The Ten Worst Films of 2002

Finding ten awful films for 2001 was all too easy. For 2002 I actually had to struggle to complete the list. Could it be that the overall film quality improved last year? I think so. In all fairness, I did avoid some of 2002's more stomach-turning offerings, such as Jackass, The Hot Chick, Swept Away, Serving Sara, and Pinocchio. Hey, any year has it's turkeys. It just seemed as though there were less of them in 2002, and more films to actually enjoy.

So this time I had to look harder, even going into foreign and independent films. But I got my ten. Some confused, some irritated, some frustrated, and they all made me wish for my time back:

10. The Scorpion King (dir. Chuck Russell)
With a plot and atmosphere lifted right from the Conan movies, The Scorpion King makes you appreciate Arnold Schwarzenegger. For all his faults, "Ahnuld" exudes a sense of purpose and determination. The Rock has the build and the look, but not much else. He lacks the screen presence to become a legitimate action hero. And as The Rock goes (or doesn't), so goes the movie. Other than some attractive women there's nothing there. With a guilty pleasure action film I can forgive a recycled, patched-together story if I get tight pacing and exciting action scenes, but The Scorpion King has neither. The fight sequences in particular were mundane and pedestrian. The Scorpion King is no guilty pleasure; it's just guilty.

9. Late Marriage (dir. Dover Koshashvili)
My old Hebrew school teachers would gasp at me including an Israeli film on this list, but I had no choice. Every scene in Late Marriage drags on forever, as does the entire film. Lior Ashkenazi plays Zaza, a thirtysomething bachelor whose meddlesome parents try desperately to fix him up with a "nice girl." Our hero loves a divorced mother who is unacceptable to his parents. Zaza acts so excruciatingly passive he makes Bartleby look like General Patton. His parents grow more annoying as the film progresses. Lili Koshashvili, as Zaza's mother, mumbles her lines with all the expression of Steven Seagal on Valium. How did she get her job? She's the director's mother. Critics heaped praise on Late Marriage, and I can't figure out why. Maybe it's the old "If it's foreign, it must be good," mentality. Let Late Marriage remind us that just because a film isn't from Hollywood, doesn't mean it's not junk.

8. Unfaithful (dir. Adrian Lyne)
Unfaithful wastes a career performance from Diane Lane, who is brilliant as a loving, conflicted and adulterous housewife. If Lyne had built the film around her he could have had something worthwhile. Instead he pairs her with the handsome but bland Oliver Martinez, who plays a character straight from a cheap romance novel. Worse yet, the second half shifts away from Lane and to Richard Gere as the cuckolded husband. Lyne (perhaps trying to echo Fatal Attraction) turns the film into a clunky thriller that goes nowhere. Gere again demonstrates his innate ability to suck the life out of any film (Chicago being a notable exception). Lyne displays the sexy flash that has become his trademark, but fails at simple storytelling.

7. Possession (dir. Neil LaBute)
LaBute's films used to simmer with viciousness. He capably moved away from that with the sweet, charming Nurse Betty. But perhaps he's strayed too far. With Possession, LaBute delves into the type of staid, stodgy romance best left to the Merchant/Ivory team. Possession alternates between two plot lines. The first is a 19th century romance between famous poets Randolph Ash and Christabel LaMotte. The second is a modern day love story between two scholars who gradually discover Ash and LaMotte's affair. The older tale has some interest due to the sparks between Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle. Unfortunately, Possession spends more time with the modern story and suffers from Aaron Eckhart and Gwyneth Paltrow having zero chemistry. LaBute tries but fails to evoke tension and anticipation in the search for historical papers. Possession quickly becomes dull and monotonous. Let's hope this was just a misfire and that LaBute returns to form soon.

6. Scooby-Doo (dir. Raja Gosnell)
Why turn Scooby-Doo into a live-action film? So we can see Freddie Prize, Jr. one more time? The cartoon was never a classic but always had a certain kitschy charm. That's all gone as none of the actors brings anything to the table, save for Matthew Lillard's dead-on spot as Shaggy. The computer generated Scooby-Doo doesn't even look like the original. The haunted island story provides little opportunity for laughs, concluding with a lame, effects-heavy climax. Unfortunately, audiences showed up for Scooby-Doo meaning we're in for many copycats. What's next: a live-action Smurfs? Stick with the cartoons.

5. Pumpkin (dir. Anthony Abrams and Adam Larson Broder)
The New York Times accurately called Pumpkin "Tod Solondz lite." Solondz makes brutal satires of upper/middle class suburbia, cultural hypocrisy, and interpersonal cruelty. Pumpkin could have been a nice uplifting tale about Carolyn, a shallow sorority girl whose life is transformed when she falls for a handicapped boy. Pumpkin could also have been a Solondz type effort. The film tries to be both, and succeeds at neither. It's too ironic to be inspiring or moving, and it's too hokey to be an effective satire. Matters aren't helped by the horrible miscasting of Christina Ricci as Carolyn. Ricci is at her best as the misfit, not the homecoming queen. Pumpkin also gives way too much screen time to Kent, Carolyn's annoying preppie boyfriend. The result of all of this is an unconvincing, unamusing film.

4. Men in Black II (dir. Barry Sonnenfeld)
Five years elapsed since the first Men in Black. You'd think Sonnenfeld and his team would have used that time to produce a decent script. Men in Black was a brilliantly constructed film that built up the comic situations and drew from the chemistry of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. Men in Black II feels rushed and thrown together, as if the story was written in one night. It takes the film way too long to get Smith and Jones back together and when it does, it's so late that they can't develop the repartee they had in the first effort. The film has a scant few genuinely funny moments, but too many of the jokes fall flat. Smith and Jones only agreed to appear in Men in Black II for $20 million apiece, and after watching this film, you can understand why.

3. John Q (dir. Nick Cassavetes)
John Q
is proof that there's no such thing as a can't miss film. It has a compelling hook - a man whose insurance won't pay his dying son's medical care holds an ER hostage. He demands that doctors perform the operation that will save his son's life. John Q also has an all-star cast including Denzel Washington, Robert Duvall, James Woods and Ray Liotta. How can you possibly screw this up? Easy. First, ignore all moral complexity by providing two-dimensional characters: the angelic son, the steadfast friend, the smarmy doctor, and the evil hospital director. Even the hostages fit simple stereotypes, including the black cool guy and the scummy abusive boyfriend. Second, fill the story with obvious plot mechanics that you can see from a mile away. Finally, add in a generous helping of preachy dialogue, in case anyone in the audience might possibly miss the point. Throw it all together and you have John Q, a film meant to be thought-provoking and uplifting that's instead dumb and insulting.

2. feardotcom (dir. William Malone)
A horror movie where you feel like one of the victims. Everyone who visits the "feardotcom" website suffers a horrible death. Naturally, instead of staying away, websurfers keep logging on (much like the teenagers who keep coming to the summer camp in the Friday the 13th movies). The mindless story plays second fiddle to "boo" scare tactics, and Seven-ripoff visuals. Don't look for help from the actors. Stephen Dorff and Natascha McElhone, as the lead investigators, phone in "When does the check clear?" level performances. Stephen Rea (who should stick to Neil Jordan films) chews the scenery as a third-rate Hannibal Lecter-wannabe killer. Feardotcom also features graphic torture scenes in brutal detail. A more talented filmmaker could imply torture through suggestion, deft camerawork and sound, but there's no such subtlety here. These scenes feel increasingly sickening and sadistic as the film lumbers on. In feardotcom, those who logon to the website suffer their darkest fears. That must mean if I logged on, I would need to see the film again.

1. Rollerball (dir. John McTiernan)
Who would have imagined that Planet of the Apes would have such a brief reign as the worst remake of the decade? The original Rollerball, from director Norman Jewison, was one of many 1970s sci-fi dystopia films. Set in the future, rollerball (a combination of roller derby and basketball) is the most popular sport. Huge corporations, which control the game and the planet, tweak the game to maximize violence and viewers. Against all of this is Jonathan E. (James Caan), rollerball's Michael Jordan, who truly loves his sport. The first Rollerball was a real examination of sports' role in society, corporate influence, and where it could lead. Much of it seems all the more prescient today. The remake has none of this - no thought, no commentary, and barely a story. The new film is set in a present-day fictional nation. The emphasis is on the visceral thrills and nothing else. Instead of Caan, who projected both earnestness and weariness, we get Chris Klein, who projects . . . nothing. Even the film's (and McTiernan's) calling card, the action scenes, fall woefully short. The cuts are so quick it's hard to tell who's doing what. For reasons known only to him, McTiernan filmed one entire sequence in night vision. McTiernan used to be one of the premier action movie directors, but needs to get his fastball back. Staying away from remakes would be a good start.

Adam Spector
January 31, 2003

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