Making a film involves a lot of people working really hard. It’s a shame, then, when the end result is a big load of stinky shit. Sometimes, though, even in a total cinematic turd, there’s a high-quality peanut — one performance, joke or moment that briefly elevates the viewing experience from regrettable to worth it.
I’m not talking about critically-reviled movies that are loads of fun either — the lower echelons of Rotten Tomatoes are unfairly packed with perfectly entertaining fart-based comedies, cheerfully silly schlock where people in dumb helmets kick each other and entirely adequate by-the-numbers slasher flicks. (Like, Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg’s That’s My Boy has a 20 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes but is really funny. Nicolas Cage’s output is frequently savaged by critics, but the man has never delivered a non-entertaining performance.)
Nope, I’m talking about films that are so bad that they’re celluloid wastelands devoid of entertainment apart from, magically, one good moment that highlights what might have been.
Dumb & Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd
Shit Credentials: This Carreyless, Daniels-devoid prequel is remarkably stupid, inexcusably racist (one Asian character has the nickname “Ching-Chong”), completely sloppy (the Sharpie blacking out part of actor Eric Christian Olsen’s front tooth is visible in about 45 percent of the scenes he’s in) and almost entirely joyless. USA Today concluded “one laments the time, money and talent wasted in this humorless debacle.”
But: It has two — two! — proper, actual, good laughs in it. One involves Bob Saget finding a bathroom covered in chocolate, mistaking it for human waste and shouting the word “shit” a lot — it’s not highbrow stuff, but it’s funny — and the other is a magnificently stupid spin on the “character makes a big speech, then you realize he’s actually just practicing it” gag that belongs in a far less shitty movie.
Shit Credentials: Shawn and Marlon Wayans clad in pale prosthetics as a pair of Paris Hilton-esque party girls didn’t result in a movie for everyone. “It’s the worst movie of the year!” said Richard Roeper. The BBC decreed it a film containing “one (unfunny) joke.”
But: There aren’t a lot of movies that couldn’t be improved by Terry Crews doing a weird, seated shimmy-dance to Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles.” Citizen Kane, for instance, has a perfect 100/100 score on Metacritic, which is baffling considering it doesn’t include a scene where Terry Crews does a weird, seated shimmy-dance to Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles.”
Shit Credentials: Be Cool is both an unwanted sequel to Get Shorty and proof that there was more to Pulp Fiction than the chemistry between John Travolta and Uma Thurman. The production was beset with problems, particularly a last-minute decision to shift it from a hard R to a PG-13, and the result universally underwhelmed. “You know a sequel isn’t working when, 10 minutes into the movie, a voice inside your head starts screaming, ‘Please make it stop!’” said Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers.
But: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson — back when he was a wrestler casually trying the acting thing — plays a gay bodyguard and budding actor whose audition piece is a monologue from cheerleading classic Bring It On. His commitment to it (and it is, of course, a dialogue, between two women) is genuinely impressive, and you can see, hey, this dude’s going to be the biggest movie star in the world.
Shit Credentials: The tale of a boy who divorces his parents and has wacky adventures with various ethnic stereotypes, Rob Reiner’s North spawned one of the late Roger Ebert’s most infamously scathing reviews: “I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.” His BFF Gene Siskel gave it zero stars.
But: There’s one funny bit in Hawaii where North, seeing his image being used on a Coppertone-like billboard encouraging people to visit, shouts, “My crack!” a bunch of times. It’s quite funny, sort of, in that it’s a prepubescent Elijah Wood shouting about his ass-crack. It’s not on YouTube, and it’s not worth watching the rest of the film for, because shit, life’s too short. You can probably tell just from the trailer:
Shit Credentials: Striptease, i.e., “the Showgirls that doesn’t have camp value or a cult following,” is mainly famous for Demi Moore both receiving the most money an actress had ever been paid for a film ($12.5 million) and spending large swathes of it unclad. It was criticized both for its uneven tone — part screwball comedy, part “I just want my kids back” drama, part “look, a really famous person’s breasts” — and given its constant nudity, strange unsexiness. The Wall Street Journal described it as “a case of the star’s salary being much more interesting, and exuberantly vulgar, than anything the screen reveals.”
But: In one scene, the late Burt Reynolds, playing a sleazy senator obsessed with Moore’s stripper, sniffs her panties while covered head to toe in Vaseline, flashing world-beating shit-eating grins and stomping around his office to feel the grease squeezing between his toes. It really is quite something to behold.
The Master of Disguise
Shit Credentials: At just 80 minutes, 15 of which are credits and bloopers, The Master Of Disguise only just qualifies as a feature film. In his only starring role, Dana Carvey plays Pistachio Disguisey, who discovers he is descended from a long line of expert, uh, disguisers, and uses his skills to defeat the guy who played Data in Star Trek, who is stealing precious artifacts in a bid to take over the world or something. The A.V. Club described it as “about as funny as a seeping wound,” speculating “it may take as long to watch as it did to write.”
But: There’s one bit in it where Carvey is dressed as a turtle man, to infiltrate what he thinks is a turtles-only club, and it’s so fucking stupid that, goddamn it, you’ve got to give it to him. He’s achieving exactly what he’s setting out to achieve — what he’s setting out to achieve is just dumb as fuck. Supposedly this scene was filmed on 9/11, which, Jesus Christ.
Bucky Larson: Born to Be A Star
Shit Credentials: Sporting an almost impressive 0 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, Bucky Larson follows the adventures of the mentally challenged, micropenised title character as he tries to become a porn superstar. It’s gross and not funny! Time Out described it as “dire, soul-crushing stuff,” while Newsday went for “icky and repellent.”
But: Kevin Nealon plays Buck’s roommate, and seems to have just been told to swear a lot and be as unpleasant as possible. And, hey, he really goes for it. Even in a truly shitty movie, Kevin Nealon yelling, “YOU FUCKIN’ WHORE” and shuffling awkwardly out of a door is pretty funny.
Shit Credentials: A Dennis Rodman vehicle (in which the 6-foot-8, tattoo-covered, piercing-laden Rodman, arguably one of the most recognizable people alive, plays a spy, a job that tends to involve blending in) featuring too many Dane Cook animal noises and a pair of wisecracking computer-hacker monks, Simon Sez was described by The A.V. Club as “tacky and tasteless,” and by TV Guide as an “on-the-cheap action thriller” showcasing “the limited talents of self-created caricature Dennis Rodman.” It, too, sports 0 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
But: The 0 percent thing is kind of unfair when there are perfectly adequate, vaguely creative fights aplenty. However, the highlight is an electro sex fight between Rodman and supermodel Emma Sjoberg that is so cheerfully manic and nonsensically horny that, fuck it, it’s great. She has a knife and genuinely wants to kill him with it, but they’re both still horny. He punches her in the knee in a way that would shatter her leg to pieces, but they’re both still horny. And, a few bits of garbage exposition later, she’s hitting her bedside insta-nightclub button for some epilepsy-inducing nonsense-sex.
X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Shit Credentials: An X-Men entry so crap it was written out of continuity, Wolverine’s first solo film led Roger Ebert to wonder, “Why should I care about this guy? He feels no pain and nothing can kill him, so therefore he’s essentially a story device for action sequences.” The Observer called it “dull, bone-crushing, special-effects stuff,” while both Deadpool movies later riffed on what a bad job this film did with the character (played by Ryan Reynolds here, but treated very differently to his subsequent outings). It inspired at least one child to inject mercury into his veins in the hope of becoming a superhero, though — he was okay — so it did impress some people.
But: The film opens with a montage of Wolverine and Sabretooth battling their way through U.S. history that is pretty extraordinary — a century of jarring violence as the characters flit from war to war, each one hinting at the better film we could have got but most definitely didn’t.
Shit credentials: Sporting 16 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, Ghost Ship is an almost entirely forgettable movie, a combination of not-particularly-interesting story and not-particularly-interesting characters. The San Francisco Chronicle called it “stupid,” The Guardian called it “tired” and the BBC described it as “a cast of no-name actors wandering off to silly deaths.”
But: The opening sequence is fucking brilliant, one of the all-time best entries in the pantheon of “thing whips through someone so quickly that they just sort of slide apart” cinema. It’s really disgusting! Lots of people die! Nothing else worth watching happens after this point. Sorry.