Matt’s Worst Movies of 2016

1. Independence Day: Resurgence

It pains me greatly to say this: “Independence Day: Resurgence” is not just bad. It’s beyond bad. It’s absolutely terrible.

Why does it pain me so? Because the original “Independence Day” is still one of my all-time favorite movies. Even now, 20 years later, the movie holds up and is still just as fun to watch as it was in 1996. Yes, it’s silly and some plot points are even ridiculous, but it’s still a good movie in the best tradition of big, loud, boisterous blockbusters.

I don’t know how to put this delicately, so I’ll just say it: “Resurgence” effectively sh*ts on all of the goodwill you have towards its predecessor. Some of the characters you loved in the first one are back, but they exhibit absolutely none of the traits you loved about them. In their place, we have doppelgängers whose only function is to make you recall your fondness for them in the first film. They are strictly ornamental; they adorn the screen but do very little else. This grows tiresome, very quickly. With the benefit of hindsight, I can tell you that Will Smith was wise to stay away, far away, from this steaming pile.

To the extent there ever was or could have been an “Independence Day” franchise, “Resurgence” sucks the life out of it with some of the worst writing I’ve ever seen in a big studio tentpole. This script feels like it was written by an untalented and unfunny improvisational troupe who has seen lots of science fiction movies, responding to shouted suggestions from the audience. That is to say that very little thought went into actually writing this thing. The characters have no depth, and don’t seem to even inhabit the same space. Entire plotlines exist solely for the purpose of exploiting your fondness for the original. I would say more, but truthfully I mentally checked out about halfway in and stopped paying much attention to what was banging around and exploding on the screen. I would have walked out had it not been for my desire to see whether it ever would get any better. I’m disappointed to say it didn’t.

Avoid this one like the plague. Go watch the original again and just pretend this movie doesn’t even exist. Trust me, you’ll be better off for it.

2. Papa Hemingway in Cuba

You know that warning that precedes every episode of “South Park?” The one that says that “this show should not be viewed by anyone?” That statement applies to “Papa Hemingway in Cuba.” A truly terrible movie with some of the worst direction in recent memory, I can’t recommend the film to anyone.

On paper, “Papa Hemingway in Cuba” sounds like it could be interesting. The movie follows Miami Herald reporter Ed Myers (Giovanni Ribisi) as he strikes up a friendship with Ernest (Adrian Sparks) and Mary (Joely Richardson) Hemingway and spends time with them in Cuba during the Castro-led revolution against Batista. The Hemingways serve as surrogate parents to the orphaned Myers, and Ernest attempts to impart life lessons and wisdom to his would-be son. But Ernest, who is gradually losing his sanity, is not in much of a position to mentor Myers, particularly given the violence that surrounds them on a daily basis as Cuba falls to the revolutionaries.

See what I mean? From that description, it sounds like it could be really good, right? Trust me, it’s not.

For its sheer awfulness, there is much blame to spread around, but the buck starts and stops with director Bob Yari. Yari (a longtime producer whose credits include “Crash,” “The Illusionist,” “Factory Girl,” and many others) has absolutely no business putting himself behind the camera. Seriously, this movie is so poorly-directed that it makes Peter Billingsley (the “just-o.k.” director of “Term Life“) look like Martin Scorsese.

Why do I say that? Let me count the ways. Let’s start with the melodramatic performances of the actors (Richardson in particular) who overacted in spectacular fashion, playing to a non-existent balcony. At times this movie felt so much like a bad stage play that I was shocked to learn that it wasn’t based on one.

Then there was the terrible editing where we would jump from person to person, scene to scene, with no sense of transition or the passage of time. It was very difficult to tell how much time passed in this film from shot to shot — both over the life of the movie and even in certain scenes (a dinner scene in particular was cut so badly that it was both jarring and confusing).

Added to those glaring problems was obvious and simply dreadful ADR looping where the actors’ boomingly loud voices didn’t match the background or the conversations; throwaway expository lines that had no purpose other than to tell the audience what was happening; and horrible camera placement that failed to capture seemingly important actions and reactions of the characters during conversations.

Finally, let’s not forget the title card that informed us that the movie’s name is simply “Papa,” whereas the marquee and IMDB clearly call it “Papa Hemingway in Cuba.” For this to have clearly been a passion project for Yari (why else would he have made it?), it sure seems like he took a lot of short cuts and rushed it to the theaters. Inexplicably, a lot of those theaters seem to be carrying this film, but it’s almost impossible to find the wonderful “Sing Street.” Apparently, Yari has plenty of pull with distributors. He should have used it on a better project.

3. Yoga Hosers

It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that I say this: “Yoga Hosers” is terrible. Worse than “Clerks 2.” Yes, worse even than “Cop Out.”

After the bizarre-but-compelling “Tusk,” I looked forward to Kevin Smith’s follow-up movie with gleeful anticipation. After hearing him introduce the film — clearly a passion project of his that stars his daughter (Harley Quinn Smith), her best friend (Lily-Rose Depp), and a bunch of family friends — I had high hopes. To say I was disappointed is an understatement.

Joke after joke fell flat; several of the sight gags, which induced minor chuckles the first time, were trotted out over and over again until the audience was sick of them. The characters (or, more correctly, caricatures) were uninteresting, and the silly plot (which could have played well in a better movie) was annoyingly stupid.

I’ve often said that there is nothing more difficult to sit through than an unfunny comedy. This movie proves my point.

4. Criminal

This movie is terrible with a capital “T.”

First, if the preview has you believing that “Criminal” stars Ryan Reynolds, let me disabuse you of that notion. Yes, Mr. Reynolds, the master of the body-switch movie (see also: “Self/less“, “R.I.P.D.“, and “The Change-Up“) is in the movie, but only briefly. Reynolds plays Bill Pope, a CIA agent whose memories get transplanted into serial killer and prison lifer Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner). Pope’s CIA handlers (including boss Gary Oldman) hope to use Jericho to find out information that only Pope knew, but predictably things go awry. Jericho quickly escapes from CIA custody, and finds himself hunted down both by the CIA and by a nefarious terrorist network. Reynolds is the best thing about this film, and his part is concluded after the first 10 minutes or so. For the rest of the movie, it becomes the Costner and Oldman show, with a dash of Tommy Lee Jones thrown in for good measure.

“But wait!” You might say. “I like Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, and Tommy Lee Jones. How could a movie with all three of them suck?” Take my word for it: it doesn’t just suck, it sucks hard. Costner’s performance is a one-note series of grunts and growls indistinguishable from those we got from Christian Bale’s Batman. Oldman, as the chief CIA agent in charge, may as well have been called “Mr. Shouty,” because that’s pretty much all he did. Jones was a little more understated — and therefore the best of the three — but his character and the lines assigned to him were so inane that he was unable to elevate this material.

“Criminal” is full of logical plot holes that quickly pile up, one on top of the other, and the fall under their own weight. Look, I can suspend my disbelief as well as the next guy. But this film doesn’t just ask you to suspend disbelief: it asks you to check your brain at the door. It’s simply impossible to accept this low-rent and dumbed-down world of spycraft when there are so many better options out there.

At some point, this dim-witted movie got so absurd that it actually became funny (so there’s a positive, I suppose). Just for fun, here’s a partial list of some of its many problems:

  • The CIA is so inept at its tradecraft that “The Agency” becomes indistinguishable from the Keystone Cops.
  • The head bad guy is a direct rip off of Javier Bardem’s character from “Skyfall,” except unlike the “Skyfall” baddie, he has zero personality and an unexplained array of hacking abilities beyond that ever seen in any movie, anywhere.
  • There is a Russian female assassin reminiscent of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, who serves no apparent purpose other than to check a box on some focus-grouped list.
  • The key MacGuffin in the picture is some kind of super hacking tool that allows anyone to command all U.S. military assets, including nuclear missiles. Despite the possible world-ending value of this item, the CIA can apparently only afford to task 10, maybe 15, people to find and obtain / destroy it.
  • More on that point: this movie takes place entirely in the U.K., and despite the bad guy using weapons that pose an immediate threat to the country’s most populous city of London, we see zero involvement of the British government.
  • Tommy Lee Jones plays a doctor who talks like he is just making s*** up as he goes along, but everyone believes every single word he says.

Okay, I have to stop at some point so this is as good as any. Don’t go see “Criminal” in the theater, skip it in Redbox, and delete it from your Netflix Queue.

5. Jason Bourne

“Conversation” with 5-word sentences using spy and techno-jargon. Quick cut to person typing on computer: Beep, boop, beep. Quick cut to shaky cam conversation. Another five-word-sentence conversation and more shaky cam. Cut to shaky-cam motorcycle chase with no sense of geography. Cut back to computer.

Cut, cut, cut. Shaky cam, shaky cam, shaky cam. “Jason Bourne” might as well have been shot and assembled by a seven-year-old with ADD that hasn’t taken his Ritalin. It wasn’t so much edited as jammed together. So little artistry went into making this movie that it’s hard to even call Paul Greengrass its “director.”

One of my recurring rants is on the use of quick cutting and shaky cams in action films: it’s the hallmark of lazy filmmaking. When your action sequences are constructed by using cut after cut after cut, you don’t have to worry about storyboarding (contrast “The Raid: Redemption“). You don’t need actors who have any training in fight choreography (contrast “The Raid 2“). You don’t have to concern yourself with geography or spatial relationships. In other words, instead of having to WORK at creating a compelling action sequence, you can hack your way through it. And boy, there is NO ONE working in film now that loves hack action better than Paul Greengrass. And nowhere has Greengrass’s hackiness been on display more than in “Jason Bourne.” It’s his masterpiece of hacketry. I can continue making up new word forms using “hack” to describe this movie and director, but I think you get the idea.

In addition to the bad direction and editing, “Jason Bourne” stinks because it’s a poor excuse for a spy thriller. We are subjected to scene after scene of dreadful acting. Julia Stiles (Nicky Parsons) is the worst of the lot, but Matt Damon (Jason Bourne), Alicia Vikander (Heather Lee) and Tommy Lee Jones (Director Dewey) are only marginally better. The script is abysmal, with the characters not so much dialoguing with one another as speaking spy techno-jargon while they type on computers that are constantly beep-bloop-bleeping (no computer I’ve ever used makes so many noises when scanning files). Using words that sound cool does not make a scene interesting. And the plot? It’s barely even there.

I found only three things enjoyable about this movie. The very first fight scene between Bourne and some nameless guy — the one you see in the trailer. The story thread featuring the Silicon Valley billionaire that refused to screw over the public in the name of national security. And the final vehicular chase scene down Las Vegas Boulevard — which I liked in spite of the terrible editing (which, incidentally, got the geography of the Strip all wrong).

Please don’t make this movie a hit, because then we will get lots of imitators (like we did after “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ultimatum“, when quick cuts and shaky cam were used in 95% of all action pictures).

Demand more for your money. There are so many movies that do it better than this one. Do you want an engaging, twisty techno-spy thriller? Check out the “Mission Impossible” series. Do you want a well-written story of international espionage and intrigue? See “Our Kind of Traitor.” Do you want well-choreographed fight sequences? Watch “The Raid” movies. Hell, even this summer’s “Warcraft” did a better job with its fights and action that this film.

6. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

I never saw the first “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” After seeing the sequel, I have absolutely no desire to go back now and check it out.

“My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” joins Toula (Nia Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett) twenty years after the events of the first movie. They now have a daughter, Paris (Elena Kampouris) and they live next to Toula’s parents and siblings in a suburb of Chicago. Paris is seventeen and ready to leave home for college, and Toula is struggling with letting go of Paris and seeing her little girl all grown up. Toula and Ian are dealing with impending empty nest syndrome and trying to reconnect with one another as a married couple. In the midst of all of this, Toula’s parents learn that their marriage certificate was never signed by the priest from their hometown in Greece, which leads to the titular “big fat Greek wedding.”

While clearly billed as a comedy, this movie wasn’t very funny. Much of the “comedy” is mined from the close-knit Greek family. They’re all likeable enough. Although none of them are particularly good actors (with the exception of Andrea Martin‘s Aunt Voula), Toula’s extended family feels authentic. The story itself is realistic enough for the most part (except for the scenes in teenage Paris’s high school – those teens don’t exist in any school, anywhere and never have). There are some genuinely sweet moments here, but they are relatively scarce and ignored in favor of jokes that were written for a very specific audience. If you can relate to these characters and their lives, it might be very funny to you. To the rest of us, it’s neither interesting nor funny.

Look, this movie wasn’t made for me. If you’re one of our readers, it probably wasn’t made for you, either. The target audience is clearly middle-aged and older women (who comprised 98% of the audience when we saw it), and they were laughing heartily for the first 30 minutes or so, but even those laughs tapered off as the movie stretched on. Simply put, there isn’t enough substance to keep this movie entertaining or compelling.

7. Mother’s Day

“Mother’s Day” is more fun than watching paint dry, but only slightly. And only because of how unintentionally terrible and ridiculous it is.

Like the holiday-themed movies “New Year’s Eve” and “Valentine’s Day” before it, “Mother’s Day” is another movie that follows a number of different characters in the days and hours leading up to the big day. And like those movies, the stories in “Mother’s Day” eventually intersect with one another in eye-rollingly predictable ways. In choosing a holiday as a framing device for an overlapping narrative revolving around a variety of different characters, all of these films attempt to imitate the success of “Love Actually,” but do so poorly.  And “Mother’s Day” is by the worst one yet.

The movie isn’t populated with characters so much as caricatures. The film either looks through rose-colored lenses at a highly idealized version of life, or creates highly contrived conflicts that ring so falsely in our ears. The people populating “Mother’s Day” don’t resemble anyone we know, and consequently there is zero emotional resonance. The plot developments are so obvious that every “surprise” is anything but, and you find yourself waiting for each of your internal predictions about these characters to come true. It’s a paint-by-numbers script that wasn’t so much written as assembled.

In fact, the only thing I really enjoyed about this movie was laughing at it (and not with it). If it wasn’t the beating-you-over-the-head product placement, it was the writing, or the “record scratch” laugh cues for the audience, or the completely inauthentic and unbelievably false reactions background actors and sometimes even the principal cast. It was universally bad.

I do have to say, however, that this movie featured one of the most unintentionally funny secondary characters of any film in recent memory, and this guy single-handedly kept me from walking out. The man who played Earl, the dad of Kate Hudson’s character (Robert Pine) was ridiculously hilarious. To call his performance a caricature is to understate it. If Gabby Hayes, Yosemite Sam, and Foghorn Leghorn had a bastard love child together, he would sound something like Earl. If any one character from any one film ever deserved a supercut of all of his screen time, it’s Earl.

8. Gods of Egypt

If you like seeing giant, indistinct computer generated creatures battle one another in a variety of computer-generated landscapes, then “Gods of Egypt” is the movie for you. Everyone else should skip this one.

“Gods of Egypt” plays like “300” mashed together with “Aladdin,” “The Immortals,” and “Indiana Jones.” It seems like it was re-written roughly 250 times after being focus-grouped to death. In other words, despite ancient Egypt and Egyptian lore having a somewhat timeless appeal, the filmmakers drew from this potentially fertile ground to tell a boring story with uninteresting characters. While I know the studio had some franchise hopes for it, unfortunately this one is dead on arrival.

It doesn’t help that the movie is populated with actors that range from just okay to terrible. I love Gerard Butler and his role might have been fun if he was able to ham it up and chew some scenery, but unfortunately his middle-of-the-road performance is just yawn-inducing. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (you might know him as Jaime Lannister) probably wasn’t the right choice to play opposite of Butler because he isn’t a commanding enough presence to play a larger-than-life god. The two mortal leads weren’t any better. The real stars of the show were the effects, and you can tell from my introduction how I felt about them. Nothing bores me more quickly than watching giant cartoons battle one another, and that essentially sums up “Gods of Egypt.”

Don’t waste your time on this one.

9. Ride Along 2

Sadly, the sequel is every bit as worthless and boring as the the first movie. Once again, two very likable actors (Ice Cube and Kevin Hart) are completely wasted, having been saddled with a one-note script. This screenplay feels like it was scribbled in crayon on the back of greasy pizza boxes left over from an all-night “Lethal Weapon” binge watching marathon.

You know a movie’s terrible when the funniest moments come from watching the extras overact and overreact (the extras during the movie’s dumb dance sequence are particularly memorable). If this was the best the filmmakers could do, they should just stop trying. Forget about these characters and leave Hart and Cube to work on other, better projects.

10. Max Steel

Apparently there is some children’s toy called “Max Steel.” For some reason, some film executive somewhere thought that it would be a good idea to make a movie about this toy. It’s awful.

Max McGrath (Ben Winchell) is a kid whose father died when he was young. Upon moving with his mom, Molly (Maria Bello) back to his childhood home, Max finds that he has the ability to manipulate power. It’s not until he meets up with the alien steel (voiced by Josh Brener) that Max is able to understand and harness his abilities. When Max and Steel come together, they can create an “Iron Man”-like super suit. And together, they are known as (wait for it)… Max Steel!

“Max Steel” is a silly (but not in a good way) with a stupid plot that makes zero sense. Upon meeting Dr. Miles Edwards (Andy Garcia) it’s readily apparent to all that he’s the bad guy and that he will want Max’s power to do… something. Whatever. This movie really isn’t any good and it’s not worth your (or your kids’) time.

WORST MOVIES OF 2016: (DIS)HONORABLE MENTIONS

These awful movies came very close to making the list of my Top 10 Worst of the year:

11. Assassin’s Creed

12. Dirty Grandpa

13. Fifty Shades of Black

14. Inferno

15. Office Christmas Party

16. Everybody Wants Some!!

17. Love & Friendship

18. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

19. Divergent: Allegiant

20. Free State of Jones