10. “Red Notice”
One of the worst cinema sins is a film that wastes talent, and “Red Notice” is in the running for this year’s most notable offender. An action comedy with an A-list cast (Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot, and Ryan Reynolds) and a big budget sounds like a slam dunk (and by all accounts, it should be), but this bland, unfunny wannabe blockbuster from writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber has few redeeming qualities.
FBI profiler John Hartley (Johnson) is on the case of a red notice, Interpol’s highest level warrant, to track down art thief Nolan Booth (Reynolds). He searches the globe for the notorious robber and finally catches up with him in Bali. Interpol is searching for Cleopatra’s missing golden eggs, and Nolan claims to know the person who has one of them: the world’s most wanted art thief, The Bishop (Gadot). Wanting to retrieve the egg and capture The Bishop, John and Nolan are forced to work together to crack the case. Their unlikely partnership leads to a lot of bickering and takes them on an adventure around the world, from cities to jungles and everywhere in between.
The odd couple pairing is as obvious as the double-crossing that ensues. Where Reynolds’ shtick was once (dare I say) charming, it has now grown tiresome and strained. His one-liners are as cringe-worthy as his dated delivery. Even Johnson’s movie star charisma fizzles here, and the ever-appealing Gadot is misused in a weak, too-familiar role. The chemistry is wonky between the actors too, but at least everyone looks good while they’re doing all this globetrotting and swindling.
The story is derivative as well, with a predictable formula that fills in the blanks of its plot with uninspired fight scenes and bloodless gunplay that’s just so dull. Plenty of memorable films have been made about art thieves, but they’re at least entertaining. Action movies are supposed to be fun, and “Red Notice” delivers nothing but overwhelming disappointment at every turn.
If ever there was a film with a clear identity crisis, “Reminiscence” is it. This blunder of a movie can’t decide if it wants to be science fiction, noir, a thriller or a romance. Writer / director Lisa Joy (the co-creator, executive producer, and writer of HBO’s popular series “Westworld”) takes all of these genres and shoves them into a too-bloated script and a thin story that flounders and goes nowhere.
Set in the future when the world’s cities are flooded (one of many immaterial plot points that never pay off), private investigator of the mind Nick (Hugh Jackman) and his former military partner Watts (Thandiwe Newton) make a living aiding clients in accessing their lost memories. Many who hire them want to relive the same perfect day over and over, while others seek to use these memories as a way to solve (or even commit) crimes. When a mysterious beauty named Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) stumbles into Nick’s business one evening in search of her lost car keys, he is instantly smitten. After Mae suddenly disappears, Nick becomes consumed by an overpowering obsession to try and figure out what exactly happened to her.
The film is stylized and looks great, and the performances are solid. But the weak script (and often corny dialogue), coupled with Joy’s straight-off-the-small-screen stagnant direction, turn what could’ve been a compelling sci-fi thriller into a lackluster snooze fest. It’s a shame that the talented cast and the beginnings of a great premise are mostly wasted. It’s never a good sign when a movie feels so utterly pointless.
In the end, “Reminiscence” is a film about memory. Ironically, it is wholly forgettable.
8. “Together Together”
The one-note “Together Together,” from writer / director Nikole Beckwith, is a wannabe rom-com about surrogacy. This bland, flat film is one of the most disappointing titles to screen at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, and it’s the first contender for one of the worst movies of the year.
Matt (Ed Helms) is 40 years old and has always wanted a family of his own. Single and ready for a baby, he hires twentysomething Anna (Patti Harrison) to be his surrogate. It’s reasoned that since the young woman gave up her baby in high school, she must be the perfect choice for the job (gross). Sensing Matt’s excitement about the arrival of his bundle of joy (and the fact that the pop-to-be pushes his way into her life so he can be involved as much as possible), Anna begins to spend more time with him. A platonic love affair develops, and the pair become the closest of friends.
It’s not a thoroughly bad idea for a movie, but the execution is terrible. The film is dreadfully unfunny, and there are out of place scenes (like Anna showing Matt how a tampon works, or a dinner discussion of the pro-choice movement) that land like a thud. Helms brings his usual affable, goofy charm to the role, but he and Harrison have an uneven chemistry that ends up being the film’s major downfall.
While I’m sure this wasn’t the filmmakers intention, the story, to me, borders on being offensive to women. Anna is portrayed as an emotional pawn of sorts, incapable to being completely neutral when holding up her end of the business agreement. She accepts the offer and chooses to be paid to be a surrogate, but she is so sad when she isn’t the center of attention at the baby shower. She doesn’t like that she isn’t important to Matt’s family and friends, and seems disappointed that she can’t share in the joy of having a child. This scene feels so condescending towards women because it implies that they are too emotional and incapable of separating the idea of actually being a mother versus respecting a purely transactional contract.
The story feels dated too, as it flips the idea of single motherhood and instead — wait for it — shows that gee, men can yearn to be independent dads, too! Who would’ve EVER thought THAT was possible?! Wow!
“Together Together” slogs along until the grand finale, which features the obligatory miracle of childbirth scene, and concludes with an open-ended fade to black that proves to be more of a relief than an aggravation.
“Violet,” the feature film directorial debut from Justine Bateman (who also wrote the script), is one of the most insufferable movies I’ve ever had to sit through. It’s irritatingly experimental, poorly directed, and an all-around misstep in compelling filmmaking.
Violet (Olivia Munn) is a film development executive. Her life is burdened by a “guiding voice” inside her head that supplies a constant, negative narrative about everything in her life. The voice (Justin Theroux) is relentless, calling her a piece of crap, fat, and a loser at almost every turn. Because of this, Violet is saddled with an extraordinary amount of self-doubt and makes fear-based decisions that aren’t grounded in reality. She doesn’t know that her inner voice is lying to her about everything, but she will soon realize it and take steps to change her life for the better.
This is a film about about learning to become your true self, and it’s just something to which I (thankfully) cannot relate. Maybe if you’re a person who constantly doubts yourself and feel like you’re a failure, this film will speak to you on a deeper level. To me, the execution of the premise was just too obnoxious to have the desired emotional effect. Violet is an unappealing character, and the people she surrounds herself with are even worse. When she finally breaks free, it doesn’t feel like much of an accomplishment.
I get the feeling that I may have the unpopular opinion on this one, but almost everything about “Violet” turned me off, starting with the opening credits. The only bright spot in this disastrous misstep is Munn’s performance, but it gets lost beneath all the extraneous commotion.
In the M. Night Shyamalan spectrum, “Old” is not as much of a stinker as “After Earth” but not even close to being as terrific as “The Sixth Sense.” This tame thriller has a tension that feels flimsy, is burdened with clunky dialogue, and features awkward directorial choices that take viewers out of the movie.
Shyamalan is upheld in some circles as a “visionary” filmmaker, but that ship has long sailed (most of us knew there was trouble back in 2008 with “The Happening”). Here he falls back into his catalog of bad habits, and they feel worse than usual. Story-wise, the premise is great. Based on the graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Lévy and Frederik Peeters, the film embraces the mystery of a family on a tropical vacation who discover that the gorgeous beach where they’re spending a secluded day is causing them to age rapidly. Every 60 minutes that pass, they lose two years of their lives.
It’s horror story that wades into existential territory, pondering human nature’s aversion to aging and eventually facing the inevitability of our own mortality. This would’ve been a far different (and likely better) film if Shyamalan had made the decision to dive into the deep end instead of muting the more weighty themes, but the muzzling makes the end result more palatable for a wider audience.
The movie plays like a too-long, lame episode of “Black Mirror,” and it would have worked better for episodic television rather than a feature film. The primary mystery of the island is divulged quickly, so watching as everyone continues to age feels annoying and repetitive. There isn’t much to the idea and the cast, as hard as they try, can’t make it engaging enough. The performances are fine, but I didn’t really care if any of these characters made it out alive.
With “Old,” the strength is in the story’s plausible set-up. The problem is that it’s all downhill from there. Although adapted from original source material, the movie follows the typical pattern of a Shyamalan project: a good idea with slightly better than average storytelling that culminates in a finale reveal that’s an anticlimactic letdown.
I can only assume Disney planned the November 5 release date of “Eternals” very carefully. This big budget action film will hit theaters just in time for Thanksgiving, which reaches the chef’s kiss of utter perfection — because it’s a $200 million turkey.
Billed by Marvel Studios as an “exciting” new team of superheroes (what on Earth is the publicity department smoking?), the Eternals are ancient aliens who have been living on Earth for thousands of years. They look over humans and fight the menacing Deviants, giant monsters who exist in this cinematic world solely so there can be fight scenes. The film struggles to tie in the characters and plot with other MCU stories (like name-dropping Steve Rogers at the dinner table), which is getting ridiculous because a movie doesn’t need to be made about every single character in the universe.
Director Chloé Zhao tries to create an epic action movie with a touch more focus on the characters, but her style and approach don’t work on a grand scale. The film expects an emotional connection with the audience very quickly, but Zhao doesn’t bother to put in the effort early on to develop one, so there is none. There’s little warmth to these characters, and I didn’t care about their relationships. Not only are there a lot of new faces to learn and keep up with, but they’re introduced in a jumble. Adding to the confusion is the disjointed storytelling, as the film constantly jumps around in time.
The film expects some background knowledge of the original comic book, which in itself is a deep-dive for a Marvel-literate crowd. These aren’t outrageously popular characters, and the movie doesn’t adequately explain who they are, especially in the beginning. Even worse is that the actors (Gemma Chan, Kumail Nanjiani, Brian Tyree Henry, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, Ma Dong-seok, Lia McHugh, Lauren Ridloff, Richard Madden, and Barry Keoghan) are largely miscast in a studio ploy that feels like a forced diversity initiative rather than consciously choosing the best person for each role. To be fair, the characters are unappealing and boring to begin with, so it’s easier to tolerate Jolie’s overacting or Nanjiani’s strained attempts at humor. There’s very little star power, and nobody steps up to carry the movie.
It’s important to celebrate diversity and practice inclusivity, but this movie tries too hard to be “woke.” There’s a sex scene and a homosexual kiss that are no big deal except that they are in a Marvel movie, which makes both of them feel like a publicity stunt rather than meaningful and organic. This in turn cheapens any mainstream boundaries that are broken, which is a shame.
The action scenes are passable, with lots of gold squiggles and swords and running and kicking. The grand finale battle is unintentionally funny because the costumes our heroes are wearing make them look like a bunch of low-rent Power Rangers. The film’s only real strength are the outstanding visual effects, which really do set the bar. They’re practically flawless, but not enough to make the movie fun or exciting.
“Eternals” is painfully s-l-o-w and draggy, a superhero movie that’s too confusing, too complicated, and too convoluted.
4. “The Boss Baby: Family Business”
I would be the first to accuse film critics of going into “The Boss Baby: Family Business” without an open mind. When there’s an unwanted sequel that feels like a misstep right out of the gate, it’s human nature to dismiss the entire thing as just another mindless piece of garbage. No matter how unbiased your approach or high your tolerance may be for awful animated movies, there are very few redeemable qualities in this unimaginative, uninspired misstep.
The plot brings back the Templeton brothers, Tim (James Marsden) and Ted (Alec Baldwin). The two are now adults with real world jobs and responsibilities. Former boss baby Ted is now a hedge fund CEO who flies around in his private helicopter and tosses around $100 bills like candy. Tim has gone the family man route, and is a stay-at-home dad to two daughters, Tabitha (Ariana Greenblatt) and a precocious little girl named Tina (Amy Sedaris). It’s revealed that Tina is an agent for Baby Corp. In other words, she’s basically boss baby part two. It’s a tired retread of the original film (some of the same jokes make an appearance), but not nearly as interesting. The most creative element of the story is that Ted and Tim are given a special formula that turns them back into kids so they can become secret agents.
It’s not a totally horrible idea for a movie, but this sequel isn’t well done. The voice actors are fine, but not particularly well-cast. Sedaris has a sarcastic quality that fits with her character, but it doesn’t take long for Tabitha’s corporate burnout shtick to become extremely irritating. The jokes are for moms and dads working long hours at jobs they hate in offices that suck their souls dry, day in and day out. This is what makes “The Boss Baby: Family Business” unable to reach even the most basic bar that should be set for a movie: that of an enjoyable vehicle for escape. Not only is it a subpar animated film, it’s not even fun to watch.
Distasteful film “Lakewood” is a shamelessly exploitative exercise in pure awfulness. This is one that truly never should have been made. The setup is slow, and the majority of the film features nothing more than Naomi Watts running around a wooded area and talking on her cell phone. It’s insulting, it’s pointless, and its purposeful misdirection is worthy of the loudest boos an audience can muster.
A mother (Watts) is out for her morning run, miles away from home. She gets a harrowing phone call and learns that her child’s school is on lockdown. You can probably guess why.
The story lacks substance, is implausible, and absolutely ridiculous. Screenwriter Chris Sparling forces a message about the importance of good mental health services and treatment into the already clunky dialogue, which causes this lame thriller to come across as grossly insincere.
The movie was filmed during the lockdown by director Phillip Noyce, with a minimal cast and one-on-one scenario that’s not at all clever. Not only is “Lakewood” a poor example of pandemic-era filmmaking, it’s just not good.
2. “Space Jam: A New Legacy”
There isn’t much to say about “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” the shiftless, uninspired sequel to the 1996 fan favorite film. This “updated” movie is awful, playing like a product placement cash cow for Warner Brothers. It’s almost like director Malcolm D. Lee was challenged to see how many WB-owned characters and franchises could be crammed into 120 minutes. (Answer: it sure feels like all of them).
Sports legend LeBron James (starring as himself) and his son Dom (Cedric Joe) are trapped inside a digital space by a rogue A.I. called Al G. Rhythm (Don Cheadle). In order to escape and return to the real world, LeBron must get a squad together to win a no-rules basketball game. He calls on the Looney Tunes gang for help on the court. Soon it’s the “Tunes” versus the “Goons” in a digitized, high stakes challenge where the winner takes it all.
The plot is very loose and unimportant. The film wastes the affable James, and even seeing the classic characters like Bugs, Daffy, Marvin the Martian, and Sylvester may be fun at first, but wears thin almost instantly. The big animated basketball game at the end is so focused on video game rules that it doesn’t feel like a real sport. This means kids who love cartoons and people who love basketball won’t even find much to like, making “Space Jam: A New Legacy” a lame letdown.
1. “Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard”
After a year-long hiatus from the communal screening experience in an actual movie theater, audiences deserve better than “Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard,” an unpleasant reminder that not everything about the movies is magic. This tired, humorless sequel to the 2017 film “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is redundant, pointless, and isn’t even fun to watch.
Odd couple and bodyguard Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) and hitman Darius (Samuel L. Jackson) are back for another mission, but this time, there’s a twist: the unlicensed muscle is now assigned to protect Sonia (Salma Hayek), Darius’s feisty con artist wife. There’s a lazy plot about a power-hungry madman (Antonio Banderas) who wants to take out his anger on a global scale by attacking Europe, and the trio take it upon themselves to take down the villain and save the continent.
Hayek provides the most amusement (and it’s not much) with her volatile and fiery character, but even she is forgettable. A bigger problem is that Reynolds and Jackson lack chemistry. Even when adding together their star power, they cannot carry this project. It’s never a good sign when an appealing cast can’t salvage a movie.
This movie is so stupid. The script reads like a litany of f-bombs, with breaks coming from Reynolds as he attempts to drop some humor through strained wisecracks. Nothing is funny. The sexual innuendos are awkward and the one-liners flounder. Bloody gunplay serves as a stand-in for creativity in the film’s action scenes. There’s no point to the vulgarity or the violence, both of which feel forced and excessive instead of fun and enjoyable.
There is nothing I can recommend about “Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard,” unless you enjoy watching people yelling and cursing at each other for 90 minutes.