We've looked at the best films of 2011, and spotlighted some titles we feared might get overlooked. Now, without further ado, here are our picks for the worst the year had to offer.
20. The Dilemma/Zookeeper
Kevin James seems like a nice enough guy, and he has a fundamental likability that serves him well as a comic and an actor, so it’s hard to begrudge him his decision to star in one broad, lightweight comedy after another. But jeez, do they all have to be so same-y and condescending? Whether James is playing a car designer whose wife is cheating on him in The Dilemma or a zookeeper whose talking animal friends help him find romance in Zookeeper, his movies all exist in a cinematic universe where hilarious physical pain and discomfort trump the subtleties of human behavior, where even the “plain” women are gorgeous, and where the writers make no effort to understand what working people actually do for a living.
19. Your Highness
The once-great David Gordon Green made a dramatic shift from high art to goofy entertainment when he followed up Snow Angels with the surprise blockbuster Pineapple Express. He made an equally bracing but far more dispiriting shift from goofy fun to juvenile idiocy with Your Highness, a special effects-intensive fantasy comedy so defiantly half-assed and ramshackle it barely qualifies as a movie. It looks more like talented people fucking around. Once upon a time a vulgar stoner comedy involving dragons and wizards and shit would have been beneath Green, as would an endless assortment of gay-panic jokes, some involving fantastical creatures. In 2011, however, the man who gave the world George Washington and All The Real Girls didn’t elevate the lowly stoner comedy; he degraded it. Your Highness functions as a harrowing cautionary tale of what happens when you give talented but undisciplined people free reign to indulge their most puerile instincts.
18. The Change-Up
The body-switch comedy genre has never been particularly sophisticated, but The Change-Up lames it up to a stunning degree, turning the life-swap of a slacker B-movie actor (played by Ryan Reynolds) and a married lawyer (Jason Bateman) into an engine for generating crude sex and poop jokes. (For some reason, Hollywood continues to articulate the horrors of middle-class family life in terms of how much literal shit a man has to see and smell.) Not only do director David Dobkin and screenwriters Jon Lucas and Scott Moore fail to make even the faintest attempt at investing this premise with anything related to how real people actually cope with the choices they’ve made, but Reynolds and Bateman barely try to modify their usual performance tics when they’re supposed to be playing each other. Then again, why should they? It’s not like the script defines them as anything other than “Guy #1” and “Guy #2.”
17. Straw Dogs
Love it or hate it (or hold some combination of those feelings), there’s no film quite like Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 shocker Straw Dogs. Not even this remake, which moves the action to the American South but otherwise tries to borrow as much from the Peckinpah film as possible. The framing remains the same, but the content slips through director Rod Lurie’s fingers, leaving only violence, revenge, stereotyping, and meaninglessness. Oh, and a terrible James Woods performance as a “Southern” patriarch that almost deserves to be seen, if only by fans of curious movie accents.
Since Twilight took off as a YA-lit phenomenon, there have been countless followers, as specific as supernatural-love-triangle-romance books, and as general as broody, visually chilly teen-angst films. Beastly jumps onto that bandwagon with its modern-day update on the old “Beauty And The Beast” story, but it feels like a project where almost no one felt comfortable committing: not star Alex Pettyfer, with his halfhearted line-readings; not writer-director Daniel Barnz (adapting a YA novel), who has Pettyfer baldly, artlessly saying things to the effect of, “I don’t know what this committee does, but I deserve to head it because I’m handsome and it’ll look good on my college applications”; and certainly not Neil Patrick Harris, brought in for a minor comic-relief-and-pathos role, which he plays like a condemned man awaiting a last meal he knows has been spit on. The dialogue is clumsy, the action even clumsier, and the whole concept, which tries to cram magic and social media into the same half-baked world, never even approaches convincing.
15. The Smurfs
“Oooooh, Google!” chorus the Smurfs at one moment in the big-screen, live-action update of the popular ’80s cartoon. They might as well continue: “Oooooh, Google paid for this product-placement, and therefore this segment of this incredibly pandering movie!” Take away all the product-placement, the “Hey, you’ll laugh because you recognize this!” pop-culture references, the grating cover of “Walk This Way” with the Smurfs rapping about Smurfette, the zillion CGI cat-reaction shots, the extensive toilet gags, the sloppy physical slapstick, and the awfully contrived “Follow your heart, even if you’re a marketing schmuck” subplot, and there’d be nothing left to this film but two or three shots of human protagonists Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays batting their big, sad eyes directly into the cameras, as if to say “But… the dump trucks full of money… they were so big, and so shiny…”
14. I Am
There’s no questioning the earnestness of director Tom Shadyac’s desire to explore big themes in life like happiness, materialism, and violence, revealing the perspective he developed after a serious bike accident that led to months of pain and introspection. But it is worth wondering why anyone would want to watch him expound on these matters like a stoned undergrad with incredible resources. The personal documentary I Am isn’t as much about any of these broad philosophical topics as it is about Shadyac’s fuzzy, New Age-y take on them and his ability to get folks like Howard Zinn and Desmond Tutu on camera to chat with him—after he asks them, with an excruciating mix of self-mockery and seriousness, whether they’ve seen any of his other movies (which include Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Nutty Professor).
In 2005, writer-director Gela Babluani scored an international commercial and creative hit with 13 Tzameti, an intense, critically acclaimed drama about the high-stakes world of competitive Russian Roulette. Given the film’s subject matter, it’s apt that Babluani pushed his luck just a little too far when he co-wrote and directed an American remake that’s less claustrophobic and intense than dreary and utterly joyless. Babluani scores an impressive retinue of badasses (Jason Statham, Michael Shannon, a cowboy hat-wearing Mickey Rourke, Ray Winstone, the eternally regrettable 50 Cent) to play the film’s Russian Roulette enthusiasts, then strands them in nothing roles. Any film that keeps Statham from having fun and kicking ass is operating in direct conflict against the will of the universe.
12. Dirty Girl
Indie films have a long history of mucking up “flyover country,” that mythical stretch between New York and Los Angeles where people act like provincial yokels when they’re not inspiring us with the earnest simplicity with which they go about their business. Dirty Girl opens in Norman, Oklahoma in 1987, a setting depicted with conspicuous tackiness even before it gets to the brain-dead hicks and trailer trash that populate most of the cast. Up-and-coming indie star Juno Temple acquits herself well enough as the eponymous character, a slutty high-school pariah who befriends a closeted outcast (Jeremy Dozier). But once Temple and her new pal hit the road in search of her long-lost daddy, Dirty Girl morphs into an ersatz Little Miss Sunshine, the sort of movie where the heroes coming across a hitchhiking gay stripper is not only unsurprising, but expected.
11. The Undefeated
A feature-length ad for a presidential campaign that failed to materialize, this garish documentary in praise of Sarah Palin never actually sought out its subject for an interview. Instead, like an epic fan video, it cobbles together the story of her career from news footage and snippets of her audiobook, filling in the gaps with generic video clips that are vaguely thematically related (sometimes hilariously so) and testimonials from supporters like Andrew Breitbart and Tammy Bruce. A numbingly detailed hagiography centered on Palin’s gubernatorial days, The Undefeated gets fuzzier when it comes to her VP run (when she was actually, cough, defeated). With its jittery editing and wall-to-wall manipulative score, it’s bound to exasperate even the hardiest of Palinites.
10. I Melt With You
Come for the first hour, in which Thomas Jane, Rob Lowe, Jeremy Piven, and Christian McKay take lots of drugs, listen to lots of ’80s college rock, and sob over the various ways they’ve wasted the whole goddamned potential of their generation. Stay for the second hour, in which the attempts to mythologize these idiots’ lost youth takes a goofily nihilistic turn. Fun, baby.
9. All’s Faire In Love
A 2009 travesty unearthed and tossed into theaters, presumably to capitalize on Christina Ricci’s semi-renewed stardom, All’s Faire In Love should have stayed buried, for the benefit of everyone involved and any innocent bystanders who might pick it up in the hopes that a romantic comedy set at a Renaissance Faire could be dorky fun. Ricci, acting extra manic, and her costar Owen Benjamin, playing a woefully unbelievable college footballer forced to work the fair, pursue a charmless courtship that’s complicated by a hammy co-worker (Chris Wylde) who takes his role playacting nobility way too far. The rest of the film plays out like a series of dire improv sketches based around suggestions like “turkey legs,” “witch’s curse” and “jousting” in which no one ever thinks to call “SCENE.”
8. Atlas Shrugged: Part 1
Decades in the making, this adaptation of Ayn Rand’s Objectivist opus was supposed to be the Lord Of The Rings for the Tea Party set, but more than 50 years later, Rand’s vision of a rail-driven future looks hilariously dated, and any political timeliness wasn’t reflected at the box office. (No matter: Part II is coming in 2012, free market be damned.) What’s most striking about Rand’s fiction-coated treatise on the glories of entrepreneurship and the evils of government control is how awkwardly her ideas translate into human drama. Though the actors take some of the blame for the robotic line-readings—Taylor Schilling, as a blonde titan of the Ann Coulter/Fox News anchor variety, speaks like a GPS navigator—Atlas Shrugged is guilty mostly of talking about the capitalist revolution rather than inspiring it. Rather than “Going Galt,” viewers are more likely to go to sleep.
7. Passion Play
What’s so disappointing about this bad romance between bird-woman Megan Fox and on-the-lam jazz trumpeter Mickey Rourke isn’t just that it’s awful; it’s that it’s awful in ways that are absolutely no fun. All the elements in Mitch Glazer’s long-in-the-works passion project are odd enough—bird-woman!—to add up to a midnight movie, but the result is instead dour, dull, and thuddingly pretentious. Rourke sleepwalks through his role as a dirtbag who finds redemption in the arms (and wings) of his sideshow sweetie; Fox strikes a series of fetching poses that, when cycled through flipbook-fashion, might animate into something resembling a performance; and not even Bill Murray can enliven the on-screen happenings.
6. Shark Night 3D
Modern slasher films are distinct from horror at this point, because they rarely offer much horror. Instead, they strike a simple contract with the audience, to provide a comfortably predictable, emotionally safe set of scares, some prurient glimpses of skin and gore, and generally the catharsis of seeing some exaggeratedly awful stereotypes die in comedically awful ways. Shark Night 3D shows how closely a film can stick to that pattern without even delivering the minimal goods audiences turned up for: It’s a typical melding of slasher and creature-feature, with a bunch of good-looking, one-dimensional idjits getting offed by a curiously varied collection of sharks, but it’s bafflingly arbitrary and mismanaged, veering into angsty drama one moment, torture-porn misery-wallowing the next, and goofy killer-comedy after that. The PG-13 rating keeps the proceedings tame and bland—no sex, no nudity, a minimum of blood—which rules out half the potential audience, but apart from one memorably ludicrous death, there isn’t much to draw a younger crowd, either, unless they’re in the mood for draggy conversations, heartfelt speeches, and lurching tonal shifts between the silly, shark-y payoffs.
5. Apollo 18
What’s worse than a bad movie? How about a bad movie that squanders a good idea? Apollo 18 takes the Blair Witch/Paranormal Activity found-footage concept into outer space to recount the secret history of a trip to the moon that took place after the ones we all know about. Unfortunately, director Gonzalo López-Gallego didn’t know what to do with the idea, so we get a lot of blurry shots of astronauts screaming and a seizure-inducing approach to editing, all in service of a big reveal about (spoiler, if you care) sentient moon rocks.
4. Love, Wedding, Marriage
Girl weds boy. Girl learns her parents’ own seemingly perfect state of matrimony is falling apart. Girl goes insane. Such is the classic arc followed by Dermot Mulroney’s directorial debut, evidence that starring in romantic comedies won’t necessarily leave you well-prepared to step behind the camera and helm one yourself. Mandy Moore plays a marriage counselor, and to reinforce her ideas about love by keeping her folks (played by Jane Seymour and James Brolin) together, she drags them through hideously unfunny “wacky” therapy sessions that involve grunting like gorillas and doing trust falls—all while neglecting her own spouse, who just wants some conjugal nookie. This film is about as romantic as a custody battle.
3. Bucky Larson: Born To Be A Star
Early in the porn-themed, Adam Sandler-co-written-and-produced comedy Bucky Larson: Born To Be A Star, a rural gentleman smears peanut butter on his genitalia, then beckons a bevy of goats to lick it off. It’s all downhill from there. Bucky Larson represents powerhouse production company/purveyors of proud sub-mediocrity Happy Madison’s latest attempt to create a newfangled star out of the dull tin of one of its most “beloved” supporting players. In this case, that’s comedian, screenwriter, and comic character actor Nick Swardson, who’s duded out with giant buckteeth and a Prince Valiant haircut to play a naïve Midwesterner who moves to Hollywood to make it as a porn star despite his comically miniscule genitalia and inability to understand anything around him. Bucky Larson is a film of unfathomable cruelty and stupidity, a misanthropic wallow in questionable taste that nevertheless performed the invaluable public service of snuffing out Swardson’s ill-considered career as a cinematic leading man while it was still in its ugly infancy.
2. The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)
Tom Six’s The Human Centipede (First Sequence) gave the Internet something to chatter about back in 2010. The film itself at least had one selling point beyond its mouth-stitched-to-ass premise, a goofy performance by Dieter Laser as the bad scientist doing the stitching. Its sequel has a couple of grim gags about what might happen if someone really did try to recreate a horror film, but mostly it’s a lot of fluids, muffled screams, traumatized penises, and squished newborns stretched out over a punishing 90 minutes. That joke isn’t funny anymore, if it was every funny in the first place.
Last year, the Adam Sandler/Dennis Dugan comedy Grown Ups only made it as high as No. 7 on our “Worst of” list, between the rom-com where Kristen Bell pilfers coins from an enchanted fountain and the indie where Leelee Sobieski stumbles inadvertently into a job editing porn films. But Sandler and Dugan doubled their chances at A.V. Club infamy in 2011 with Just Go With It and Jack And Jill, and they’ve hit whatever the opposite of a jackpot is. Of the two, Just Go With It is marginally less awful, but its farcical plotting—an earlier screen adaptation of the same material was written by I.A.L. Diamond, Billy Wilder’s longtime creative partner—makes it uniquely ill-suited to Sandler’s lazy, mush-mouthed riffing. Among the casualties is Nicole Kidman, once the embodiment of New Hollywood glamour, reduced to slumming it as Jennifer Aniston’s high-school rival. But Kidman suffers little compared to Al Pacino in Jack And Jill, and his mercilessly self-deprecating turn as himself is by far the best thing about the movie. Sandler plays dual roles as a successful-but-callow advertizing wizard and his abrasive-but-well-meaning sister, but aside from Pacino’s bizarre enchantment with the latter, the film pursues few avenues beyond the presumed hilarity of Sandler as a mannish woman. When Dugan isn’t using his camera to hawk products like Dunkin’ Donuts, he’s often just waiting around for farts.
STOP-THE-PRESSES BONUS STINKER: New Year’s Eve
So is Garry Marshall’s new plan to create a many-threaded, family-friendly, corny-as-hell rom-com for every holiday, secure in the knowledge that he can get endless TV replays once per year per film? In the spirit of Marshall’s 2010 film Valentine’s Day, his 2011 follower New Year’s Eve crams a wealth of hokey, ridiculously broad subplots into the hours before midnight on December 31, exploring what that very special time means to a bunch of cartoonishly drawn stereotypes who all explain their motives and goals early and often, lest viewers somehow not realize exactly what victory conditions they each need to reach by the swoony, fireworks-laden happiness montage at the end. Just for starters, there’s the dying old man (Robert De Niro) who just wants to see the ball drop in Times Square one last time before he goes. And the romantic (Josh Duhamel) sidelined by a car crash, but desperate to get to New York in hopes of reuniting with the mysterious woman he met at midnight on New Year’s Eve a year ago. And the teenager (Abigail Breslin) hoping to get her first kiss from her crush object at midnight in Times Square. And the headlining rock star (Jon Bon Jovi) who just can’t concentrate on his performance because he’s trying to win back his ex (Katherine Heigl), a chef in the middle of catering her first big event. And the mousy, addled wallflower (Michelle Pfeiffer) who’ll give her tickets to the biggest party in town to a bike messenger (Zac Efron) if he helps her achieve an impossible list of life goals (“visit Bali,” “save a life”) before midnight. Cute puppies, first kisses, dying wishes, love at first sight, holiday-hating cranks who learn the reason for the season: There’s no heartstring-tugging cliché too trite for this hilariously shameless yay-fest. It’s a tsunami of syrupy sentiment that drowns everyone it touches in artificial good cheer.
SPACE RESERVED ON THE A.V. CLUB’S MANTLE OF SHAME FOR DEC. 16, 2011, THE DAY THE WORLD ENDS: Alvin And The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked.