THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


I always say that the reason for making a Ten Best list is to remind people of great movies they may have missed. If a critic can help guide people to an excellent movie, that's a worthy service provided. So what's the point of a Ten Worst list? To remind people to stay away from movies that - more often than not - they didn't bother to see in the first place? Actually, there isn't really a purpose, beyond the critic’s semi-selfish desire to bash dreadful movies one more time. Mostly, I do a Ten Worst list because people always tell me they look forward to one. Somebody once told me a critic’s bad reviews are often more entertaining than the movies themselves. So there you go.

As always, a few ground rules: First, for this one time of year, I allow myself to be as vitriolic as I'd like. Typically, I try to make logical, substantive points about a bad movie's badness. Here, I'm just going to “have at it” - no holds barred. Second, I continue to be selective as to what constitutes one of the "worst" movies of the year. An essential criteria is that a movie had to have real potential that it shamelessly wastes. For example, I could have easily included Halloween: Resurrection on this list (it certainly was bad enough), but why attack yet another in a series of sorry sequels to a horror classic? After this many years and this many bad follow-ups, I didn't exactly expect the picture to be a masterpiece. Low budget movies by aspiring filmmakers don't qualify either; I'm not going to trash some unknown when I could be chastising established filmmakers who ought to know better. Straight-to-video movies, such as the execrable K-9: P.I., are also exempt. They've suffered enough. Or maybe not.

This might also be a good time to mention that there are plenty of movies which will not be on this list simply because they weren't bad enough. As much as I disliked Life or Something Like It, Mr. Deeds, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, Stealing Harvard, Star Trek: Nemesis, and Analyze That, they simply didn't suck enough to make this list. The New Guy almost made it, but that film admittedly made me laugh pretty hard two times, so I spared it. Also cutting it close was Big Fat Liar. I despised this movie's message to kids - it's okay to get revenge against people you don't like - but it at least had the always-amusing Paul Giamatti in the cast, and that has to count for something.

No one else gets any mercy whatsoever. It's payback time. These are my picks for the Ten Worst Films of 2002:

Elizabeth Hurley and MatthewPerry star in the laughless comedy Serving Sara
10. Serving Sara - When you see a movie in a completely empty theater, it means one of two things: a.) you have stumbled onto a brilliant-yet-flagrantly-non-commercial masterpiece; or b.) you’re about to endure a turkey of astronomical proportions. In the case of this film, it was the latter. (By comparison, there was one other patron present when I saw Pluto Nash.) This laughless comedy starred Matthew Perry doing a Chandler Bing-as-tough-guy impression and Elizabeth Hurley apparently channeling the voice of Fran Drescher. The low point: Perry massaging a cow’s prostate. I can only wonder what possessed the people involved to make this movie. In Perry’s defense, he was admitted to drug rehab halfway through shooting.

9. fear dot com - A psychopath charges perverts with computers to watch him torture and murder women via live webcam. Who, exactly, is the genius at Warner Brothers who thought anyone would want to see such a disgusting premise? (Probably the same cat who greenlit my #5 film.) What’s really appalling is that director William Malone spent 90 minutes confusing and sickening the audience, then pulled out a show-stoppingly original finale. Hey, Bill – next time, make the whole movie that good!

8. The Santa Clause 2 - I’d rather spend the holidays with Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch than sit though this misguided sequel again. A cynical and obnoxious follow-up to a sweet original, the picture was almost totally without charm. Tim Allen strained for laughs as Santa, who must take a wife before Christmas in order to keep the job. Maybe he should have auditioned for “The Bachelor.” To my eternal astonishment, The Santa Clause 2 went on to become a box office success, which only proves one thing: someday I’ll have to endure The Santa Clause Part III.

7. John Q - Another movie that audiences loved and critics hated. Denzel Washington played a father who takes hostages in a hospital ER in order to get his dying son on a transplant list. I thought this was more like a 2-hour Public Service Announcement than a movie; at one point, an uncaring hospital administrator (Anne Heche) practically looks into the camera and says, “There are 50 million people in the United States without health care! If you don’t like it, call your congressman!” I expected to see a 1-800 number flash across the bottom of the screen. Now, I’m no defender of HMOs, but John Q was, to paraphrase Jakob Dylan, just shooting fish in a barrel of honey.

6. Igby Goes Down - Here’s a movie a lot of critics did love. In fact, many of them tripped over their own tongues praising writer/director Burr Steers’ feature debut. I have a different take. On Kieran Culkin’s supposedly Oscar-worthy performance as a Holden Caulfield-esqe teen: nothing special, especially since the character is substantially underwritten. On the supporting performances from Jeff Goldblum, Susan Sarandon, and Claire Danes: unmemorable at best. On the movie itself: pretentious crap.

Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu square off in the insipid Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever
5. Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever - The movie itself is even more stupid than the title. Antonio Banderas and Lucy Liu star as secret agents who team up to fight a common enemy – which rules out any chance of the title getting a Truth in Advertisement award. The picture feels like it was edited in a Cuisinart, and the actors just look ridiculous. Most bizarre is the following credit: “Directed by Kaos.” How appropriate for one of the most chaotic and frustrating movies of the 21st century.

4. Crossroads - Ever walked out of a movie and realized you couldn’t remember anything about it by the time you got to the parking lot? I had that kind of experience with this starring vehicle for Britney Spears. Truth be told, I wasn’t rooting for this movie to be bad, even though Spears is an obvious target for critical slings and arrows. I wanted to see a fun, bubblegum movie – something along the lines of, I don’t know, Spice World (which, now that I think about it, was one of the worst films of its year). What I got was a dour drama about rape, parental abandonment, and a young woman’s desire to lose her virginity to an ex-con. It still floors me how many parents I know who let their teenage daughters watch a movie with such bad messages for kids. Incidentally, the award for Best Performance by a Pop Princess goes to Mandy Moore in A Walk to Remember. Now there’s a kid who might make a successful leap to the big screen.

3. Master of Disguise - Remember how funny Dana Carvey was on “Saturday Night Live” when he played all those characters? Well, so does he. Unfortunately, this atrocious “comedy” features Carvey playing about two dozen characters, not a single one of which is even one one-billionth as funny as the Church Lady or Garth. As if that weren’t bad enough, Master of Disguise was a total train wreck of a movie. It ran a mere 70 minutes, followed by nearly 15 more minutes of end credits that jammed in bloopers, outtakes, and deleted scenes. I don’t think I have seen a more inept job of film editing in all the time I’ve been reviewing movies.

2. Enough - Appropriately named because after watching it for two hours you’re likely to yell “Enough! Enough already!” Jennifer Lopez played an abused wife who formulates an elaborate plan to run away from her husband in the middle of the night, when she could have just waited until he went to work the next morning. That kind of “idiot logic” permeates the story. If any of the characters had an IQ above 7, the movie would be over in about two minutes. Enough also makes the mistake of trivializing domestic abuse. I say, what about audience abuse? Is there a lawyer I can call?

And my choice for the worst film of 2002 is:

The worst movie of 2002 is National Lampoon's Van Wilder, starring Ryan Reynolds
1. National Lampoon’s Van Wilder - Remember when the National Lampoon name used to be attached to good movies like Animal House and Vacation? Well, now the moniker apparently can go on any half-assed comedy destined for middle-of-the-night showings on Cinemax. The “story” here involves Van Wilder (Ryan Reynolds, trying to be Jason Lee), a perpetual college student who earns tuition by planning parties. The movie conveniently sidesteps the fact that most of these parties seem to involve paying women to have sex with nerds. Tara Reid co-stars as a reporter (ha!) doing an article on the playboy, but she’s really nothing more than eye candy. I have picked National Lampoon’s Van Wilder because it is not funny, but also because it is vile and offensive. In what has to be one of the low points in the history of cinema, Wilder and friends masturbate a bulldog, then inject its semen into eclairs, which are then mailed to some annoying frat brothers. The nauseating scene is belabored when we see the brothers excessively savoring their “creaminess.” Van Wilder made me feel dirty – not something I want to feel when I go to the movies. How sad that National Lampoon – once so cutting edge and anti-establishment - is now cranking out such juvenile filth. This is the kind of movie that Bluto, Otter, and the rest of the Delta House boys would have trashed a theater for showing.

Those are my personal picks for the worst of 2002. Seen any of them? My deepest condolences. Missed them? I envy you.

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