[This article was originally published over at Vulture Hound. Go check ’em out.]
Idiots will often tell you that there’s a fine line between genius and insanity, usually as a way to excuse their saying or doing something incredibly stupid, but in matters of cinema it’s often not far from the truth.
Whenever an actor or actress is asked why they appeared in a particularly shitty film, you can almost always expect one of two responses:
A) “I needed the money.”
B) “I didn’t know it was going to be bad.”
The fact is that, unless they’re involved in some sort of Producers-esque scam where they are determined to lose money, no studio starts making a film that they think will fail. No matter what you are watching, no matter how bad it is, at some point, someone, somewhere believed that it would succeed.
But while hindsight is a wonderful thing, there are some rare cases where hind-hindsight reveals particular cinematic disasters to be untapped goldmines of unintentional awesome and/or comedy.
The Wicker Man (2006)
This will arguably be the best known film on the list, especially on the internet, because when it comes to the 2006 remake of British cult classic of the same name, you can generally split public opinion into four categories: People who didn’t know it existed; People who did and heard it was awful; People whose only knowledge of it is Nicolas Cage shouting ‘Not the bees!’ and the final, most blessed group of all: The people who have actually seen the entire film.
Policeman, Nicolas Cage, travels to a small island commune to investigate stories of a missing little girl. He is summoned there by his estranged wife who hints that the child may, in fact, be his own daughter. Upon his arrival, he discovers the locals to be, at best, unwelcoming to outsiders and, at worst, just really, really god damn creepy.
Why It Sucks
Ignoring the plot holes big enough to drive a bus through –like how the islanders thought they were going to explain away the disappearance of a policeman when his entire department descended upon the island to investigate– the entire cast seemed to go into filming determined not to act under any circumstances.
Everyone delivers their lines like their scripts have all the full stops and commas swapped around, and it honestly feels like they were taking bets to see who could get fired first.
Why It’s Also Brilliant
I wouldn’t actually go so far as to say no one in this film can act, because I’ve seen several of them in othe things where they totally do. Like I said, they just deliver their lines in The Wicker Man in the strangest possible manner and, to their credit, it totally works. The film is a lot easier to watch and enjoy if you approach it in the same mindset as an episode of Garth Marengi’s Dark Place. I’m not giving the writers any credit that was their intention, I’m just telling you it helps a lot; especially when the bee lady turns up, later on.
Every thing in The Wicker Man that would be ridiculous in any other film only contributes to the over-arching theme of ‘these island people are fucked up’ and it’s all held together by the undisputed king of awesome shitty acting: Mr Nicolas Cage.
I’ll be honest, this article was originally going to be about me watching every Nic Cage film on Netflix and seeing what effect the experience had on me, but the more I watched the more I realised that the man is just too damn loveable to make fun of. He isn’t even a bad actor –films like 8mm made it clear he is more than capable of doing serious work– but Cage truly shines when you can tell he’s just there to get paid and starts turning the Nicolas Cage Effect up to eleven.
This is never truer than in The Wicker Man.
I don’t like to assume, but I reckon Cage realised early on the precise flavour of shite he was dealing with in The Wicker Man, and so he decided to give a two-hour masterclass in hamming it up and doing that terrifying thing with his eyes. Everyone always bigs up the bees scene, or the part where he knocks out a woman, dressed as a bear, (I mean he’s dressed as a bear, not the woman. He got the bear suit from another woman that he knocked out,) but for my money, the absolute pinnacle of The Wicker Man comes when he asks his wife how his daughter’s doll got burned.
It will be difficult to put this across in words, but let me try my best: I want you to say out loud, right now, the way you would ask someone how your daughter’s doll got burned. Now take a deep breath and shout that sentence four times without pausing between any of the words. For added effect, do not blink, ever.
Congratulations, you just took your first class in ‘Acting Drama the Nic Cage Way: A Beginner Course’!
Street Fighter: The Movie
Picking on a film based on a video game is a lot like criticising someone struggling to unlock a door with their penis: They’re doing the best they can with the tools they’ve got, and they’re also probably dealing with at least one kind of mental illness.
Still, though, the 1994 Jean Claude Vanne Damme/Street Fighter vehicle took a very special kind of incompetence to mess up.
Right off the bat, this is where things start to fall apart. Whereas they could have picked any one of the paper-thin backstories the Street Fighter II fighters used to justify beating the tar out of each other, the writers opted to focus on all-American army superstar, Colonel Guile; here played by all-Belgian enemy of unprotected groins and the English language, Jean Claude Vann Damme.
From what I can remember, Guile is searching for his army buddy, Charlie, who has been captured by terrorist leader M. Bison. And who, as a casting director, do you choose as the leader of an international crime syndicate/Nazi iconography enthusiast? Wait, before you answer, let me just remind you how M.Bison is generally depicted in most game artwork:
Well, have you guessed it, yet? That’s right, Gomez Addams, of course! A deathly ill one, at that, as this turned out to be Raul Julia’s last film. Now, I’m not saying that Street Fighter: The Movie was so bad that it literally killed one of its stars, but it certainly killed most of their careers! HEY OHHHHHHHHHHH no seriously Raul Julia was lovely, I’m sad he’s gone.
Anyway, a series of contrived events bring all of the Street Fighter cast together for one final climactic showdown at Bison’s secret terror base. Also, Kylie Minogue is there for some reason, because it was the 90’s and that was just the sort of thing that we did.
Why it Sucks
I cannot stress enough how much effort it took to fuck this up.
Some of those contrived events I mentioned include taking Dhalsim and Dee Jay –normally a fire-breathing monk and bad motherfucka, respectively– and turning them into lab assistants for M. Bison so they were on hand during the fight scenes to be completely god damn irrelevant.
Chun Li became a reporter, with a now decidedly Hawaiian-looking E.Honda as her camera man; Ryu and Ken spent all their screen time trying to french kiss when they thought no one was looking; Blanka looked like the lovechild of The Incredible Hulk and Mick Hucknall (and go to Hell, the producers of Street Fighter, for making me imagine that;) and Sagat, the eight-foot Muay Thai beast, got swapped out for a bad Kojak impersonator. Oh, and remember Kylie Minogue, the Australian pop starlet, who I mentioned earlier? Of course they got her to play British secret service agent, Cammy.
Broadly speaking, it’s one of the most flagrant disregards for an established franchise since George Lucas pulled the money funnel out of his arse, one day, and declared absolutely all of the Star Wars expanded universe to be non-canon.
All of that could have been okay, though, if they’d just had a god damn fight, once in a while. This is what I really, truly do not understand about Street Fighter: The Movie: none of the actors looked even remotely like their video game counterparts, but none of them could fight, either, with the exception of JCVD. The only thing Raul Julia ever fought were the advances of women, and everyone else throws a punch like they’re swatting away the overdue rent notices that forced them to take this job in the first place.
This is what really sets Street Fighter apart from other video game movies, because all the pieces were in place to have a balls-out ninety minute punchgasm. Tony Jaa’s entire career is proof-positive that you can make a coherent plot out of nothing but the anguished screams of stuntmen and snapped fibulas, so all the Street Fighter director had to do was get a room full of semi-pro MMA fighters, inject them with bull semen and offer the biggest paycheque to whoever was still standing when they ran out of film.
Instead, 90% of the film is devoted to Guile and Bison trading quips with one and other, like they’re in a rom-com waiting to go in for a kiss while the camera spins around them.
Why it’s still Awesome
Sometimes, you have to take a step back and judge a film, not by what you expected it to be, but by the merits of what it actually is. As a film about fighting in the streets, Street Fighter is utter horseshit. As a screen test for Raul Julia’s stand-up routine, Street Fighter is a masterpiece.
Every single line uttered by Raul Julia is pure comedy gold, in part due to the fact that he, again, acts like he knows precisely how awful the film is. I could spend the next five or six paragraphs crafting a thesis on his performance, but instead let me leave you with the greatest taunt ever uttered by a human tongue:
“For you, the day Bison graced your village was the most important day of your life. But for me, it was Tuesday.”
–M. Bison, in regards to wiping out Chun Li’s entire village.
Or something like that, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Street Fighter, because fuck this movie.
The Punisher – War Zone
It’s hard to believe today, what with Joss Whedon’s Avengers film raking in more cash in a few months than most developing nations could in a year, but there was a time when movies based on comic books were every bit as laughable as their video game counterparts.
In 2004, Marvel decided to try and reboot the Punisher movie franchise they’d began in the 80’s with Dolph Lundgren at the helm, no doubt bouyed by the success of Spider-Man, and we were treated to a new Punisher film starring Thomas Jane as the titular Punisher and John Travolta as a man who hadn’t worked in a while.
There’s not much I can say about the first Punisher reboot, since it was a thoroughly solid revenge film that benefitted from the fact that the Punisher’s origin story reads like the climax of your average superhero story. The follow-up, also technically a reboot, is a different story.
Warning: Cliches incoming, hard and fast.
Frank Castle is an undercover cop who retires after one last job so he can be with his family, only to have his dreams shattered after a mob boss he wronged murders literally everybody related to him. This spurs Castle to take up the mantle of The Punisher and show all those criminals who think they’re above the law that they’re wrong. Dead wrong.
That’s actually a more accurate synopsis of the first Punisher remake. War Zone, in a move I wish more superhero films would learn from, devotes about two minutes to the origin story portion of the plot; feeding us that backstory through efficient flashback scenes, presumably to make room for more shots of the Punisher punching faces off (absolutely not an exaggeration.)
There is actually sort of a plot revolving around Castle accidentally killing an undercover cop and trying to redeem himself by giving money to the dead cop’s family, because that is how you justice, but it really only serves as a framing device to let The Punisher spin around on chandeliers; propelled by machine gun fire (again, not an exaggeration.)
Why it Sucks
Well, for a kick off, the cop-killing kind of undermines the Punisher’s entire character, since he has essentially become what made him The Punisher in the first place. A more competent film might have showcased this internal conflict as the central theme of the film; examining how fine the line is between the vigilante and just plain being a criminal, but The Dark Knight had already came out by this point, so War Zone threw up the V’s and went back to grinding up McNulty from The Wire in a bottle factory (yep, that happened too).
Also, this film features possibly the most infuriatingly annoying villain ever, in the form of Jigsaw’s psychotic brother, who constantly chews the scenery and over-acts everything in a way that was presumably supposed to convey how mentally unbalanced he is but instead just makes him an unlikeable cock and a pain to watch. Again, Heath Ledger had already done The Joker by the time War Zone came out, so subtle, nuanced character acting was kind of taken.
Why it’s Still Awesome
The keen-eyed among you may have noticed the hints I’ve been dropping as to the level of violence present in this film. For those of you who weren’t paying attention, let me clarify: The Punisher: War Zone looks like one of the film reels Malcolm MacDowell is forced to watch in A Clockwork Orange, only set to Slipknot instead of Beethoven and totally counterproductive because it is ridiculously entertaining.
The film starts off with Castle breaking into a mansion and murdering every last person inside. I’m not being flippant, either: the film takes the time to show you him murdering every last person in the most ridiculously ostentatious way possible; including the chandelier scene I mentioned earlier.
From that moment on, the film never lets up for more than a couple of minutes and, while it does come at the expense of the narrative/any actual decent character development for The Punisher, sometimes it’s just a lot of fun to watch ninety minutes of live-action Looney Tunes violence.
The Thomas Jane Punisher film was already pretty brutal, so I applaud the War Zone team’s efforts to go above and beyond in creating one of the most cartoonishly violent films I’ve ever seen. In terms of gore, for those that worry about that sort of thing, it has for more in common with The Story of Ricky, which I’ve talked about several times before, and those old Peter Jackson films he used to make before devoting his life to visually recreating the works of Tolkien, page for page, so you shouldn’t feel uncomfortable the way you would watching one of Eli Roth’s love letters to a serial killer.
Also, for whatever other faults War Zone may have, Ray Stevenson is the perfect casting as The Punisher. I won’t pretend to have any knowledge about the comics or their canon, but he is exactly how I picture The Punisher looking, sounding and acting, so eat it, nerds.
There is an undeniable air of failure endemic to the straight-to-video sequel, and since I didn’t even know that this film existed until I happened across it on telly one night, I’m guessing that the makers didn’t have much faith in its success, either.
A spiritual sequel to Road Trip, the film revolves around a young chap called Scotty, who is dumped by his girlfriend shortly after graudation –and shortly before discovering she’d been cheating on him with best-cameo-ever Matt Damon— and decides to travel to Europe to meet his pen pal after discovering he is a she and also super hot. It’s basically your classic love story set up, is what I’m saying.
Why it Sucks
It doesn’t. At all.
Why it’s Still Awesome
Eurotrip is so good that, until I found a copy on DVD, I was determined it was a dream that I’d had. The film has an astounding amount of great cameos, including David Hasslehoff as David Hasslehoff, Vinnie Jones as a skinhead football hooligan (a true stretch of his acting muscles), Lucy Lawless as a dominatrix, Joanna Lumley as a Dutch hostel owner and Boris the Blade from Snatch as a sitcom-quoting Bratislavan who drives the General Lee. Eurotrip has more creativity jammed into ninety minutes than American Pie mustered in four full cinema releases and several spin-offs.
I think everything that is so fantastic about Eurotrip is owed entirely to the fact that it was an unknown sequel: because they were assuming no one would ever watch it, the creators got away with as much crazy shit as they possibly could, and it resulted in one of the most ludicrously entertaining comedy films I have ever seen, while the original Road Trip is now at best mildly amusing and a reminder that in the early 2000’s Tom Green was paid large sums of money by MTV to put dead animals in his mouth.
I don’t have any jokes to make about this one, really, you should just go and watch it.
So far in this list we’ve had video game spin-offs, comic book spin-offs, ill-fated straigt-to-video sequels and the madness of Nicolas Cage; all the hallmarks of great awful films. One of the rarest, and arguably most perplexing types of predictably bad film, however, is the board game spin-off.
You may think this trend started when that Battleship film came out some time ago and inexplicably had more to do with alien robots fighting Liam Neeson and Rihanna’s beautiful arse than it did with two children fighting the urge to sneak a peek at their opponent’s flotilla when he wasn’t looking, but these bewildering cash-ins have been going on for a long time.
All the way back to the 80’s, at least, when we were gifted with Clue.
As far as board games go, Clue (that’s Cluedo for those of us blessed with a British passport,) is probably one of the more apt choices for a cinema conversion. Although The Departed did make an admirable stab at a Guess Who? spin-off when they cast Mark Wahlberg and Matt Damon in the same film.
The point is it would have been pretty easy for them to just whip up a feature-length episode of Jonathan Creek and be done with it. Instead, they opted to go for more of a slasher film approach; with each of the game’s famous characters being bumped off one after another, which you may recognise as absolutely not the way you play Cluedo.
Why it Sucks
It’s really difficult to understand why this film had to be related to Cluedo, at all. I wasn’t around in 1985, but I find it hard to believe that the Cluedo fanbase was such a lucrative market that it was considered a worthy investment to slap the brand on a film which bore resemblance to the game only in so far as the characters share the same names and are sometimes murdered using weapons found in the game.
Why it’s Still Awesome
Two words: Tim Curry.
To anyone who hasn’t seen the film, this will probably sound like an insult, but Clue might be Tim Curry’s greatest work. While the supporting cast do have their moments, Tim Curry absolutely carries the entire film as the butler/murder suspect with the kind of exuberant over-acting that anyone who is familiar with Dr Frank-N-Furter will know and love him for.
That’s not to say the rest of the cast don’t do a good job, they absolutely do, in particular the delightfully odd Mrs White, and the film actually does a decent job of building an air of mystery and suspense as bodies start to pile up.
At time of release, the film even had three different endings that were shown at random in different cinemas, which I always thought was a nice touch and the kind of thing you would absolutely never get nowadays, when every extra minute of filming means one more key grip being ground up and turned into luncheon meat for the catering, to cut costs.
If Clue was remade today you can guarantee it would be a gritty murder-porn number, aping the Saw franchise, so thank god we were still allowed to have a sense of humour in the 80’s and so we ended up with essentially a slapstick version of And Then There Were None, because it’s genuinely brilliant.
That’s it for the list, if nothing else I hope it’s made you consider that sometimes it’s worth giving a film a chance even if, on the face of it, it looks like it will be absolutely terrible. You never know what you might find.
Well, unless it stars Shia LaBeouf. Then you can pretty much call it a write-off, sight unseen.
Note: I don’t usually bother crediting the images I use in these articles because it’s not like I make any money off any of this, but I wanted to link the site I got that Punisher gif off of, because it was exactly what I was looking for and it’s normally an utter shitemare finding gifs. Cheers.