15. Hot Tub Time Machine
Hot Tub Time Machine looked like it would have it all: a funny title, a clever premise that took a bunch of middle-aged men back to their misspent ’80s youth, a bunch of talented leads, and cameos from ’80s fixtures. So why turn it into a lazy collection of obvious Reagan-era references, meandering subplots, and casual sexism, with a finale that negates the tiny bit of soul-searching the film allows its characters? Up-and-comer Clark Duke provides the lone bright spot amid the mess. Get that kid in better movies, pronto.
14. Letters To Juliet
In theory, the romantic comedy Letters To Juliet should be charming, given the gorgeous Italian locations and lead performance by the usually reliable Amanda Seyfried, playing an aspiring writer who takes it upon herself to help an old woman resolve a half-century-old heartbreak. But as written, performed, and directed, Letters To Juliet is pitched ludicrously high. From the moment Seyfried gets exasperated because her enthusiastic fiancé wants to spend the day consuming awesome food and wine in the Italian countryside, it’s clear that this is going to be another love story about the absurdly privileged being mildly inconvenienced.
13. Multiple Sarcasms
It would’ve taken a lot for writer-director Brooks Branch to overcome a title as godawful as Multiple Sarcasms, but Branch’s debut doesn’t do him any favors with a plot that has Timothy Hutton playing a successful architect who annoys his family by writing a play about how, man, love is hard. For all Branch’s efforts to make a movie with the flavor of real life, Multiple Sarcasms plays more like a bad stand-up routine dramatized by serious actors—a string of “Did you ever notice?” jokes with the punchlines removed.
12. The Bounty Hunter
Some bad romantic comedies are actively risible, like number seven on our 2009 worst films list, The Ugly Truth, which pitted Katherine Heigl against Gerard Butler in a grating, regressive battle of the sexes. But The Bounty Hunter is a bad romantic comedy of another kind, a movie so generic and lackadaisical that no one seemed to care what happened after the contracts were signed. It just assumes that audiences will want to see Jennifer Aniston Rom-Com No. 8, no matter how it turns out. Though every bit as couched in misogynist resentment as The Ugly Truth, the film’s premise of a bondsman (Butler, who’s becoming a reliable fixture on this list) tracking down his bail-skipping ex-wife (Aniston) has some potential for kinky, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!-style shenanigans. But the PG-13 rating keeps it in line, leaving the film to mark time between Aniston/Butler bickering sessions with a procedural that wouldn’t pass muster on the nether reaches of basic cable.
The trailer for Marmaduke—adapted from a comic strip whose continued existence seems to be an example of how inertia works in the newspaper business—made it look like a Beverly Hills Chihuahua-like headache of talking animals and musical numbers. It isn’t quite that, but there’s little pleasure to be had in hearing Owen Wilson as a clumsy Great Dane as he pals around with George Lopez as his feline sidekick. And good luck untangling its tortured premise, which gives dogs the personalities of teenagers and treats the dog park like a high school, complete with cliques and popularity-jockeying, just as nobody always suspected. On the upside, you’ll never hear an actor hit the line “A surf contest for dogs?” with the gravity William H. Macy brings to the reading.
Speaking of The Ugly Truth, Katherine Heigl and director Robert Luketic follow up on one of last year’s worst films with a new collaboration, Killers, and the best that can be said about that is, it isn’t utterly atrocious. Heigl plays an unhappy single woman who falls in love with an assassin-for-hire played by Ashton Kutcher, then learns that just about everyone in her life is involved with international intrigue. Heigl is still a bright screen presence, and Kutcher is surprisingly good at playing suave and dangerous, but Killers’ quippy dialogue and strained mistaken-identity plot are a complete drag. Is Heigl actually incapable of playing a recognizable, complex adult woman, or merely uninterested in anything but broadly sketched cartoons?
It can be hard to remember a time when the prospect of a new Rob Reiner movie inspired anticipation instead of bone-chilling dread. Though The Bucket List was a hit commercially, the director of This Is Spinal Tap, The Princess Bride, Misery, and When Harry Met Sally… has largely spent the last decade and a half tarnishing his reputation with dogs like Ghosts Of Mississippi, Rumor Has It, The Story Of Us,and Alex & Emma. Add the sappy period romantic comedy Flipped to that list of shame. Bathed in a sepia-toned glow, Flipped tells the tale of the unlikely romance that develops between the blandest teenage boy in existence (Callan McAuliff) and a Manic Pixie Dream Girl in training (Madeline Carroll) who isn’t about to let anything as trivial as McAuliff’s complete disinterest in her prevent her from winning his heart. Flipped boasts dual narrators, which means the same terminally dull scenes get repeated from contrasting points of view. Just when it appears that Flipped cannot get any direr, it ropes in Carroll’s developmentally disabled brother for a little cheap pathos.
8. When In Rome
When did “romantic comedy” become synonymous with “showcase for stupid wackiness”? Each successive rom-com hitting the market over the last decade seems to have felt obligated to top all the others for far-fetched super-gimmickry, and the cutesy-poo Kristen Bell vehicle When In Rome gets particularly insulting about it. Bell plays an ambitious career woman in love with her job (the audience knows, because she says “I am in love with my job”), but she wistfully wishes she were in love with a man, too. Then a bunch of men magically wind up in love with her after she picks up the coins they dropped into a wish-granting Roman fountain. And by “in love with her,” the film means “dedicated to making her life a wackadoodle hell by doing ridiculous things like giving her sausage bouquets and stripping in public.” From moment one, there’s no question about whether Bell will end up with handsome, generic love interest Josh Duhamel; all the noisy, nasty pointlessness that comes between their meet-cute and their happy ending is the entertainment equivalent of clown-nose honking, spinning noisemakers, and simulated farts.
7. Grown Ups
Most folks have to pay for their own vacations. Adam Sandler has them all beat; not only did he get Columbia to pony up $80 million to finance several months of hang-out time with buddies like Kevin James, Chris Rock, Rob Schneider, Colin Quinn, and David Spade under the fiction that he was making a “movie” called Grown Ups, he actually had the unmitigated gall to charge audiences for the privilege of watching what is essentially the most expensive, lucrative home movie ever made. Lazy even by the exceedingly lenient standards of a Happy Madison production, Grown Ups offers an unpalatable combination of juvenile gross-out humor and maudlin sentimentality involving the leads’ dead coach and Sandler’s daughter trying to find heaven using the GPS in her dad’s car. Sandler doesn’t just want your money, he wants your tears and your heart.
6. Finding Bliss
Julie Davis’ desperate indie comedy turns on a series of wacky developments that beg for sound effects, like a scratching-record or a drooping noise. Plucky Leelee Sobieski stars as an award-winning NYU film-school graduate who immediately finds work as a Hollywood director—a traffic director on the studio lot, that is. Ho ho! Then she catches her big break after answering an ad for a position as editor… of porno movies. Ho ho HO! Still unwilling to abandon her dreams of indie-auteur success, Sobieski surreptitiously shoots her own movie after hours using porn actors, because if there’s one thing hairy-palmed connoisseurs love about adult films, it’s the acting. It’s hard to miss the connection between Davis’ aspirations and her heroine’s, but there’s nothing in the movie—and less than nothing in the movie-within-the-movie—to suggest a female Woody Allen in the rough. Garry Marshall, Denise Richards, and Jamie Kennedy (as a dim porno actor named “Richard Harder”) turn up to heighten the aggravation.
5. The Nutcracker In 3D
Few terrible movies are as bad as terrible children’s movies, because terrible children’s movies tend to add a veneer of saccharine tweeness atop all the other problems. The Nutcracker In 3D, for instance, is the cinematic equivalent of a turd sprinkled with powdered sugar: It’s already slow, awkward, overblown, and filled with dull songs that paste lousy lyrics onto Tchaikovsky’s ballet. Also, it re-envisions the Holocaust as a doll-pocalypse, as rat soldiers round up toys to burn in giant ovens whose smoke blots out the sun. And the badly rendered titular 3-D is a nonstop, blurry headache. But atop all that, it’s toothache-inducingly syrupy, a froth of dancing sugarplum fairies and elaborately set-dressed wonderlands that serve as giant echo chambers for the underdeveloped characters. The story barely follows sensibly from one moment to the next, but apparently someone felt that if everyone smiled and giggled and gasped in wonder often enough, the audience would never notice.
4. Cats & Dogs: The Revenge Of Kitty Galore
Nine years. Humanity got through nine whole years without a sequel to Cats & Dogs, a hateful piece of anti-cat propaganda released under the guise of a high-tech, James Bond-inspired CGI thriller for kids. That’s enough time for a generation of young people to appreciate kitties for taking care of their own business and curling up in the most comfortable places they can find. But Warner Bros., seeing a demand where there wasn’t one, decided to revive the infernal series with Cats & Dogs: The Revenge Of Kitty Galore, a predictably wretched sequel featuring Bette Midler voicing the “radical felinist” of the title, the use of “Bad To The Bone” as a music cue, and a topical reference to waterboarding. Because there’s nothing 6-year-olds enjoy more than torture references.
3. Jonah Hex
Seemingly ripped from the editing bay moments before its release, this trouble-plagued transplant of a DC Comics Western hero hit theaters looking unfinished, and not really worth finishing. Clocking in at a slim 81 minutes, including credits, Jonah Hex stars Josh Brolin as a badly scarred gunslinger who also has magical resurrection powers akin to Lee Pace on Pushing Daisies. The borrowing and bad mojo don’t stop there, however: The finale seems to be on loan from Wild Wild West, and even that is padded out with a fantasy sequence that looks like the finale from an earlier cut of the movie. Other highlights include a plethora of CGI crows, magic Native Americans, a creepily pore-deprived Megan Fox, and a scene in which Brolin’s Hex, a Confederate veteran, hangs out with an African-American pal—lest we get the wrong idea. It would easily be the worst film of the year if it weren’t, in its own way, such a fascinating mess.
2. Sex And The City 2
Sex And The City 2 feels less like a proper sequel than like an attempt to destroy the seemingly unkillable franchise, then salt the ground to ensure nothing can grow in its place. It’s a film so egregiously awful, it horrified even ostensibly easy-to-please Sex And The City cultists. The miscalculations begin with making Sarah Jessica Parker and hubby Chris Noth—a romance for the ages in the television show—an Ambien in couple form, then sending Parker and her shrill pals off to a cartoonish caricature of Abu Dhabi for a few days of fun, sun, and nauseating entitlement. The film can’t seem to figure out whether it’s a scathing satire of boorish American self-absorption and cultural myopia, or a shameless celebration of the same. Evidence of the latter: The climax finds the quartet racing against the clock to keep from having to suffer the ultimate indignity: flying coach. Sex And The City 2 inexplicably cost almost $100 million, yet somehow looks cheaper and tackier than the television show that inspired it. Dubai refused to let the movie shoot in their country over concerns about the film’s racy content; if only every other nation in the world had followed suit.
1. The Last Airbender
Artistically and critically speaking, there was no bigger fiasco this year than The Last Airbender, M. Night Shyamalan’s first foray into big-budget special-effects action-adventure. Clumsily adapting the entire first season of a terrific Nickelodeon animated series into a 103-minute live-action feature, Shyamalan coped with his time crunch by having the characters dully, dutifully explain everything they’re thinking, planning, or feeling. Flat acting and stiff directing don’t help matters, nor does the overcrowded plot; treating his world as something the characters have to constantly define for each other makes his fantasy world feel even more ludicrous and unreal. And then there’s the disastrous 3-D conversion, which make the visuals so dark and muddy that even the special effects couldn’t serve as a sop for the fans. Laughable where it’s supposed to be serious and depressing where it’s supposed to be comedic, The Last Airbender was a punchline for much of 2010—again, artistically and critically speaking. Financially, it made back its money, and Shyamalan has sketched out a sequel that may or may not happen. If it does, at least this time, viewers will go in forewarned, and with a slot ready and waiting for the worst films of 2011 or 2012.
Tomorrow: Our annual survey of the best films of 2010.