They can’t all be winners, can they?
Let’s bitch it out…
Caveat before we get this gravy train rolling:
- Films had to be released in wide or limited release or VOD in 2017 to be eligible for consideration.
- I haven’t seen all of the films release in 2017, so this is a totally personal account of films I would warn even my most hated enemy away from.
- Obviously I want to hear all of your picks, so be sure to comment at the bottom. I added a few (Dis)Honourable Mentions below the top 5.
5) Molly’s Game (Sorkin, 2017)
Cue the trademark overwritten Sorkin dialogue.
In his feature film directorial debut Sorkin leans into voice over and punchy dialogue in a big way, to increasingly shrill results. The nearly ten minute prologue, in which Jessica Chastain introduces her backstory as a damaged Olympic skier, is like Sorkin firing a warning shot across the bow: this is what you can expect for the next two+ hours. If you can’t handle it, get out now. God how I wish I had.
The direction itself is passable and Chastain does her best with the Type-A title character but the script repeatedly lets her down. Idris Elba is little more than eye candy in a thankless role. He exists solely to contrast Kevin Costner’s emotionally abusive father. The film’s daddy issues and gender politics are lifted straight out of the 1950s. Even when the film tries to address them head on, it fails badly. Case in point: at one point, Molly comments about her “escort” wardrobe…and then continues to wear the exact same outfits for the remainder of the film as though we will forget or think of anything else whenever Molly is onscreen.
In a word: painful.
4) Suburbicon (Clooney, 2017)
Clooney should have known better.
There’s a reason why the script for Suburbicon was never made into a film by the Coen brothers: it sucks. The trailer, cut by some very skilled technicians, suggests that the film is a black comedy in the vein of Blood Simple. And one (predictable) part of it is: Matt Damond’s Gardner is embroiled in an insurance scam with his step-sister Margaret (a bored Julianne Moore) to knock off his wife, Rose (also Moore). That’s not a spoiler by the way – this comes out less than fifteen minutes in. What happens in some Fargo-lite shenanigans, which are meant to be funny (they aren’t) and shocking (they’re not). Only Oscar Isaacs’ inspired performance as a sleazy insurance investigator rises above the doldrums, but his role is little more than a cameo.
The bigger issue, then, is the parts of Suburbicon that the trailers cut around. All of the scenes of crowds and destruction are from the B-plot, which finds the all-white community losing their collective minds when the Meyers, a black family, dares to move into the neighborhood. The fact that everyone is town is in an uproar about family values and crime when murder and mayhem is literally happening across the yard is meant to be hilarious with a capital H. The problem is that this side of the plot is so improperly balanced – segregated, oft-forgotten, underdeveloped and repetitive – that you can’t help but feel that Clooney has made the same mistake as the racist idiot denizens of Suburbicon. This is a film at odds with itself: poorly constructed and difficult to sit through. It’s a major misfire.
3) Ghost In The Shell (Sanders, 2017)
Serial offender Rupert Sanders strikes again.
This is the first of two whitewashing narratives to make it on 2017’s naughty list. And while Ghost In The Shell is a more egregious example, surprisingly enough it’s not the worst of the two films. Of course that doesn’t make it a good film; just unnecessary.
Sanders’ latest effort is a prime example of Hollywood blockbusters mistakenly coveting a beloved foreign property and transforming it into a watered down, English language revamp of cobbled together Frankenstein’s monster pieces. In this case it’s one of the most philosophical anime films of all time: the original Ghost in the Shell explores the concept of souls, memory and humanity in a genre defying cyberpunk future. What Sanders transforms it into is a bland mish-mash of sci-fi clichés, with a few uninspired action sequences starring Scarlet Johansson in a skin-tight flesh coloured bodysuit.
So not great…and that’s before you add in some really ill-advised race/identity issues (SPOILER ALERT FOR A BAD MOVIE) that reveals Johansson’s Major is actually an Asian woman whose mind has been deposited into a white cyborg body. Because why would that be problematic in any way?
As you can imagine, that plot “twist” lands with a thud of staggeringly bad taste. Who, in 2017, thought that this kind of shit was ok? Avoid, avoid, avoid.
2) Death Note (Wingard, 2017)
Oh dear was this ever a painful viewing experience.
Not unlike the disastrous Ghost in the Shell remake, Death Note is a glossy Hollywood take on a beloved (albeit less well known) anime property about a high school student who discovers a book with the ability to kill. Obviously a parable about the corruption that accompanies absolute power, Death Note is most memorable for its dark antagonist, Ryuk (played here by Willem Dafoe) a trickster figure who tries to manipulate the human who finds the book to his advantage.
The premise is rife with possibility, but in the hands of horror director Adam Wingard (whose films are normally really good), it’s a misshapen, convoluted mess. The characters, particularly lead Light Turner (milquetoast Nat Wolff), are ill-defined and their motivation frequently makes no sense. The aesthetics of the world don’t gel, due in part to a collision of mismatched genres (noir meets high school drama meets political thriller) and the subplot about L (Lakeith Stanfield), some kind of private consultant to the police who looks around 12 years old, literally makes no sense.
The film is a mess, also suffers from whitewashing (is there a single Asian character in sight? Of course not!) and, mostly damning, it’s really f*cking boring. When you hope that everyone dies in the climax, clearly something isn’t working.
1) xXx 3: The Return of Xander Cage (Caruso, 2017)
There’s dumb fun…and then there’s xXx 3: The Return of Xander Cage.
Look, I like silly action films as much as the next person, but this goes beyond dumb. This is inept.
There’s precedent established by both the first xXx (I have not seen the second), as well as Vin Diesel’s other, much more successful franchise, for throwing the big lug into ridiculous situations and letting him punch, shoot and drive his way out of danger. Return of Xander Cage doesn’t simply go for this – it only offers this.
The plot is almost immaterial: Cage, who was killed offscreen between the first and second films, returns to lead a ragtag group of idiots and killers who are tasked with stopping a terrorist group led by Xiang (Donnie Yen), an xXx agent turned traitor. Cue the insane action setpieces, double crosses, and Ruby Rose shooting poachers (no lie).
The issue is not that the film has a terrible screenplay, or that the action is so ridiculous it’s cartoonish (there’s a seajet battle with such terrible green screen you’d think it was an outtake from Ringer), or even that director DJ Caruso appears to have lost all ability to make a remotely competent film. Not unlike Death Note, this film’s issue is that it is so bad it’s not even entertaining. It’s just stupid/bad/dumb.
The turd cherry on top, however, is questioning what Toni freaking Colette is doing in this movie. She is the biggest WTF of this entire gong show. Not only is she waaaaay too talented to be swimming in this shallow pond, she’s actually the worst thing about it. We are talking about a seriously miscast actress that either has no concept of what film she’s in or she knows exactly what kind of film she’s in, acts accordingly and stands out because no one else knows. Either way, her villain is so broad and so over the top, it becomes a distraction. It’s like she’s in a parody of a bad action film, but she’s actually just in a bad action film. It’s baffling, bizarre and kinda awesome.
But not enough to recommend. A disaster by all accounts is still a disaster and xXx 3: The Return of Xander Cage is by far the worst movie of 2017.
- Downsizing (Payne, 2017): This year’s second Matt Damon misfire is another “don’t trust the trailer” mess. Director Alexander Payne may have interesting observations to make about capitalism and the environment, but they are lost in this collision of two different movies (only one of which is the cutesy comedy about miniature people). Plus: the broad caricatures, the most prominent of which is borderline racist, had audiences grimacing.
- The Fate of The Furious (Gray, 2017): Who knew that deceased cast member Paul Walker was the heart of this franchise? Even the trademark ludicrous action sequences can’t save this convoluted mess, which finds Vin Diesel’s Dom turning traitor for Charlize Theron’s epically miscast villain, who looks like a reject from The Matrix sequels.
- Kong: Skull Island (Vogt-Roberts, 2017): A big bloated, boring monster mash in search of a raison d’etre. Tom Hiddleston is a bland protagonist, Brie Larson is given nothing to do and Samuel L. Jackson’s over the top performance has him practically foaming at the mouth. The FX may look great, but there’s no grounding element to invest in. Fail.
- The Babysitter (McG, 2017): Friend of the site, Valeska, and I are tore down McG’s dumb-as-a-rock revisionist slasher in our first He Said/She Said. Problematic gender issues, a saggy middle act and not enough fun doom this Netflix original to the reject pile.
- The Mummy (Kurtzman, 2017): Tom Cruise delivers his usual “scream/run” performance in this misguided attempt by Universal to launch a Dark Universe franchise. The plot is laughable, the action sequences don’t thrill and, worst of all, the movie is dull and boring.
- Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (Anderson, 2017): Milla Jovovich deserves better than this inept final entry into the videogame franchise. Devoid of any interesting ideas aside from a too-late-to-care revisionist twist that reframes the entire series (and makes no sense), one can only hope that the finality promised by the title is truth. Wait, a reboot is already in the works? Oh joy.
- Underworld: Blood Wars (Foerster, 2017): Kate Beckinsale also deserves better than this limp entry into the dying franchise, which tries to spice things up with the introduction of new vampires and an icy setting. Neither work.
That’s it for my Worst picks. What terrible films did you see this year?
Check out previous Worst Film lists: