I WATCHED THESE SO YOU DON'T HAVE TO:
THE TEN WORST FILMS OF 2018
There was a tie in one position, so there's a bonus 11th worst movie in a year with no shortage of candidates*. We've got a little bit of everything: Bruce Willis; a cheap Russian action movie with vacationing D-listers; big-budget Chinese government-funded propaganda, including one with a Mike Tyson/Steven Seagal face-off (whoever wins, we lose); plus some coasting legends, slumming rock icons, self-indulgent vanity projects, embarrassed past Oscar nominees and winners, terrible rugs, a bullshit documentary, horror franchises that refuse to die, songs by Pitbull, misspelled credits, glaring facial hair continuity errors, and not one but two films that were seized as evidence in court cases.
Also, a shout-out to John Cusack for somehow not being in any of them. And on that note, let's get this over with and get on to 2019.
10. MILE 22
LONE SURVIVOR was prone to military cliches but was a solid, well-acted film overall, and the underappreciated DEEPWATER HORIZON was even better, probably because it didn't paint Wahlberg as the sole hero and gave a lot of screen time to Kurt Russell and other actors, making it more of an ensemble piece. PATRIOTS DAY, Wahlberg/Berg's laughably simplistic take on the Boston Marathon bombing, which placed Wahlberg's completely fictional everyman cop as a tough-talking Johnny On-the-Spot who's magically at the center of all the action, even barking orders at FBI guys and government officials who hold off on making their next move until they consult with him, was a huge stumble. Likewise, MILE 22 finds the pair suffocating on the toxic fumes of their alpha male bullshit. This film is atrocious on nearly every level, from its confused plot to its quick-cut action sequences, which are over-edited to the point of sheer incoherence, to Berg functioning as less of a director and more of an enabler who's derelict in his duties, doing nothing to rein in his star, who turns in one of the most embarrassingly self-indulgent performances in recent memory. It's Mark Wahlberg imploding into bad self-parody by doing a ludicrously amped-up impression of "Mark Wahlberg," and that's long before another character actually says "Say hi to your mother for me." Imagine Jason Bourne as a loud, smack-talking, motor-mouthed asshole and you'll get an idea of how insufferably grating an over-the-top Wahlberg is here. When John Malkovich yells "Stop monologuing, you bipolar fuck," one gets the impression that the line was unscripted.
Wahlberg is James Silva, the leader of an elite CIA black ops/counterterrorism unit called Ground Branch. He's supposed to be the best of the best, but as the opening sequence at a suburban American safe house of a rogue Russian terror cell and the subsequent 90 minutes demonstrate, a lot of colleagues seem to die on his watch. This isn't surprising seeing that he's almost like the perfect hero for the Trump era: a vein-popping anger management case and bellicose know-it-all prone to blowhard lectures that include long quotes from Wikipedia, frothing-at-the-mouth tantrums, dismissive insults to his colleagues, and endlessly yapping displays of bloated arrogance and self-aggrandizement that make it hard to believe anyone would work under this prick, let alone lay down their lives for him. In an unnamed Asian country, nine containers of cesium have gone missing and Silva's team is activated by remote Overwatch commander Bishop (Malkovich) to deal with Li Noor (THE RAID star Iko Uwais), a cop and former Indonesian government agent who knows the worldwide locations of the missing cesium and wants asylum to the US in exchange for the information. This leads to a sort-of DIPSHIT GAUNTLET as Silva and his team, which includes Alice (Lauren Cohan as Milla Jovovich) and Sam (Ronda Rousey), have to safeguard and escort Li on a 22-mile trip across the city to the airport, all the while evading corrupt local cops assigned to take them out.
It speaks to Berg's clueless approach to MILE 22 that he has Uwais onboard and utterly squanders the opportunity by feeling the need to edit his action sequences into a scrambled, eye-glazing blur. THE RAID and its even better sequel THE RAID 2 were perfect showcases for the Indonesian action star, and Berg must be a fan since the last half hour of MILE 22 makes a sudden switch from DIPSHIT GAUNTLET to DIPSHIT RAID, with Silva, Alice, and Li trapped in a high-rise apartment complex as corrupt local cop Axel's (Sam Medina) goons try to corner and kill them. Working from a script by Lea Carpenter that should've been redacted in pre-production, Berg has made this film a loud, headache-inducing mess, with constant shaky-cam, bizarre camera angles, an over-reliance on close-ups, characters screaming at each other for no reason, and Wahlberg allowed to run rampant, unleashed, unchecked, and completely out of control, shouting at everyone and, in his more introspective moments, constantly snapping his wristband as a way of controlling his fury (it never seems to work). There's half-assed attempts at topicality with passing mentions of "collusion" and "Russian election hacking," and at character development with Alice in a custody battle with her ex-husband, an almost instantly-abandoned subplot that seems to exist only to give Berg some brief screen time as the asshole ex. Rousey's character has nothing to do but sit and watch Silva hurl her birthday cupcake across the room in a fit of rage like a toddler who can't find his binky, and Malkovich, sporting a distracting buzzcut wig and sneakers with a suit, tries out a mannered, halting, staccato delivery that suggests Christopher Walken having a stroke. The abrupt ending leaves the door wide open for a sequel, a presumptuous way to end things that's right in line with its abrasive hero's stratospherically-inflated sense of confidence even though almost everyone bites it under his command and he never sees the big plot twist coming. Cohan shows some action potential and Uwais gives it his best shot even though his work is repeatedly sabotaged by his director, but MILE 22 is just torpedoed from the start by Wahlberg in one of the most aggressively off-putting "hero" star turns you'll ever see in a major movie. (R, 93 mins)
those always turn out great), the dismal GOTTI was set to be released directly to VOD in December 2017 until Lionsgate abruptly whacked it and sold it back to the producers, who were hoping for a wide release with another distributor. It didn't quite pan out that way, with Vertical Entertainment and MoviePass teaming up to get it on 500 screens, with 40% of the people who saw it theatrically being MoviePass subscribers. Couple that with some obvious juicing of the moviegoer ratings and reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (where a suspicious number of glowing GOTTI reviews were written by people who just joined the site and reviewed nothing but GOTTI), and one might assume GOTTI is not very good. And they'd be right. It's quite terrible, actually, and you know from the start that it'll be something special when two consecutively-placed credits read "Emmett Furla Oasis Films" and "Emmet (sic) Furla Oasis Films." Travolta, one of 57 (!) credited producers, spent years getting this project off the ground, but it looks just like any other straight-to-VOD, Redbox-ready clunker, with NYC mostly unconvincingly played by Cincinnati, OH. GOTTI, a film that makes KILL THE IRISHMAN look like GOODFELLAS, isn't very interested in telling a story as much as it is fashioning a John Gotti hagiography, being quite open in its admiration of the "Teflon Don" and his family, as if they were just hardworking, everyday folks getting a bum rap from the FBI. It plays like a long "Previously on..." recap from a mercifully non-existent TV series, with no drive or momentum to its narrative and instead going for a Cliffs Notes recap of major events in Gotti's life, with constant mentions of rats, respect, and "fuckin' cocksuckas!" It actually opens with Travolta in full Gotti makeup, breaking the fourth wall, standing with his back to a digital composite of the NYC skyline and addressing the viewer from beyond the grave like he's hosting a TV special: "This is New York City...MY fuckin' city!"
8. THE DEVIL AND FATHER AMORTH
BULLSHIT OR NOT? (Unrated, 69 mins)
7. HELLRAISER: JUDGMENT and DAY OF THE DEAD: BLOODLINE (tie)
DAY OF THE DEAD 2: CONTAGIUM, then a DAY OF THE DEAD remake in 2008, and now another remake titled DAY OF THE DEAD: BLOODLINE, which plays like a bad episode of THE WALKING DEAD. They co-produced both DAY remakes with Avi Lerner's Cannon cover band Millennium and managed to secure a few recognizable names for the 2008 travesty (a slumming Steve Miner directed, and the cast was headlined by Mena Suvari, Ving Rhames, and, for some reason, Nick Cannon). All DAY OF THE DEAD: BLOODLINE has in the way of star power is Johnathon Scheach in the "Bub" role. This time he goes by Max, and in a prologue, he's a creep with a rare abundance of antibodies in his blood, which is being regularly tested and studied by med school research team. Max is fixated on one student, Zoe (Sophie Skelton), and he's even carved her name into his right arm. He attempts to rape her after a blood draw but he's cock-blocked by a re-animated corpse, which kicks off cinema's umpteenth zombie apocalypse, this time on the unconvincing "normal American city" streets of the Nu Boyana backlot in Bulgaria.
6. AIR STRIKE
INCHON if remade by The Asylum. The making of the film seems far more interesting than anything that ended up onscreen, a jumbled hodgepodge of characters and events taking place in 1939 during the Second Sino-Japanese War, where Japan launched near-constant bombing raids that decimated Chongqing. There's three different storylines, with characters sometimes intersecting and ending up in places and you have no idea how they got there (the Chinese characters are badly dubbed in English, while the Japanese villains get subtitles). There's former pilot Xue Gangtou (Ye Liu), injured on a mission and reassigned to military intelligence, where he's to ensure that a truck with a secret McGuffin cargo must gets to Chongqing, complete with a half-assed WAGES OF FEAR crossing over a precarious bridge. There's a team of fighter pilots overseen by constipated-looking US military adviser Col. Jack Johnson (top-billed export value Bruce Willis), who barks orders and has to whip them into shape. And there's tons of gratuitous mahjong at a local bar.
|"Consultant" Mel Gibson on the set|
with director Xiao Feng
5. SHOWDOWN IN MANILA
HUMAN HIGHWAY with Dean Stockwell, the two heading a cast that also included Dennis Hopper, Russ Tamblyn, Sally Kirkland, and Devo. PARADOX is Young's first cinematic vanity project since 2003's GREENDALE, a feature-length music video intended to accompany his album of the same name, a collaboration with his best-known backing band, Crazy Horse. Like GREENDALE, PARADOX is more or less a musical collage (or, in Hannah's words, a "loud poem") with seemingly random selections of Young songs old and new, but it's a tedious, pretentious chore to sit through even at 73 minutes. To give you an idea of just how smug and self-satisfied PARADOX is, there's meaningless chapter titles ("II: Time To Feed the Good Wolf"), and at the end, the screen actually fades to black, followed by a "Fin." In 2018.
"paradox" in the title. (Unrated, 73 mins)
3. CHINA SALESMAN
sleeper agent Steven Seagal is credited as "Steve Segal" (!!!). A $20 million epic that tanked in China a year earlier, CHINA SALESMAN was picked up for the US by Cleopatra Entertainment--the company that gave us 2017's worst film, the Kazakh shitshow-in-a-dumpster-fire DIAMOND CARTEL--and prominently features Seagal and Mike Tyson in its advertising, making it a veritable Who's Who of #MeToo. But the American guest stars have relatively minor roles, with the focus on Li Dongxue as Yan Jian, an ambitious representative from Chinese tech company DH Telecom, who's in Uganda trying to negotiate a lucrative contract to establish 3G wireless communication at newly-constructed cell phone towers in the civil war-torn country. Pretty scintillating stuff, with a lot of screen time devoted to captivating meetings and boardroom backstabbing as Yan Jian and his associate Ruan Ling (Li Ai) are in constant danger of being railroaded by duplicitous Eurotrash shitbag Michael Duchamp (Clovis Fouin), who's also trying to close the deal for his company and seems to be on the good side of Susanna (Janicke Askevold), the head of the independent committee charged with deciding the victor in the 3G bidding war. But Susanna eventually sides with Yan Jian, who's heroically depicted as the only person who can save Uganda, right down to a patently ridiculous scene where he risks life and limb to plant a Chinese flag, which he and Susanna then passionately wave as they drive past cheering Ugandan soldiers.
|Steven Seagal's character has a framed |
action still of Steven Seagal on his desk.
2. THE CON IS ON
THE DEVIL YOU KNOW was shelved for eight (!) years before its 2013 release and only resurfaced because it featured an unknown-in-2005 Jennifer Lawrence in a supporting role (also, should it have been a premonition that he's the stepson of Jimmy Haslam, the owner of the historically hapless and mildly resurgent Cleveland Browns?), THE CON IS ON abandons its stars in one unfunny situation after another, leaving them little to do but fall back on various vulgarities or, in Posey's case, flail around and generally embarrass herself. It's apparently supposed to be funny that Harriet and Peter are such unrepentant misanthropes, but isn't it key to any kind of screwball comedy that the central characters have some element of charm? Thurman is glamorous enough but Roth looks genuinely defeated by the futility of the whole endeavor, and it's the kind of film that thinks an establishing shot of an Asian dry cleaning establishment should be accompanied by the sound of a gong, a punchline that was past its sell-by date roughly around the time of THE FIENDISH PLOT OF DR. FU MANCHU. Considering the quality of its cast, THE CON IS ON is truly, unbelievably bad. Stunningly bad. The only reason it'll get any attention at all going forward is for a brief and largely-implied but admittedly bold sex scene that features a topless Thurman being pleasured by a salad-tossing Maggie Q, but it comes early and is hardly worth enduring the entire film. There's also a brief Melissa Sue Anderson sighting, if any LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE or HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME superfans give a shit. (R, 95 mins)
And the worst film of 2018...
1. CON MAN
article, Minkow was even picked up on a hot mic between takes bragging to Caan about how he financed the movie by "clipping" companies. Minkow denied saying anything, even daring someone to produce the tape, forcing director/co-writer Bruce Caulk to do just that and turn the recording over as evidence. And yes, Minkow said it. Because of course he did.
2014 news report of Minkow's sentencing
|Director Bruce Caulk on the set with James Caan in 2009: |
"Bruce, did you hear what Minkow just told me?"
Minkow's arrest left the completed film in limbo, since it was intended to be an uplifting--occasionally veering into full-on faithsploitation--look at a criminal's redemption (complete with ridiculous sequences of Minkow, wearing a wire, chasing some bad guys through a hotel like he's an action hero and, in a prison yard football game, getting the full Rudy Ruettiger treatment after throwing the game-winning TD) and its very existence was due to the crimes he committed to get it made. After the climactic sequence with Minkow looking like a savior by risking his life to save an old man's retirement savings, the film half-assedly addresses his fall from grace faster than THE ITCHY & SCRATCHY SHOW got rid of Poochie. I guess if you're a GODFATHER fan, you can feel really depressed at seeing Caan, Shire, and Russo back together in the same movie (Caan and Russo do share a scene near the end, and it would've been nice to see Sonny Corleone and Carlo Rizzi set aside their differences to collaborate on a merciless beatdown of Barry Minkow), but CON MAN is a con job itself, nothing more than Barry Minkow furiously jerking himself off to Barry Minkow fan fiction concocted by Barry Minkow himself. Fuck Barry Minkow. (Unrated, 100 mins)
Other 2018 films to avoid: BACKSTABBING FOR BEGINNERS, BAYOU CAVIAR, BEL CANTO, BLACK WATER, BLEEDING STEEL, THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX, DARK CRIMES, DISTORTED, THE ESCAPE OF PRISONER 614, ESCAPE PLAN 2: HADES, THE FIRST PURGE, FIRST WE TAKE BROOKLYN, FUTURE WORLD, THE HUMANITY BUREAU, KINGS, MOHAWK, REPRISAL, SIBERIA, SPEED KILLS, STEPHANIE, SUBMERGENCE, and 2036: ORIGIN UNKNOWN
*Note: Given its apocalyptically bad reviews, it bears mentioning that I haven't seen HOLMES & WATSON. Let's just assume it would make the cut.