten 90’s TV show True Colors.  His next project was second bill in a buddy cop movie alongside a washed up Burt Reynolds.  Reynolds looks (and sounds) drunk most of the time, Golden does not execute his lines much better and the plot is so damn stupid that you it makes you long for the inspired wonderment that is Last Action Hero (sarcasm :P).

The plot centers on a kid named Devon (Golden) who witnesses a murder but refuses to give up the identity of the killer until he is officially made a police officer.  So (Because the plot says so), Devon is made a cop and partnered up with a grizzled veteran named Nick (Reynolds) who does not want to work with the kid at first, but he and the kid continue to get into trouble and ultimately the two work together to catch the killer.

Plot aside, Cop and a Half is a bizarre movie.  It has a number of action scenes where bad guys are actively trying to kill young Devon.  If that’s not uncomfortable enough, the movie features a number of gags that would seem at home in a more adult movie.  This imbalance is a key to this movie’s biggest problems.  It is filled with violence and potty mouths, yet we are meant to be convinced this movie is for all ages.

Cop and a Half was obviously meant to be a family romp but lacks heart mainly due to Reynolds and Golden’s terrible performances.  The studio, at the time of the film’s release, marketed him as the next big child star, the critics disagreed and apparently so did audiences because he never really caught on.  The kid looks and acts as though he should be doing a comical interview segment with Grover on Sesame Street and has about the same amount of charisma as a Muppet without a puppeteer.  Reynolds, by the time this movie came out, was already too old for these types of roles and he seems as though he’s about to break a hip through most of the movie.  Everything in Cop and a Half seems out of place and it is ultimately a sloppy, and unnecessary movie.  This one should have either been recast, or doomed as a screenplay to gather dust in a bin in some studio’s crypt-like file room.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Film Review - The Secret World of Arrietty (2012)

The Secret World of Arrietty (2012; Studio Ghibli,
Buena Vista Entertainment)

Mary Norton's the Borrowers was published in 1952. Since then, there have been countless retellings of the story in many forms. Some are less-than-spectacular, others are inspired and clever. One of the best imaginings of this story is Studio Ghibli's the Secret World of Arrietty; a calm, charming little feature that is arguably the best 2D animated feature since Spirited Away.

Like in the original story, the Borrowers, as they call themselves here, have taken up residence under the floors and between the walls of a house occupied by a family. In this case, Arrietty lives with her parents and is coming of age to become a Borrower herself. As she treks off unto her first Borrowing, accompanied by her dad, she lies about her inexperience as she has become somewhat of an adventurer on her own. At this point we see her navigate an intricate series of passageways via driven nails and a clever counter-weight pulley system. Everything seems to be going smoothly until the unthinkable happens: Arrietty is spotted by a boy named Sean (Shō in the Japanese version). After this occurs, Sean, a sickly boy, becomes obsessed with seeing her again and though he means her no harm, it is not meant to be and so her father resolves to move. The remainder of the film follows another resident of the house, a woman who captures one of the Borrows and intends to prove her family is not crazy after their history of supposedly seeing the little people before, but never having sufficient proof, has left them with a sort of stigma. Meanwhile, we begin the venture to find a new home for the Borrowers as the story comes to a close and we see a final few interactions between Sean and Arrietty, who become friends and also work together to assure the small family's safe exodus.

Most of the reviews for Arrietty to to this point have been positive, but some only apprehensively so. While some have called it a movie for “kids” or a “fun little romp” I find a little more in the film than just a quick fix for film-going families. Amidst a genre saturated with uninspired slapstick or noisy animated spectacles, Arrietty is a calm, intelligent, story-driven feature with characters and a nice beginning, middle and end (open as it may be). There is no need for bombast, and no purpose for a lame comic relief character in the form of a jive-talking animal or a chubby sidekick. This is a gentle, peaceful story, and while it has some predictable plot points, it is a story told to us, not thrown at us. In an era where Hollywood assumes all family films should be hyperactive and energetic, this subdued and relaxed tale is a breath of fresh air.

Now, as no film is truly perfect (except for a few that is), Arrietty has a couple problems. First, the character of Sean is never fully realized, and though he is not the main focus of the story, he is Arrietty's connection to the other, larger world. I kept asking questions to myself about this character and almost none of them were truly answered. Another minor complaint is the use of some really cheesy lines at certain points in the film. These predictable lines of dialogue were obviously inserted by the translators as they seem to miss the emotional context of the scene as they really did not know what to say at that point. This happens from time to time in foreign translations though, so it can easily be forgiven. I also have an issue with the Westernization of the film, but that is a personal complaint and I get why they do it, I just do not feel it is necessary in this day and age.

Now, for the positives. The first thing I noticed about this movie, and kept admiring throughout, was the art. The matte paintings for the backgrounds in Arrietty are beautiful representations of remnants of a lost art. In an area of over-produced animated crap, it is so rare to find a 2D animated film that is just a delight to look at. A gallery of hundreds and hundreds of lovely little paintings give this movie a colorful, quaint charm. The characters look good as well, blending into their environment with skillful lighting effects and shadows. Visually, this is a gem.

The soundtrack is also quite good. An Oscar-worthy score fills the atmosphere with soft Celtic melodies. I cannot confirm if this is the original score from the Japanese version or not as I have not yet seen the film in its original form, but as it stands it is perfect. It is inspiring, creating an air of adventurousness and whimsy that fits the tone of the film perfectly.

Though it is not as captivating and unique as Spirited Away, or as epic and entangling as Princess Mononoke, the Secret World of Arrietty is a delightful, fun and inspired film that stands out in its genre. I fear that this film's calm and soft nature may make it sort of a turn-off for our hyperactive and action-seeking youth, but if you are of a family that loves great stories and ones that you can enjoy for years to come, I believe this may be the film for you.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

What Ever Happened to the Wonderful World of Animation?

This post is really just a rant.  I saw a movie this weekend that I really wanted to write a review for but I felt the review would require some context.  This intention of this bitchy little post is to shed some light on what I feel is the creative deficit in animation today.  It is not a review or even really all that much of an opinion (some is).  It really is meant to be an argument for where animation is and what happened to it over the last few decades.  This is the medium that is to shape the imaginations of the youth.  Will there not be any one film to inspire them?  Or are animated films these days nothing more than really, really expensive pacifiers?

I am not a huge fan of most animation these days. I grew up in the era of the late-80's and early-90's and on the films of Walt Disney. The animation from those years were more often than not lush, vivid and colorful works that were captivating and expressive. Then, in the 90's, something happened. The advent of fast, thrown-together works for television made weak art an acceptable element of animation. After this point even Disney got lazy, with movies like Lilo and Stitch that lacks the artistic spark that was so prevalent thirty or more years before its release. Traditional animation seems to have taken a backseat to 3D computer-animated movies from the mostly less-than-stellar works of Dreamworks animation to the occasionally-stunning imagination of Pixar.

The last bastion of truly high-quality traditional animation seems to be the strange and often spectacular world of Japanese animation, known affectionately as “anime”. I am sure that I'm preaching to the choir here, but to make a long story short, anime has been a regular source for inspired and creative storytelling and vivid artwork, and while I am not exactly an anime “fan”, there are many that I enjoy and among those are the works of Hayao Miyazaki. His past works include the Oscar-winning film Spirited Away and the beloved epic Princess Mononoke. Both of these films would rank among my picks for the greatest movies ever made. Period.

That said, ever since the early 2000's, there has been a growing disparity between quality animation designed to inspire awe and the quickly thrown-together crap that is made for kids that “just do not know any better”. Lazy animation companies are using Flash and sloppy art to make a quick buck at the expense of the genre. These low-rent hack cartoons have lowered the standard for animated movies everywhere and are unforgivably responsible for the declining quality of Western animated films. If American companies are not churning out crap for a quick buck, they are jumping on the anime bandwagon by making faux-Japanese animation, copying their stylizations while missing the spirit of the genre entirely, they are merely cashing in on the popularity of the medium.

More and more I see weaker quality in the animation and stories that are dumbed-down, quick fixes for cheap humor and stupid, pointless violence. I can trace this turning point back to the early 90's and the advent of Nicktoons, Nickelodeon's foray into the lucrative world of original animated programing. The art in most of these programs was pretty... well... bad. The character designs in Doug were lazy and sort of strange-looking, and Rugrats was just hideous. Ren & Stimpy did have good art, however and as such it was definitely the odd-one-out among its peers. While some of the work of the animators from this time was obviously meant to resemble a more traditional comic strip style, the art is still lackluster. Other programs like the Simpsons and much later the Family Guy also suffered from this deficit though the characters on the Family Guy are hardly as hideous as those on much of the early Nicktoons stuff.

I guess what I am saying is that the way animation looks matters. When one produces a cartoon, the writing and art both have an impact. One can matter more than the other, sure, but when only one (or neither) works, there is a big problem. Truthfully, most kids do not mind if the stuff they are watching looks like crap. This is an acceptable excuse made by less talented animators and studios to generate mediocre or utterly pathetic material for mass consumption.

The moral of the story is simple: Demand better. You vote with your wallets, and your money determines what the studios continue to produce. If you go to see crap, they will continue to make crap. If you take your kids to the multiplex to see a piece of garbage because it is the only thing out, then you are contributing to the steady decline in the quality of cinematic animation as a whole. If you absolutely have to sit your kids in front of a movie, stay at home, pop some popcorn, and watch the Lion King. Watch Toy Story. Watch one of the dozens of truly great pieces of animation that are both inspiring and artistically stunning. Chances are you have, or know someone who has, any one of these movies and the one you chose is likely much, much better than what you are planning on seeing at the theater and it is a lot cheaper than going to the movies.

Now, after that long-winded rant about the endless decline in the quality of animated cinema, I present the light at the end of the tunnel. Earlier in the article I referenced animation master Hayao Miyazaki and a few of his movies. His films seem to be the last bastions of true quality traditional animation in theaters today and his latest film, the Secret World of Arrietty is among the most entertaining and beautiful animated films of the last twenty years and I will give you my full review in the next post.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 49 - Father's Day (1997)

Father's Day (1997; Warner
Bros. Pictures)
Following one “I Didn’t Know I Was a Dad” movie with another, Father’s day is a slow, mean-spirited movie that has no laughs and even less heart.  The film follows two men who were both former flames of a woman many years ago and are conned into helping her find her runaway son when they are both told they are the boy’s father.  The men are a brooding, one-liner spewing attorney (played by Billy Crystal) and a nails-on-a-chalkboard writer (Robin Wiliams) and they team up, despite contention, to find the missing teen.

Father’s Day is one of those movies that just slaps the audience in the face over and over again.  The premise is based on a lie and the ending is surprise-free because the film tells us she’s lying to them men early on.  When you give away the fact that the whole premise is a con too early on, there really is nothing to hold the film together after the hour mark.

The son, Scott, when he arrives in the film is a negative, mean little brat who is detestable from the start.  I think he was the inspiration for the son in ANOTHER absolutely dreadful Robin Williams movie from just a few years back called World’s Greatest Dad (a film I reviewed on this blog and hated... a lot).  Billy Crystal, who can be funny, is just a whiny bore here and Robin William’s antics grow really old, really fast.  This is a bad movie, but it’s more than that, it’s a spiteful one.  It’s spiteful to the characters, and to anyone watching it.  It insults your intelligence and your sensibilities.  

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 50 - Jungle 2 Jungle (1997)

Jungle 2 Jungle (1997; Walt
Disney Pictures)

We are in the middle of an era (thanks mainly to the success of The Office) of American remakes of foreign films and television.  Still, this is a trend that’s been going on for some time and one of the worst example of this trends is the 1997 mess Jungle 2 Jungle.  A fish-out-of water film that is only slightly better than the French film that was its inspiration, entitled Little Indian, Big City (Remember that title, you’ll be seeing it again).

The film centers on a stock broker played by a desperate Tim Allen who flies from New York to the Amazon to finalize his divorce with his anthropologist wife only to find he has a teenage son he never knew about.  For the purposes of plot contrivance, he takes the kid back to New York with him and zaniness ensues.  We get lots of jokes about how dumb people who aren’t from America are.  You know?  Like, hunting house cats for food, peeing on potted plants, climbing on buildings and other things for no reason, and carrying a bow and quiver around.  How delightfully xenophobic!

Little arguments of irrational intolerance and ignorance aside, Jungle 2 Jungle is a laugh-free, boring film with lots of little unnecessary subplots and a very, very annoying performance by Martin Short.  There’s stuff about a scary Russian gangster and something about selling some stocks at a certain price but it is all just padding.  This is a bad concept from the start and the fact that Disney thought the original justified an American remake is telling of how desperate they were for ideas in the 90’s (And this was BEFORE they started turning their theme park rides into movies).

This little mess was directed by John Pasquin, who's career is comprised mostly of behind-the-camera work on failed television shows from the 80's and 90's. He was the director of Home Improvement, a charming little piece of sitcom mediocrity as well as The Santa Clause, a successful family comedy from 1994 also starring Tim Allen. His last two major theatrical film releases were the incredibly dull and forgettable Joe Somebody (yet ANOTHER Tim Allen vehicle) and Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous, arguably one of the dumbest sequels of the aughts.

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - The Half-Way Point

It's been a while since I've started this list and had some bumps along the way that kept me from finishing it before the end of 2011. I have been, for the last two days, posting updates rapidly.  I thank everyone who has been reading my articles and hopefully you will find enjoyment in this bottom 50.  It took me some time to get the bottom 50 organized.  It's easy to find 100 bad movies, it's hard to decide which ones are worse than the others and why.  Note, as I said at the start of this list, these choices are my opinion and I did try to avoid made-for-TV movies and straight-to-video fare.  A majority of the films on this list were major releases that saw a wide release in their respective years, one or two are smaller movies that vanished as fast as they came to theaters.

I left out a lot of sequels too, as they are kind of easy to pick on most of the time.  If there's a sequel on this list it is because it was especially bad, not just mediocre or disappointing.  I hope everyone keeps reading as I progress through the depths of the worst of the 90's from Hollywood and I really would like your feedback.  If you don't agree with my assessments of these films, please say so.  If you hate any of these films as much as I do, I'd love to be reassured that I'm not alone.  I would love to hear from all of you.

Thank you.

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 51 - Striptease (1996)

Demi Moore was one of the biggest stars in the 80's and 90’s.  Though much of her film repertoire has been less-than-reputable, one of her worst films to date was the failed adaptation Striptease.  The film is based on a satirical novel about a woman who turns to exotic dancing to earn money to fight for custody of her daughter.  Her character was a fighter, but she was also funny.  The movie took the premise and flipped it on its head.

The film version of the lead, Erin Grant, is mistakenly taken in a very different direction.  For some reason it’s decided (I’m not sure by who) that she should be portrayed as the “strong woman” character.  This turned out to be a mistake as every single character in the story was in a comedy except Erin.  She was trying to play the loving mother, moving and challenging while fighting strong against what is considered to be societal norms.  Yadda, yadda, yadda.

The film also lost a lot of the novel’s laughs due to the overly-sincere screenplay.  And while there was some honesty in the book, this movie is so heavy-handed and filled with blatant feminism that it is borderline offensive.  The stripping scenes (that are about as erotic as a Victoria’s Secret ad featuring Rosie O’Donnell) are mournful, as if we’re meant to feel her desperation, forgetting, once again, that THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE A FREAKING COMEDY!!!!

Striptease was a critical failure, and a flop overall with moviegoers. It became national news that this supposedly pro-women movie did so poorly. Some actually blamed the poster, calling it pornographic, and some blamed the power of word-of-mouth. The film was recognized for its badness, however. It won six Razzies including Worst Picture and Worst Actress (Demi Moore).

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 52 - Joe's Apartment (1996)

Joe's Apartment (1996; Warner Bros.

Joe’s Apartment started as a bumper used for the MTV network during commercial breaks.  Apparently somebody thought this one could be a big hit as a movie because they made a full-length feature out of what basically amounted to a commercial.  So how bad can a commercial stretched out to eighty minutes be?  Well, this one has singing cockroaches.

Jerry O’Connell plays Joe, a young guy who arrives in New York City with no plans and no prospects, he just decides to go there.  After getting some help from a punk artist, he finds a rent-controlled apartment.  When he discovers it is populated by hoards of talking cockroaches, the fact that he is unfazed brings the roaches to trust him, so the insects introduce themselves.  The movie actually focuses mainly on these computer-animated cockroaches as they actually break out into song and dance.  Unlike “GOOD” musicals like Singin’ In the Rain, where the songs kind of play off of what is happening on screen, the musical numbers in Joe’s Apartment are pretty much just random toilet humor, and it is all pretty disgusting.

There’s a plot about some slumlord and his goons trying to get Joe to leave so he can demolish that building and put up some big condominiums, and one about a love interest and her garden, but it’s all just filler to stretch the singing cockroach movie out to feature-length.  This is one of those movies where you know there had to have been contention for its production until one person with deep pockets came along and saved it.  Fortunately, it was a lesson because it was a massive flop, and proof that sometimes you need more than just a concept to make a movie work.  This film barely made back one-third of it’s $13 million budget and is proof that singing cockroaches are just too much for American audiences.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 53 - Bean (1997)

Bean (1997; Polygram
Filmed Entertainment)

I hate Mr. Bean.  I don’t get why people find or have found him funny.  If there was any character that didn’t justify a feature-length film, it’s Mr. Bean.  Rowan Atkinson’s groaning, grunting, over expressive, overreacting, and exceedingly silly character will claw at your senses for the duration of this film.  Bean is as relentless as it is unfunny.

The paper-thin plot centers on Mr. Bean working as an art gallery caretaker when he is commissioned to travel to the U.S. to oversee the opening of an exhibit featuring the American painting Whistler’s Mother.  However, Mr. Bean is an inept fool so every little thing he does results in some sort of massive disaster.  We get humor that would have been funny in the silent era if it were executed by a talented physical comedian like Buster Keaton, but today it seems tired, lazy and immature.

Many of the staples of British comedy is filled with a mix of high and low-brow humor. Monty Python, the films of Edgar Wright and the over-the-top antics of Guy Ritchie and the popular (and spectacular) works of Douglas Adams each have a distinctive sort of tone to them. They are irreverent, sure, but they have a charm that is often absent in their respective genres of a film made Stateside. As a fan of a lot of comedies from the UK and Europe in general, I find the fact that this character is one of the most recognized and popular British characters of the 20th century pretty sad.
Bean is one of the worst films of the 90’s almost entirely because of how popular this character is.  His shtick isn't funny for 30 minutes, and it sure as HELL isn't funny for an hour and a half. Happily, this film tanked at the box office and had to wait an entire decade (spoiler alert: the 2007 film Mr. Bean is WORSE) for a "reboot" and it was a financial flop too, grossing only $9m on opening weekend here in the US. Hanging on just outside of my bottom 50, Bean is a messy, annoying film from start to finish.  There is just something about Atkinson’s antics that has a creepiness factor firing way outside the range of acceptability.  His sneering, growling behavior would likely get anyone arrested in public, so why people find this guy entertaining is beyond my comprehension.  

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 54 - Kindergarten Cop (1990)

Kindergarten Cop (1990; Universal Pictures)

Arnold Schwarzenegger returns to my list (he said he’d be back), this time in an even worse movie than Jingle All the Way!  Kindergarten Cop is the story of a cop named John Kimble (played by the Terminator himself) who goes undercover as a substitute Kindergarten teacher to protect the son of a dangerous criminal from abduction.  This is an impressively annoying film, filled with loud, bad child actors that essentially scream every line while Arnold mugs for the camera and continues to fail at English.

This is one of those Random-Plot-Generator films and it shows.  Everyone seems miscast, every line misconceived, the plot: so contrived as to be totally unbelievable.  The children all fit into a series of stereotypes that are easily recognizable and all are easily categorized except for the kid that is to be protected, who is as generic and uninspired as anything George Lucas could conceive.

We’re supposed to find the idea of Arnold Schwarzenegger teaching kindergarten inherently funny.  Well, it’s not.  This movie is loud, stupid, pointless and the so-called suspenseful ending is so silly that it boarders on laughable and, like the rest of this movie, is really just aggravating.  One example of the many contrivances in this film is that John’s partner, Phoebe (Pamela Reed) was originally meant to teach the class but gets a cold so he has to do it.  Give me a freaking break.

I honestly think they didn’t even try with this movie.  Every bad joke about things kids do is featured prominently, and badly, in this movie.  Kindergarten Cop is a lazy study of Hollywood cynicism, a 90-minute movie that reaches for the two-hour mark, and boy does it feel long too.  There is a ton of padding in the form of “date” scenes with John and the mother (Penelope Ann Miller) of the boy he’s supposed to protect, and random cuts to the illness-stricken partner for no apparent reason except to remind us why we’re watching Schwarzenegger desperately try to be funny, all the while enduring the shrieking children acting out the lamest episodes of Kids Say the Darnedest Things.

My 100 Worst Movies of the 90's - 55 - House Arrest (1996)

House Arrest (1996; MGM Films)

Speaking of juvenile delinquents, 1996 brought us House Arrest, a film so stupid that the actors on screen actually seem to be confused by what is going on.  Stories of separating/divorced parents were popular for family films in the 90’s and House Arrest takes the unusual direction of starting with the announcement of the separation.  Personally, I wish these characters would have never gotten married because then we wouldn’t have this movie!

The film focuses on Grover whose parents (played by Kevin Pollock and Jamie Lee Curtis) announce their separation.  Grover’s initial reaction is to lock them in a basement in an over-elaborate manner until they resolve their differences.  After learning of what Grover has done his friend brings over his parents (Christopher MacDonald and Sheila McCarthy) to be imprisoned as well, and the four argue for the duration of the movie while the kids thwart their attempts to escape.

House Arrest is one of those films where the kids are a lot smarter than they really should be. As with Home Alone and (shutter) Hotel for Dogs, the kids (mainly Grover) in this movie manage to turn their basement into an inescapable prison for his parents without anyone noticing.  This includes hiding his father’s tools and boarding up the windows (I particularly remember those preparations because the movie emphasizes these with reaction shots and exposition flourished with a wide-angle lens).  This movie is relentless too.  It really wants us to sympathize with these kids even though they just went all Guantanamo Bay on their parents!

I get trying to make a family-friendly comedy out of what would normally be pretty sad material.  However, House Arrest is one of the laziest movies I have ever sat through.  It is another one of the many films that tried to cash in on the success of Home Alone by showing kids outsmarting adults.  It’s a popular theme in films, pandering to the younger audience who live in the iron grip of their parents.  I guess it is meant to be empowering or something.  That said, House Arrest was an obvious cash-in. However, for a cash-in it was pretty late to the game, by about three years.