Back at your ass for the nine-4: 36 least essential entertainments from 1994

Back at your ass for the nine-4: 36 least essential entertainments from 1994

1-8. A whole bunch of unnecessary sequels

When people talk about 1994 being one of the great years for movies, chances are they aren’t referring in any way to the disposable, unloved sequels that Hollywood barfed out over that particular 12-month stretch. Not that anyone should remember these films: “Inessential” is too kind a word to describe such forgotten cash grabs as White Fang 2, Major League II, 3 Ninjas Kick Back, and the failed franchise reboot The Next Karate Kid. Did anyone need to see Vada, the adolescent heroine of My Girl, get romanced by the kid from Last Action Hero? Was anyone demanding a third House Party with Kid ’N’ Play? And how was John Landis, of all directors, responsible for a sequel as completely superfluous as Beverly Hills Cop III? Detecting indifference on the part of these movies’ makers, audiences responded in kind; only one series continuation, Star Trek: Generations, cracked the year’s box-office top 20. Naturally, Hollywood learned its lesson and bad studio sequels were never a problem again… [AD]


9-10. Beethoven and Free Willy, the animated series

Spending much of the early ’90s looking for its own Simpsons, CBS followed aborted attempts like Fish Police and Family Dog with a version of the latter that had the bonus of built-in recognition. Beethoven, loosely based on the 1992 movie where a large Saint Bernard annoys Charles Grodin, featured the voice of Love Bug star Dean Jones as the animated series’ Grodin stand-in, while Joel Murray supplied Beethoven’s voice. The fact that Beethoven even had a voice says everything about why the show lasted just a few months.


A similar tactic was applied to another popular early-’90s animal movie, Free Willy, which ABC also turned into an animated series. Looking for ways to expand on the heartwarming story of a boy and a captive whale, the show opted for total insanity: Willy and his sea friends can speak telepathically to his young human pal Jesse, which definitely comes in handy as Willy fills him in on his backstory involving a killer cyborg. Known only as “The Machine,” this twisted, half-mechanical Captain Ahab hunts Willy across the ocean, blaming him for an accident that robbed him of his arm and part of his face, all with the help of some bumbling henchmen he grew out of toxic waste. Somewhere along the way, everyone learns some shit about the environment, though the children of 1994 would have been forgiven for being too bewildered to notice. [SO]


11. 2 Live Crew, Back At Your Ass For The Nine-4

By the time of 2 Live Crew’s sixth album, the hip-hop group remained as nasty as it wanted to be, though its individual thresholds for nastiness had changed. Only Luther “Luke Skyywalker” Campbell and Fresh Kid Ice remained of the original lineup, which now featured freshman recruit Verb, all under the rebranded stage name The New 2 Live Crew. Surprisingly, all this reshuffling wasn’t really worth the effort: Despite Verb’s admittedly dexterous flow, Back At Your Ass is another chafing dry-hump of filthy songs about sex, a needless addition to the 2 Live Crew catalog whose creative rut is reflected in titles like “Suck My Dick,” “Work That Pussy,” “Fuck Nigga,” and the disappointing sequel “We Want Some Pussy II,” and more or less summed up in the pithy “Pussy And Dick Thing.” The group would disband soon following its release and—in perhaps the greatest insult—after it didn’t even get them sued. One suspects Joe Strummer heard the Clash-sampling “Suck My Dick” and was like, “Ehh, why bother?” [SO]


12. Body Count, Born Dead
In 1991 and 1992, Ice-T’s metal band actually seemed slightly revolutionary and scary. The band played the first Lollapalooza tour, and of course, “Cop Killer” caused a fracas that seems almost witch hunt-esque by today’s standards. (Charlton Heston reading the lyrics out loud to “KKK Bitch” was a highlight.) But by 1994, Body Count seemed almost completely irrelevant, partially due to the storm blowing over (and Ice-T voluntarily removing “Cop Killer” from future pressings of the band’s debut), and partially due to the tepid Born Dead. Nothing sounds like a hit on the album, especially not the title track—which was inexplicably released as a single, even though it’s filled with spoken-word passages and samples and runs about six minutes. “They know we stand for three things: truth, justice, and fuck the American way!” Ice-T speechifies, but no one was listening anymore. [JM]


13. Viper

Set in a dystopian near future where even the police are no longer sacrosanct from sponsored content, NBC’s Viper introduced the far-out premise of a special-ops team who fought crime with a Dodge Viper. Chrysler designed and supplied the 1994 roadster at the heart of the show, which transformed into an armored car outfitted with special features like battering rams, rocket launchers, lasers, a flamethrower, and even a hologram projector—all of which came in handy as the Viper Team handled the constant waves of crime in Metro City. Of course, when they weren’t busy handling crime, they were handling the streets with the smooth power steering and the roomy interior of the Dodge Viper, whose manufacturers kept their violent car commercial of a Knight Rider update on the air through four syndicated seasons. [SO]


14. The Getaway

Just about every calendar year produces its fair share of unnecessary remakes, but few are as totally negligible as the 1994 version of The Getaway. One of the hooks of the original, adapted from a hard-boiled crime novel by Jim Thompson, was seeing a real-life couple, Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw, play married outlaws. And so the remake follows suit, dropping newlyweds Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger into basically identical roles. It also faithfully recreates the plot of its 1972 predecessor—so faithfully, in fact, that fans can spend its entire needless runtime drawing unflattering comparisons. (Kiwi journeyman Roger Donaldson is no Sam Peckinpah, to say the least.) Twenty years later, the film looks like little more than a vanity project for its lovebird stars, who don’t so much share chemistry as a mutual air of remote, beautiful-people smugness. [AD]


15. New Kids On The Block, Face The Music
A good four or five years past their peak “Hangin’ Tough” fame, New Kids On The Block used 1994 to regroup—or, at least, to make a noble attempt. The group ditched longtime manager Maurice Starr in 1993 and shortened its kid-centric name, becoming the much more masculine NKOTB. In January 1994, the group released Face The Music, a harder, more “adult” record than anything it had released before. The single “Dirty Dawg”—which featured a cameo from rap duo Nice & Smooth and a video involving a lot of grown-up imagery—did okay, but the record basically shit the proverbial bed, debuting and peaking at No. 37 on the Billboard charts and only selling 27,000 copies its first week out. The group disbanded shortly thereafter, not reuniting again until 2008—once more under the name New Kids On The Block. [ME]


16-17. Shaq Fu and Michael Jordan: Chaos In The Windy City
Two of pro basketball’s biggest stars, Shaquille O’Neal and Michael Jordan, lent their images to video games in 1994. That’s not so uncommon, but the weird part is that neither project was a basketball game. Shaq Fu is a dull, mediocre fighting game that sees O’Neal transported to an alternate dimension by a possibly senile martial arts master. Its awfulness has been magnified over time as Internet anti-fans have built a legend around the game—one site, the Shaq Fu Liberation Front, campaigns to have all traces of the game wiped from the face of the Earth. But Shaq Fu is not markedly worse than Jordan’s less actively reviled disaster, Chaos In The Windy City, a half-assed platformer in which the Chicago Bulls star inexplicably hurls basketballs at metal spiders. In the unlikely event that he cared, Jordan would probably be happy that Chaos In The Windy City has largely faded from popular memory. His expression on the game’s cover suggests that he knew all along that the game was a bad idea. [JT]


18. The Cosby Mysteries

After The Cosby Show ended in 1992, Bill Cosby had a blank check, and he spent it on some truly worthless endeavors. Not only did he remake the game show You Bet Your Life, he also decided to star in the almost unbelievably silly The Cosby Mysteries. In the short-lived series—lasting a mere 18 episodes—he portrayed a criminologist who retires after winning the lottery, only to be pulled back into cases by his old friends. It’s impossible to watch Cosby say anything serious—like “We found blood and tissue at the scene”—without assuming that he’s going to mug immediately thereafter, then wander off to talk to Rudy about something. Two other things are worth noting about the otherwise forgettable Cosby Mysteries: It also featured a young Mos Def (then called Dante Beze), and its existence seems to have been almost entirely scrubbed from cultural memory, with almost nothing available on YouTube and no DVD release. Sounds like a mystery worthy of investigation, though not by Bill Cosby. [JM]


19. You’re In The Super Bowl, Charlie Brown
It takes about five minutes for You’re In The Super Bowl, Charlie Brown to show Lucy Van Pelt swiping a football out from under Charlie Brown. That’s also a good summation of this whole special, which downplays anything fundamentally Peanuts, and quickly pulls such elements away whenever they show up. Airing prior to Super Bowl XXVIII, the special doesn’t even actually send Charlie Brown and friends to the big game, instead dropping them into an NFL-sponsored punt, pass, and kick competition. The third act is eaten up by a parade of Peanuts characters in licensed NFL gear and an unnamed character hollering the distances of the punts, passes, and kicks. Somehow, that’s less tedious than the framing device, in which Snoopy coaches Woodstock and his fellow birds to victory in the Animal Football League. The last Peanuts TV project produced and broadcast during Charles Schulz’s lifetime (several others would go straight to video), You’re In The Super Bowl is an ignoble turnover on downs ending the legendary drive that began with A Charlie Brown Christmas. [EA]


20. North

For connoisseurs of infamous crap, Rob Reiner’s disastrous, globe-hopping comedy may actually be one of the most essential films ever made. Based on a novel by Alan Zweibel, North cast child star Elijah Wood as an obnoxiously precocious 9-year-old boy who “divorces” his parents and embarks on a global quest to find new ones. This journey puts him in contact with a whole ensemble of cringe-inducing cultural stereotypes, while allowing Reiner to indulge in some bizarre sexual innuendo and allowing Bruce Willis to smirk his way through multiple cameos. Is North a fantastical family film or a cheeky adult comedy? No one involved ever decided, and as a result, audiences mostly ignored the film, either dragging their kids to The Lion King again or getting their fix of grown-up whimsy from Forrest Gump. Critics, meanwhile, were just vicious: If North is remembered at all today, it’s for the depths of loathing it seemed to inspire in the press—most notably, perhaps, in Roger Ebert’s scathing zero-star review, from which his negative-criticism collection I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie drew its title. [AD]


21. Knight Rider 2010

The various Knight Rider iterations over the years have all at least paid lip service to the original series’ story; even Team Knight Rider, from 1997, has a story about Michael Knight woven into it. Not so for 1994’s made-for-TV movie Knight Rider 2010, which has absolutely nothing to do with the original series. It’s so different, in fact, that it wouldn’t be surprising if it were simply called Knight Rider to try and lure in suckers looking for KITT. Sure, the hero—not even named Knight!—drives a souped-up car, but that car doesn’t talk. It just has some guns. The story itself is some ridiculous sci-fi nightmare, a mixture of the Mad Max movies and a techno-thriller about an evil handicapped genius software inventor, played by character actor Brion James. Devon Miles would be ashamed. [JM]


22-26. Reruns at the movies

The success of Barry Sonnenfeld’s Addams Family films paved the way for other big-budget TV-to-film adaptations green-lit by execs who were raised on reruns and seen by audiences still gobbling up the source material on Nick At Nite. But whereas 1994’s take on Maverick saw Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, and original Bret Maverick James Garner acting for Richard Donner, other nostalgic small-screen imports wanted for that sort of star power. Car 54, Where Are You? got updated for a post-Lethal Weapon world with David Johansen and John C. McGinley as its anti-Riggs and Murtaugh. Rosie O’Donnell suffered through both Car 54 and the Steven Spielberg-produced take on The Flintstones, an achievement of production design whose tortured plot—in which The Modern Stone-Age Family are ensnared in an embezzlement scheme—betrays a script that reportedly required the input of 32 writers.

The trend even extended to syndicated favorites whose characters didn’t originate on TV: The Little Rascals strung the plots of old Our Gang shorts between celebrity cameos; Richie Rich put a diamond-studded nail in Macaulay Culkin’s box-office coffin; and Lassie got an appropriately mawkish update. The latter encapsulates why most of these adaptations fizzled while 1995’s The Brady Bunch Movie became a surprise hit: None embraced the kitsch factor that dragged these old shows back into the cultural conversation in the first place. [EA]


27. Katey Sagal, Well...

Though she was well into her stint as Peg Bundy on Married… With Children in 1994, Katey Sagal apparently hadn’t given up on her backup singer past. That year saw the release of her first solo album, Well…, featuring a number of overworked and over-sung tracks penned by Sagal and pals. More cringe-inducing, it also contains a track, “Can’t Hurry The Harvest,” about her stillborn child. That’s horribly sad, of course, but the track’s overwrought adult-contemporary vibe makes it even worse. [ME]


28. Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties
Launched late in 1993, the 3DO console platform needed at least one hit game if it was going to hold its own against competitors from Nintendo, Sega, and Sony. Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties was not that game. Instead, it was one of the shoddiest titles ever released for a mass-market console. Advertised as a “full-motion video” experience at a time when that term signified the cutting edge, the only video in this supposedly adult romance simulation is a scene of a scantily clad woman introducing the game while she performs a clumsy, poorly edited striptease for the camera. The quest for romance only gets worse from there, as the whole game is one long, branching slide show augmented by dismal voice acting and grating sound effects. (Never has a production placed so much faith in the storytelling power of wacky noises.) A narrator named Harry Armus, who wears a striped purple suit, a gold bow tie, and a fighter pilot’s helmet, guides players through the train wreck. He’s also the embodiment of the game’s comedic tone, an unflagging misogynist sensibility that makes Leisure Suit Larry seem like a Gloria Steinem joint. Plumbers is so weird, offensive, and ugly that in a museum context, it could almost serve as an avant-garde commentary on the intersection of sex and media. In its intended context, it’s garbage. [JT]


29-30. Double Dragon and Street Fighter

The very first big-screen video-game adaptation, Super Mario Bros., got flattened like a Goomba by audiences and critics alike. So it was a little surprising to see Hollywood reach for the joystick again just a year later, offering further proof that what’s fun to play isn’t always fun to watch. The universally reviled Double Dragon converted the classic beat-’em-up title into a juvenile futuristic action movie, casting Mark Dacascos and Scott Wolf as brothers tearing through gangbangers on the streets of post-apocalyptic Los Angeles. (Robert Patrick, still dining out on his T2 appearance, plays the crime-lord heavy.) Much more financially successful—though equally disliked by its built-in fanbase—was the Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle Street Fighter, which jettisoned the entire “street fighting” angle of its source material and changed the identity of most of its characters, such as making sumo wrestler E. Honda just a fat cameraman. If Street Fighter lands just a little north of “worthless,” it’s entirely because of the hammy, bug-eyed final performance of Raul Julia, who was dying of stomach cancer and took the villainous role of M. Bison as a last gift to his children. [AD]


31. Clean Slate
Six years before Memento made retrograde amnesia cool, Dana Carvey marked the beginning of his career’s decline with the silly, unnecessary Clean Slate. Carvey plays a private investigator who wakes up every morning with no memory; he uses a tape recorder instead of tattoos to refresh himself. Turns out he’s a witness to an overcomplicated, cartoonish crime, and that the only thing really memorable about his life is that his dog has a depth-perception problem. (That joke is played to the hilt in the film’s trailer.) If only Carvey had busted out his Ross Perot impersonation, perhaps he could’ve saved this thing. And if only movie tag lines were honest, this one’s would be: “An amnesia comedy that’s… truly forgettable.” [JM]


32. The Road To Wellville

Based on the novel by T.C. Boyle and the idea that Anthony Hopkins had a bit too much dignity, The Road To Wellville seemed to have everything on paper: good source material, Oscar’s favorite actor, a stranger-than-fiction true historical tale, lots of colonics, etc. But the end result proved as excruciating as the physical regimen John Harvey Kellogg insisted on for the patients of his sanitarium, full of broad scatological comedy awkwardly backing up against a romantic subplot, and often mistaking being zany for funny. In what is a seemingly unforgivable crime for a movie, it’s also really hard to look at: One wonders why studio execs didn’t get a look at dailies of Hopkins in his Van Dyke beard and enormous buck teeth and shut the whole thing down immediately. [SO]


33-34. ReBoot and VR Troopers
Time renders all human expression irrevocably dopey, and there’s no better reminder of this than the cutting-edge entertainment of a bygone era. In 1994, that meant pop culture inspired by emerging digital technologies. Representing for the futures that would come to be—in a style that became rapidly dated—was ReBoot, the world’s first fully computer-animated television series. ReBoot was also the clunkiest metaphor for the inner-workings of your family’s new Gateway 2000: Set in a virtual city called Mainframe, ReBoot anthropomorphized the PC, introducing the chilling notion that any AI defeated within a computer game were actually sentient beings protected by a dreadlocked proto-Na’vi named Bob. As the average consumer became familiar with viruses and malware, ReBoot visualized those threats, eventually building an “Intel Inside” mythology that gave way to a bizarre, dystopian technoscape following a third-season time jump.


Bob’s role as “guardian” was roughly analogous to that of the VR Troopers, eponymous stars of Saban Entertainment’s follow-up to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Though never as popular as its predecessor, the series followed a similar template of cannibalizing an existing Japanese tokusatsu series—this time various incarnations of the long-running Metal Hero franchise. Virtual reality provided the timely hook for VR Troopers, positing a parallel “VR” universe ruled by rubber-suited baddies. These villains would claim our world as their own if not for the efforts of an agreeably diverse trio of teen warriors (and their talking dog!) traversing a “reality” barrier of psychedelic geometric shapes. Virtual reality wouldn’t proliferate like the tech dramatized on ReBoot, but both series managed to refresh the premise of Tron for a new generation—one that would later raid the aesthetics of ReBoot, VR Troopers, and other products of primitive CGI for jokey, 21st-century art movements like seapunk. [EA]


35. Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book
Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book stories, especially those featuring “man cub” Mowgli, have inspired multiple adaptations: comic books, Saturday morning cartoon shows, BBC radio programs, song cycles, stage plays, and both Disney’s famous animated musical and its upcoming version from director Jon Favreau. Less memorably, the Mouse House also released a live-action version in 1994, starring martial artist Jason Scott Lee (who played Bruce Lee in the 1993 biopic Dragon) as the grown Mowgli. The irony of this Jungle Book, directed by The Mummy’s Stephen Sommers and released during an era when major studios were still investing in lavish live-action family films, is that it affixes Kipling’s name to one of the loosest adaptations of his work—a fleet action-adventure that relegates all the young-boy-in-the-jungle material to the first reel. Perfectly competent and very 1994, it’s a movie lost to the dense foliage of recent Hollywood history. [AD]


36. Saved By The Bell: The College Years

Banking on audience interest in the continued education of kids who never actually learn anything, Saved By The Bell: The College Years added an adult edge to its recently ended Saturday morning show by moving it into Tuesday primetime. Not surprisingly for a high school series that even 10-year-olds found beneath them, the show failed to attract an older viewership and ended after just one season—leaving it to the TV movie Saved By The Bell: Wedding In Las Vegas to provide the closure on Zack and Kelly’s relationship that someone ostensibly needed. The best that can be said of The College Years is that it was not as egregiously tacked-on as Saved By The Bell: The New Class, a sequel that everyone but Dennis “Mr. Belding” Haskins and Dustin “Screech” Diamond escaped. Still, it added little to the already-enervated franchise, besides the feeling that these kids were definitely getting too old to be this irritating. Tellingly, even Elizabeth Berkley wanted nothing to do with it, preferring to pursue more dignified projects—like Showgirls. [SO]



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