1. “Buddy Games”
Few things are as bad as a movie that completely wastes a terrific premise, but “Buddy Games” is one of the absolute worst offenders in the history of cinema. This unconditionally awful, putrid movie is one that I’m angry I wasted my time watching. I kept waiting for it to get better and while I never gave up hope that the laughs would arrive, the movie gave up on me.
After a falling out years ago that involved a paintball gun and exposed (and exploded) testicles, six friends reunite to bring back an absurd mental and physical competition tradition they call the Buddy Games. The dynamics are different now, and the stakes are higher: the winner of this year’s games will not only win bragging rights, but will take home $150,000. It’s a terrific idea for a story, but nothing about it is executed well.
The movie isn’t original, and feels like a “The Do-Deca-Pentathlon” meets “Jackass” meets “Tag” copy cat. It’s a garbage rip-off of better adult friends playing games movies that themselves aren’t even that good to begin with, and some of the plot points and challenges are taken straight out of these other films.
Not only is it painfully unfunny, but it’s not even a good buddy movie. The characters are a bunch of losers who are as unlikable as they come. All of them are awful in their own way, especially the ringleader Bobfather (Josh Duhamel), his girlfriend Tiffany (Olivia Munn), the underdog Bender (Nick Swardson), and Shelly (Dan Bakkedahl), who can only be described as a deranged psychopath that nobody in their right minds would ever want to be within 10 feet of, much less be friends with.
The set-up is slow going and the momentum never picks up. It’s a shame to waste such a good cast with vomit-inducing jokes about semen cocktails and dance floor diarrhea. The “screenwriting” team (if you can call them writers) try to insert some warm-and-fuzzies near the end, but none of that works either. This laughless letdown is in the running for the worst movie of 2020.
2. “Artemis Fowl”
In today’s lecture titled “When Disney Films Go Wrong,” I present “Artemis Fowl,” a wholly unredeemable mess of a movie from director Kenneth Branagh. The studio dumped this trash heap on Disney+, and even the home streaming platform is far more than it deserves. There’s very little magic in this CGI-heavy family film, and it’s more of a yawn-fest than the engrossing adventure it obviously aspired to be.
Based on the first two books in author Eoin Colfer’s wildly popular children’s fantasy series, “Artemis Fowl” tells the ho-hum story of adolescent criminal genius Artemis (Ferdia Shaw), an annoying kid who captures vicious fairy Holly Short (Lara McDonnell) at her underground world in an attempt to harness the magical powers needed to rescue his dad (Colin Farrell). There isn’t much more to the plot than this, and the whole thing reeks of a grossly subpar “Harry Potter” rip-off. Even the story’s narrator, the oversized dwarf Mulch Diggums (Josh Gad), is a dead ringer for Hagrid.
The cast ranges from irritating and distracting (Shaw, McDonnell) to really talented actors who probably should’ve known better than to accept their roles for a Disney payday (Farrell, Gad, Judi Dench).
The movie gets progressively worse as it sputters along and, just when you think the film can’t sink any lower, a fabulously “wtf?!?” scene arrives where Diggums unhinges his jaw, scoops up dirt at a rapid pace, and poops it right on out of his rear end.
To be honest, I’d rather have watched that scene on a loop for the full 94 minutes rather than this substandard junk.
In one of the most mediocre movies so far this year, “Bloodshot” squanders every last positive thing it has going for it. Based on the bestselling sci-fi comic book, the film tells the story of recently killed soldier Ray Garrison (Vin Diesel) who is brought back to life as a super-assassin. Ray has an army of nanotechnology in his veins, making him an outrageously strong, unstoppable force who has the ability to instantly heal any injuries he sustains in combat. When his memories begin to contradict what’s reality and what’s fiction, Ray starts to suspect lead scientist Dr. Harting (Guy Pearce) may have sinister intentions — and he does everything in his superhuman power to stop him.
The film lacks enough material for a feature length film, and it feels like the story has been stretched out from the get-go. The plot is far-fetched but interesting, yet the best elements are dismissed in a rushed fashion. The film could’ve gone one of two ways, and it chooses the path of greatest disappointment, which leaves it in this weird limbo. It’s not quite smart enough and not quite dumb enough to work. Like when director Dave Wilson gets the sense that things are lagging, he inserts a not-so-subtle explosion or dick joke to keep things moving along. Yeah, it’s that kind of bad.
Even the action scenes fall victim to rapid-fire editing that is intended to disguise the bloodless PG-13 action flick. There’s an almost-satisfying extended fight sequence involving elevators and a skyscraper, but it comes late in the film when most audiences will likely have already lost interest. Even worse, there are no consequences because Ray can’t be hurt or killed, and the special effects look like they were created in a couple of hours by a pre-teen boy on the family room laptop.
Diesel is not a great actor, but that’s never been a job requirement to bring the charismatic, cinematic muscle to the big screen. He’s a perfectly acceptable action star, but here he turns in a laughably bad performance. His poor acting hogs the spotlight, especially when he shares scenes opposite the talented Pearce. This movie is absolute junk.
4. “Fantasy Island”
“Fantasy Island,” the latest from horror powerhouse Blumhouse, can be summed up in just four words: great premise, awful movie. It’s equal parts poorly acted, poorly directed, and poorly written, and the film’s bloodless PG-13 rating hinders its potential even further.
The film adds a new spin on the classic 1970s/80s television show of the same name, where wealthy guests travel to a luxurious, remote island resort to live out their greatest dreams and wishes. In this version, the island’s caretaker Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña) entices clients to come and make their deepest, darkest fantasies come true. But when the island begins spinning them into nightmares, the guests (Lucy Hale, Ryan Hansen, Maggie Q, Jimmy O. Yang, and Portia Doubleday) must band together to get make it out alive.
It’s actually a pretty solid idea for a horror movie, but everything goes wrong with the execution. The performances are absolutely terrible, and are of a daytime soap opera quality. I never felt any connection with any of the characters. Their individual stories range from compelling (a woman wants revenge on a childhood bully) to nonsensical (the stepbrothers who wish to have it all), and none reach a satisfying conclusion.
The plot really goes off the rails by the third act when the trio of screenwriters attempts to tie together all the loose threads. It makes zero sense, yet the story is played straight and not in a wildly ridiculous way. I’m not sure even a tongue-in-cheek angle would save this mess.
Jackie Chan is a treasure, especially to those of us who grew up watching his incredible martial art talents onscreen. He gets top billing in “Vanguard,” an unremarkable action film about a covert security company who must protect a man and his family from the world’s deadliest mercenary organization.
The only reason to watch a film like this is the stunt work, and the supporting performers show off their athleticism in a couple of decent fight scenes. If you came to see the 66-year-old Chan kick butt and take names, you’re going to leave as a dissatisfied customer. He can’t move like he used to, so he barely has anything exciting to do in the film.
The film creates the impression that it’s tailor-made for audiences in China, and most of the humor and storyline doesn’t translate well to North American viewers. I won’t go so far as to call it propaganda, but it comes close. Cartoonish Arabs are the villains, Chinese New Year features prominently, and the wildlife conservation message, while commendable, feels weird and out of place.
The action scenes are entertaining, from the typical fight in a kitchen to more inventive settings like a brawl between two boats on rushing rapids at the edge of a waterfall. The stunt driving is enjoyable, but the lousy performances and cut-rate production values sink the film. Abrupt fades to black and choppy directing (from Stanley Tong) is compounded by the laughably awful, overly cartoonish CGI.
Towards the end of the film there’s a wild ride through a Dubai shopping mall, but I’d venture a guess that most viewers will never make it that far through this stinker.
6. “Jay & Silent Bob Reboot”
I’m one of Kevin Smith‘s biggest fans, but “Jay and Silent Bob Reboot” is a colossal disappointment. What could’ve been a dream film for fans of these two stoner characters instead is nothing but a string of cameos and callbacks in a plot-less bore. Sure, it’s fun to see old favorites reappear (Joey Lauren Adams, Justin Long, Jason Biggs, and Ben Affleck, to name a few), but the longer this story drags on, the worse it becomes.
The two losers and “hetero lifemates” Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Smith) first hit the screen 25 years ago (yes, we are old!) in Smith’s first (and iconic) film “Clerks.” This reboot is a companion piece to the 2001 film “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,” and it helps if you’re well-versed in the director’s entire repertoire.
When Jay and Silent Bob discover that Hollywood is rebooting an old movie based on them, the clueless duo embark on another cross-country mission to stop it all over again. The final destination is Chronic Con, where they can find director Kevin Smith (playing an over-exaggerated, funny version of himself) and beat him up so the movie won’t get made. Along the way, the two bros encounter a series of misadventures along with new and old friends.
Let me stress this again, and even louder for those in the back: this movie is only for Smith’s diehard, faithful fan base.
This is not a movie for those who don’t already know and love the duo, as inside jokes make up the majority of the scenes. Newbies will get close to nothing out of this, and it’s not good enough to recruit the uninitiated.
Even worse, Smith has once again made the unwise decision to cast his daughter Harley Quinn Smith in a major role. This young woman does not have a future in the industry. She’s just not talented enough. I hate to pick on Harley, but she is such a distraction — and this is a movie with plenty of pathetic performances.
In what could’ve been a wacky road trip adventure, Smith sucks all the life and fun out of his already watered-down story. The jokes are awkward and forced, and the majority of the movie is painfully unfunny. Depending on your tolerance of Jason Lee (reprising his “Mallrats” character Brody), the movie starts off with a quick barrage of chuckles, but those brief moments die out too soon. Pile fuel on the fire with an uninspired, overly sentimental story about being older and wiser, and this one’s an unfortunate stinker.
When you hear the words “a Tom Hanks war movie,” there are certain expectations of quality that flash in your head (with good reason). Perhaps that’s why “Greyhound” feels like such a disappointment. This World War II military action film is one of the most boring war movies I have ever seen.
The screenplay, written by Hanks and based on the novel “The Good Shepherd” by C.S. Forester, recounts the fictional story of Captain Krause (Hanks), a veteran Navy officer who is serving as a first-time captain of a U.S. destroyer. Krause is tasked with protecting a convoy of three dozen ships carrying thousands of soldiers and supplies across the Atlantic. Krause and his men must navigate the treacherous waters for five days with no air support, relying only on the aid of two additional escort ships in an area of the ocean dubbed the “Black Pit.” Things get really bad when the fleet is attacked by Nazi U-boats, and a lengthy battle of ships vs. submarines breaks out.
The story is inspired by events that took place during the Battle of the Atlantic in the early days of WWII, but it’s not a true story. If that wasn’t enough of a bummer, the film is mediocre all around. From the dreadful original score (by Blake Neely) to the weak special effects and dreary cinematography, the movie screams “low budget” in more ways than one. It’s not cinematic, and the production values look and feel cheap. The film is poorly directed (by Aaron Schneider), who seems to hold a pathetic understanding of the architecture of visual excitement and suspense. Hence, the wartime action is mediocre and dull, and the entire project is little more than a crudely edited jump cut fiesta.
Hanks has written his character in such a one-dimensional manner that all Captain Krause really does is quote Bible verses and bark military lingo. The film assumes an advanced knowledge of technical military terms, making it all to easy to check out of the experience. It’s also overly religious, to the point that it could easily be a faith-based film.
“Greyhound” is nothing more than one long, non-exciting battle between a warship and submarines. There are far too many good war movies to spend your time watching than this blunder.
8. “Wild Mountain Thyme”
During most of the time I was screening writer / director John Patrick Shanley‘s “Wild Mountain Thyme,” I kept thinking to myself that it would be better suited to the stage rather than the screen. Turns out this movie actually is an adaptation of Shanley’s 2014 play, “Outside Mullingar.” That certainly explains a lot, but nothing excuses how a project with such a strong cinematic pedigree could produce a film that totally misses the mark by such a wide margin.
Headstrong farmer Rosemary Muldoon (Emily Blunt) has spent a lifetime pining for oblivious neighbor boy Anthony Reilly (Jamie Dornan). She’s loved him for what feels like forever, and Rosemary has made it her mission to get him to propose. She desperately wants to be married, but Anthony is too focused on his father’s (Christopher Walken) plans to sell the family farm to his American cousin Adam (Jon Hamm). Things get complicated after a kiss between Adam and Rosemary, with everyone searching for love in all the right (and wrong) places.
Very little about this movie worked for me. The performances are too stagey, hindered further by awkward attempts at Irish accents that are difficult to understand. Dornan and Blunt have a horrible chemistry, and even Walken seems unhappy to be there. The script has a very specific type of humor where you can tell it’s supposed to be funny and charming, but it’s not.
A romance needs a spark, and this movie has none. There’s zero connection between Rosemary and Anthony, and they’re extremely unlikable as a couple. Even worse, Shanley’s writing feels dated and sexist, poorly suited for modern day storytelling. It’s uncomfortably off-putting and almost impossible to root for a woman who is so obsessed with being married to a man who probably isn’t right for her anyway.
“Wild Mountain Thyme” is an uneven, disjointed film that’s a huge disappointment because of the amount of talent attached. The film ends with a whimper because it fails to establish an ounce of emotional connection.
9. “Hillbilly Elegy”
I don’t care if you identify as a Conservative, Liberal, or somewhere in between, “Hillbilly Elegy” is an objectively awful movie. I enjoyed very little about this film, based on the book by J.D. Vance. Director Ron Howard, who isn’t the most talented guy behind the camera to begin with, strips all of the most interesting parts of the source material in this lousy melodrama about a pill-popping, abuse-riddled, dysfunctional Southern family.
Yale law student J.D. (Gabriel Basso) gets an urgent call from his family, prompting him to travel back to his Appalachian hometown. While forced back into a world he’d rather forget, J.D. reflects on three generations of family history. The film jumps back and forth to different time periods of the man’s life, attempting to offer an explanation of why he turned out the way he did.
The film has been (rightfully) criticized that it plays like a rich person’s idea of what a poor family must be like. Watching it makes you feel slightly ashamed because Howard amps up the liberal guilt. There’s J.D.’s mom Bev (Amy Adamss), a former nurse who is now a junkie, and grandma Mamaw (Glenn Close), a chain-smoking, sass-talking matron of the messed up family.
Stories of past abuse become excuses for their abysmal paths in life. Mamaw gets tired of getting knocked around by Papaw (Bo Hopkins), so she “lights his ass on fire.” As a teen, J.D. is in the car with his mentally unstable mom when she threatens to crash her car and kill them both. There are countless other scenarios that had me asking, “do people really live like this?” For what it’s worth, I grew up in a very small, very rural area in the South, and nothing about this film feels authentic to me.
This overacted soap opera thrives on hysterics, including over-the-top performances from Adams and Close. Basso is as dull as a bag of rocks, and I found it difficult to root for him at all.
“Hillbilly Elegy” is supposed to be an uplifting story about how generational trauma isn’t an excuse to ruin your life, and how a person can triumph over obstacles if they hunker down, rise above the noise, and decide to make something out of nothing when they’re dealt a bad hand in life. Instead, it rings hollow and doesn’t come across as a barrier-shattering success story, but plays more like an episode of “Jerry Springer.” Feeding into stereotypes like that is a disservice to us all.
10. “Horse Girl”
I left the screening of “Horse Girl” with a deep dissatisfaction, a film that is an odd misstep from director Jeff Baena (“Life After Beth,” “Joshy”). The first half of the film is awkwardly charming, but then it becomes something completely different in the worst possible way. The goodwill earned from the oddball sensibility of the story is derailed when things go in a completely “WTF?!” direction. This is a dark movie that gets weird for no good reason, and it feels like the project becomes a victim of writers (Baena and Alison Brie) who can’t figure out the ending to their story so they take the weird route. It’s lazy, sloppy, and super disappointing.
The goofy and sweet Sarah (Brie) has a quiet and fairly simple life. She spends her days working at a crafts store, her afternoons visiting an equestrian center, and her evenings in from of the t.v. watching her favorite supernatural crime show. When her coworker Joan (Molly Shannon) gives her a DNA testing kit for her birthday, it sparks a curiosity about her family history that leads to a pattern of sleepwalking episodes and disturbing dreams. These visions begin to seep into her daily reality, making the fine line Sarah walks between what’s real and what’s fake even more blurred. Is she a clone? Is it the work of extraterrestrials? Or is her family history of paranoid schizophrenia finally starting to affect her?
The mystery aspects of the story are interesting, and Baena treats his characters with tenderness and respect. The film is at its best when it presents as a quirky character study and its worst when it becomes too abstract. It isn’t the serious and depressing plot points that ruin the film, but it’s the outlandish finale that honestly makes no sense whatsoever. The ending feels like a slap in the face to those dealing with mental illness as much as it does to the audience.
Worst Movies of 2020 – Dishonorable Mentions
The gimmick wears thin quickly, and the story’s social commentary slant is too superficial to matter.
This strange, dark, and violent holiday fantasy isn’t satirical enough to work.
An overabundance of visual symbolism isn’t an acceptable substitute for a well-told story.