The Ten Worst Films of 2001

In mulling over a list of 2001's worst films I realized that this was the first year I did not envy professional film critics. Every weekend seemed to bring a groan-inducing "If you put a gun to my head, I might consider watching it" movie. You and I could avoid these flicks, but the pros could not. I steered clear of Pearl Harbor, Tomb Raider, Tomcats, Freddy Got Fingered, How High, Summer Catch, Joe Somebody, The Wash, Town and County, and Sweet November. To those who were forced to endure all or any of these films, I can only offer my sympathies.

The sad part is that even without those films just listed, I still had no problem coming up with a ten worst list. I actually had to leave off films such as The Affair of the Necklace, The Gift, and Training Day. But I was still left with a group of films that confounded, disappointed, or made me want to run screaming from the theater:

10. The Majestic (dir. Frank Darabont) - Perhaps no film had better intentions than The Majestic, which celebrates patriotism, free speech, classic movie theaters, and small town values. But it just doesn't work. Darabont clumsily tries to fuse Frank Capra-esque Americana with a Hollywood blacklisting tale. Jim Carrey plays a blacklisted screenwriter who loses his memory after a car crash. He finds himself mistaken for a World War II hero in a town so wholesome it makes Mayberry seem like Vegas. Carrey and a talented supporting cast avail themselves honorably, but they are constrained by heavy-handed writing and direction. The Majestic crashes with a complete copout ending loaded with forced sentimentality. Perhaps Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile) should stick with prison stories after all.

9. Along Came a Spider (dir. Lee Tahamori) - Morgan Freeman can usually make any film credible, but even he struggles in this ridiculous, ill-plotted "thriller." Freeman plays a detective called in after a kidnapper takes a senator's daughter. The resulting cat-and-mouse story has more holes than the Colts' defense, but here are just a couple: the sixtysomething Freeman runs from Watergate to Union Station in ten minutes (for those who don't live in D.C., trust me that this would be impossible for Olympic sprinters), and that the Secret Service guards a senator's daughter in the first place. The villain is probably the nicest kidnapper in cinematic history - he could have gone into day care if his life of crime didn't pan out. Along Came a Spider is topped off with a pathetic ending where a key character knows something she would only know if she had read the script. Freeman deserves better.

8. Behind Enemy Lines (dir. John Moore) - 20th Century Fox execs clearly moved the release of Behind Enemy Lines up to capitalize on real-life events with a tale of military heroism, but they needn't have bothered. Owen Wilson stars as Lt. Chris Burnett, a navy aviator shot down in hostile Serbian territory while Gene Hackman plays Admiral Riegart, Burnett's commanding officer. Retrieving Burnett would be relatively easy for Riegart and his crew and not just because of the naval air and firepower advantage. Thanks to satellite technology they know exactly where Burnett is!!! But the naval crew cannot save him due to a NATO commander whose only role appears to be hampering rescue efforts. So we are subjected to Burnett trying to escape Serbian forces by hiding in places where they can always find him, while Riegart agonizes over what to do while we all know he will eventually disobey orders and bring his man home. The film drags on as it quickly loses what little credibility it had at the outset. Behind Enemy Lines is too contrived to have any meaning or inspirational value (as it was clearly intended) and is so light it makes Top Gun feel like Saving Private Ryan. At a time when we hear so many stories of real heroes at home and abroad, Behind Enemy Lines not only isn't a tribute to these brave men and women; it's an insult.

7. Hannibal (dir. Ridley Scott) - If this were a Ten Most Disappointing List, the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs would take the top prize. Lambs was one of the most chilling films in the past 15 years, in part because it used Hannibal Lecter in small doses. The brevity, along with Anthony Hopkins's exquisite performance and his chemistry with Jodie Foster made all the Lecter scenes worth savoring. Hannibal simply has way too much Lecter, so much that his scenes become campy rather than scary. Lambs had a wonderful story completely outside of Lecter, as FBI trainee Clarice Starling struggled to both find a serial killer and prove herself, while overcoming her own demons. In Hannibal, Starling (now played by Julianne Moore) is almost an afterthought, and there is no story other than Lecter. The ending is bizarre and grotesque merely for the sake of being bizarre and grotesque. Kudos to Foster for withdrawing from Hannibal, leaving the memory of her Lambs performance intact. If only Hopkins had followed suit.

6. Planet of the Apes (dir. Tim Burton) - In a year that gave us one of the best remakes (Ocean's Eleven), we also had to suffer through one of the worst. The original may have been cheesy but it had real ideas at its core (Rod Serling co-wrote the screenplay). It took great care to establish the ape-dominated society and why humans were treated as savages. None of this imagination exists in the new version. The humans on the planet seem just as intelligent as the apes but are completely dormant until the spaceman arrives. If we had a charismatic hero this set-up might make some sense, but Mark Wahlberg is so lifeless that you long for Charlton Heston's overacting. Brilliant makeup work and strong special effects are wasted on flat characters and routine action scenes. Where the original film's surprise ending tied the whole film together, the remake's finish feels tacked-on and uninspired, as though the filmmakers put a surprise in there because they thought they had to. Burton has had some misfires before but they were always interesting. Not anymore.

5. Captain Corelli's Mandolin (dir. John Madden) - Not that I'd ever want America to be occupied by foreign forces, but if it were, I'd choose the Italian army from Captain Corelli's Mandolin. All they want to do is sing, drink and chase women. It's like being invaded by the Rat Pack, only kinder. Had the Italian armies that occupied Greece during WWII been as much fun as portrayed in the film, you could hardly see why the Greek citizenry would object. The merry soldiers might not be a problem if Captain Corelli's Mandolin were a comedy. But it is supposed to be a romantic wartime drama. It's impossible to take this film seriously, and not just because of the ludicrous way the soldiers are portrayed. The romance falls flat, hampered by an awful screenplay and zero chemistry between co-stars Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz. Cage suffers from his over-the-top Chef Boyardee Italian accent (How can someone who is Italian do an Italian accent so badly?), while Cruz struggles to even pronounce her lines correctly. Sadly, this is Madden's first film since Shakespeare in Love. I don't believe there's been a drop-off of this degree since Steven Spielberg followed Close Encounters of the Third Kind with 1941.

4. 3000 Miles to Graceland (dir. Demian Lichtenstein) - The worst assault on Elvis Presley's legacy since Michael Jackson married Lisa Marie. The trailer presented 3000 Miles to Graceland as a fun Elvis-themed caper movie (Five men dressed as Elvis rob a casino, with their leader claiming to be The King's illegitimate son). But the caper part ends quickly, as does the fun. The movie becomes a mindless, dull and excessively violent escapade, as Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell chase each other around the country trying to retrieve the stolen cash. Meanwhile, Russell's character's romance with a hustler (and an unsettling relationship with her son) adds absolutely nothing. The film simply plods along until the inevitable shootout at the end. Elvis fans should be outraged, and so should anyone else who paid good money to see this waste.

3. AntiTrust (dir. Peter Howitt) - I almost regret including AntiTrust because it ranks so high on the Unintentional Comedy Scale. The film intends to serve as a Wall Street style morality play focusing on the computer industry, with an ambitious young programmer going to work for a psuedo-Bill Gates tycoon. But instead of showing the real dangers and evils that can exist in the world it portrays (as Wall Street did), AntiTrust has the Microsoft-type company literally killing off their competition. To make life more convenient for our hero, the company videotapes the murders. Not only that, but the murders and all the other elements of the vast conspiracy are included on a Website with easy point-and-click access. If only Woodward and Bernstein had it that easy. The laughter grows as the film races through its ridiculous plot points, including one that involves killer sunflower seeds (I swear I'm not making this up). This is a thriller without thrills, but there's no other film on this list that I enjoyed more.

2. A Knight's Tale (dir. Brian Helgeland) - Let's get the one positive out of the way: Paul Bettany has an amusing turn as Geoffrey Chaucer. That's it. Done. Absolutely nothing else in A Knight's Tale works. This lame attempt to package the Middle Ages for the MTV crowd never gives you any reason to care about the story or the characters. The film's time period is critical because the "knight's tale" is of a peasant who passes himself off as a knight in order to compete in jousting tournaments. But the film quickly loses any believability by accompanying its medieval story with a 1970s rock soundtrack. Such discord might work with a spoof, but not with a dramatic film. And yes, it is intended to be dramatic with pathos involving the knight's ailing father and his quest for the hand of a fair young maiden. The soundtrack alone would be enough to sink this film, but so would a multitude of other problems. Other than Chaucer none of the characters have any depth, with Rufus Sewell is completely wasted as a Snidely Whiplash villain. Don't look to the action scenes for redemption; I've seen more exciting jousting at the Maryland Renaissance Festival. Just for good measure you also get some of the most incompetently choreographed dance scenes ever filmed. I could go on, but I've already used more words for A Knight's Tale than it deserves.

1. MonkeyBone (dir. Henry Selick) - Tough call, only because it's difficult to find any film in any year that's more excruciating than A Knight's Tale. I'm going with MonkeyBone only because that there was no other film this year that I more desperately wanted to end. Brendan Fraser plays a cartoonist who, through a car accident and the resulting coma, travels to the world of his subconscious. Selick presents this bizarre world as though it had some degree of originality, when it's actually a rip-off of much better films, particularly Beetlejuice. The real trouble (for the audience) starts with the introduction of the title character, the cartoonist's creation bought to life in his mind. "MonkeyBone" is intended to be an outrageous, hilarious force of nature (again in the Beetlejuice mold), but is completely unfunny and totally annoying. Every second this character is on screen is pure torture. Now here's one of the rare times where an actor's talent works against the film. "MonkeyBone" escapes from the subconscious and takes over the cartoonist's body. Fraser nails the monkey's style and mannerisms, meaning that he becomes just as irritating as the original. A film can withstand an annoying character if it has other fruits to offer, but save for a few funny minutes from Chris Kattan, the MonkeyBone cupboard is empty. "Make it stop!!! Please make it stop!!!" or thoughts to that effect filled my mind as MonkeyBone continued. Thankfully, while the filmmakers did not make it stop, audiences did by staying away in droves and sparing us from the nightmare of a MonkeyBone II.

Adam Spector
January 16, 2002

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