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The lights go down, the popcorn comes out, and every film gets a fair shake. If you’re a true movie lover, you hope that every film you see is worth it, and that if you’re dealing with filmmakers with certain track records, they just might surprise you. Every year has a couple of films that beat the odds and are, at worst, pleasant diversions, and at best crafty pop art mini-masterpieces.
We’re going to go ahead and assume these 10 aren’t going to be the films that surprise us all that much. The writing seems to be on the wall as far as talent involved, quality of promotional material, and behind-the-scenes gossip. There is that window of hope, however, and until the movie is released the window remains open, granting us the possibility that our preconceived notions are wrong, that there’s a great movie hidden underneath all that negative chatter. We keep hope alive, but that pessimism is too strong to ignore.
Here are 10 of the most dubious-looking films of 2014.
HerculesWorst Case Scenario: This is a potential franchise starter for Dwayne Johnson, who previously had found success latching on to installments of the G.I. Joe, Journey To The Center Of The Earth and Fast And Furious series. But why was Brett Ratner entrusted with this gig? Ratner is the sort of guy you hire for your franchise when you have no idea what to do, as evidenced by his last two sequels: both Red Dragon and X-Men: The Last Stand operated at the level of a Saturday morning cartoon, the latter a particularly bad one. It’s telling that once Ratner made those films, each series felt the need to follow them up with prequels, producers eager to make audiences forget what just happened. Ratner’s exactly the type to have no idea how to deliver a no-brainer of a concept, as the beauty of Johnson as Hercules is bogged down by this being an adaptation of a comic book called The Thracian Wars, an attempt to make a more "grounded" and "realistic" version of, you know, the strongest man who could ever lived. Because Hercules is the one concept that NEEDS a dose of reality.
Best Case Scenario: You don’t get to Ratner’s position by being a complete and total moron. Well, hopefully. Maybe Ratner, considerably far into a surprisingly prolific producing and directing career, is able to get out of the way of the material and let Johnson do the heavy lifting. We’re all adults here: we all like Johnson, the giant with the hundred watt smile who has shed his pro wrestling baggage to be an engaging and likable performer. Coming in mid-summer, maybe this will generate the b-movie thrills we all crave.
Release Date: July 25
Transformers: Age Of ExtinctionWorst Case Scenario: Believe it or not, there was a moment when some otherwise smart people convinced the rest of us that there was a five minute chunk of watchable footage in any of the Transformers movies. Michael Bay is a man with a world of talent, vision and leadership skills, and everything about his handling of film sets suggests a near-savant level of understanding of scale, logistics and visuals. And boy, does he make some terrible movies. Nonetheless, Bay is an artisan of sorts, and it would be foolish to bury his craft, particularly considering his body of work. However, the Transformers movies seem to bring out the worst in him, these movies embracing the claptrap excess of every bad CGI blockbuster ever made. Have you ever watched one of these movies at someone’s house with one of those elaborate personal soundsystems? It’s like a robot repeatedly farting in your ear. Bay turned this harmless toy-commercial-disguised-as-kiddie-franchise and turned it into a hard-PG-13 orgy of violence, sexism, racism, and incoherence. And somehow, we’re all being expected to pay for the same thing a fourth straight time. There’s a reason that old saying never gets to, "Fool me four times, shame on…"
Best Case Scenario: Shia LaBeouf is off on some Method Acting walkabout, leaving the heavy lifting to the duo of Mark Wahlberg and Jack Reynor. Wahlberg is coming off one of his best-ever performances, in Bay’s Pain And Gain, and Reynor is one of the industry’s most promising young actors. LaBeouf’s repetitive Sam Witwicky was headed towards Tourette’s territory by the end of the third film, so maybe a tolerable human nucleus will make these films slightly more tolerable.
Release Date: June 27
I, FrankensteinWorst Case Scenario: What’s more amusing: to see people watch the trailer for this RIDICULOUS-looking new movie? Or to watch them absolutely lose it when the goofy title, I FRANKENSTEIN, pops onscreen? This ludicrous trifle pits Frankenstein’s monster (or just… Frankenstein?) against hordes of other villains in an absurd monster mash from the writer of the Underworld films. Underworld is basically what they’re going for here, or at least Legion, with the early year release date, the silly effects and the various CGI-ghoulies. It seemed like we all heard the verdict on Aaron Eckhart’s career as a blockbuster leading man with Battle: Los Angeles, but to his credit, it looks like since that film, he’s done some solid ab work. Good job, Aaron.
Best Case Scenario: This is being directed by Stuart Beattie, a screenwriting vet who made his directorial debut a couple of years ago on the Aussie actioner Tomorrow, When The War Began. It wasn’t great, but it had a definite polish that came from someone who knew the world of blockbusters intimately. Also, that trailer… it’s just so terrible that it just might work. The combination of the howler dialogue, the rubbery CGI and the dopey theatrics like a 3D slow-motion flying Frankenstein punch just might be the right mix of idiotic and sublime.
Release Date: January 24
BlendedWorst Case Scenario: The most depressing thing about Adam Sandler’s nearly-20 year run of terrible starring vehicles is this very last stretch. In the beginning, Sandler’s youth allowed him to play a series of clown-boys that, on a surface level, were still potentially amusing creations. It feels like now that Sandler’s aged, he’s fine just playing a series of faceless dads and suburban commoners, normal guys with a vague anger streak and the sort of luck that allows him to fall into bed with some of the most beautiful women in the world. Quick, go find a comedy nerd in 1996 and tell him that one day, Sandler, David Spade, Chris Rock and a number of other comedy lifers would do a couple of movies together in their forties, and see their eyes light up. Now quick, crush that enthusiasm by telling them the characters mostly just hang out at a Costco. This latest film, Blended, is a commercially-naked travelogue of Africa that re-teams Sandler with good-spirited The Wedding Singer co-star Drew Barrymore. In this largely plotless stew, they fall in love while on vacation with their sitcom kids in a foreign land. And there seems to be no conflict whatsoever, which makes sense, since it would just distract from the inept slapstick, casual homophobia and typically-craven product placement in all Sandler films.
Best Case Scenario: Terry Crews is in this, so there’s guaranteed to be about three to five minutes of this movie that will make you smile. Why doesn’t Terry Crews get more leading roles?
Release Date: May 23
RobocopWorst Case Scenario: Can you believe they remade Robocop, one of the most perfect films ever made? And can you believe that it’s PG-13?? Isn’t this everything that anyone has ever fought against? Remaking the politically subversive hits of the seventies and eighties and making the subtext into text is akin to all those companies that slap Che Guevara’s face onto their products. The subtle joke of the original Robocop was that Robocop was a TERRIBLE idea, OCP taking advantage of the face of a dead cop by sacrificing his soul. People fell for Peter Weller’s Alex Murphy because he radiated a soul through the elaborate makeup and prop jobs, which only further complicated the hero worship of the plot and the insidious politics of the characters. In this new version, the trailer suggests that the new Robo is much more human-like, much more of a superhero, and he even gets balled out by his wife for becoming isolated from his kids. The original Robocop (and do you know how much it sucks to have to specify "the original Robocop" now?) is sadistic, funny and profane. The new film looks generically violent, deadly serious and, according to the MPAA, made for 13 year olds.
Best Case Scenario: Director Jose Padilha previously helmed the high-octane Elite Squad and Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, two seriously righteous action movies from Brazil with the sort of political nihilism that actually makes him a reasonable choice to direct a new Robocop. His films are largely about the futility of doing the right thing in a crooked system, and if that carries over to this film, then maybe we’re cooking with fire.
Release Date: February 12
Winter’s TaleWorst Case Scenario: Winter’s Tale is the directorial debut of screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, one of the biggest hacks in the business, and consequently one of the most handsomely paid. Goldsman wears the Academy Award Winner tag in the trailer for having written A Beautiful Mind, which loaded the story of mathematician John Nash with b.s. that included an imaginary friend and action-movie spy theatrics, because the real story of Nash the philandering bisexual Anti-Semite wasn’t interesting enough (seriously, could we see THAT movie?). Goldsman has proceeded to become a producer, teaming with Will Smith for the dubious Hancock and I am Legend, screenplays which he briefly fiddled with. He’s also the guy who earned the highest paycheck ever given to a screenwriter. It was $4 million to adapt Angels And Demons, a book that already reads like a scriptment from a particularly untroubled mind. Not surprisingly, the final credit for that screenplay went to someone else entirely. And lest you geeks forget, its Goldsman’s name in the credits as the writer for Batman And Robin, a movie that nearly sent human civilization back to the stone age, purely out of embarrassment. Seeing Goldsman’s name attached to a movie is very much like catching a late expiration date on food while shopping: just put it back and walk away, and maybe warn someone else.
Best Case Scenario: The source material for this film is pretty loopy stuff, and it’s been in development for years, garnering the attention of several A-List talents (how they landed on the Box Office Poison duo of Colin Farrell and Russell Crowe is a mystery). This is a story that involves genuine romance, elaborate time travel, and distant futures. There’s a very good chance that the 75-member Cloud Atlas cult is going to be all over it.
Release Date: February 14
Dracula UntoldWorst Case Scenario: It seems as if there’s no part of the Dracula mythos that has gone Untold, but clunky grammar aside, we’ll accept the title. And we’ll accept Luke Evans in the lead, even though there’s a reason the dull thespian remains largely anonymous to moviegoers despite popping up in Furious 6 and The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug. But most of the worry comes from neophyte director Gary Shore in the director’s chair. The studios are making more and more risk-averse tentpoles, alienating scads of talented big budget filmmakers who would rather not be a cog in a machine, at least not for a low price. That’s led to a rise in completely inexperienced effects wizards getting the sudden call to the big leagues, entrusted with massive budgets the first time out. Joseph Kosinski has already made two largely forgettable, overly expensive blockbusters in Tron: Legacy and Oblivion (the latter, admittedly, based on his own pitch). Rupert Sanders and Carl Rinsch have followed, with both of their films (Snow White And The Huntsman, 47 Ronin) being expensive efforts that raised approximately zero temperatures. Shore, who leaked a memorable animatics presentation online that almost got him the job helming The Wolverine, might just be another lamb to the slaughter, a yes-man making his debut on a dubious project that people like Kathryn Bigelow, Joe Cornish and Nicolas Winding Refn would’ve turned down.
Best Case Scenario: Shore’s shorts have displayed a unique visual scheme one that, should it survive the transition to the big screen, would give Dracula Untold a distinct flavor you wouldn’t expect from another studio blockbuster. There’s a chance footage of this one will surface early, and it will either be a game-changer, or another Bunraku.
Release Date: October 17
Heaven Is For RealWorst Case Scenario: It’s a slippery slope, finding the intersection between art and religion. Art is about questioning authority, about challenging the status quo. And religion is about faith, in about believing the path set forth for discovery of your true self. How do we make those things intersect? The way to do that probably doesn’t involve Randall Wallace, the writer of Braveheart and Pearl Harbor, who writes and directs Heaven Is For Real, a tale of a boy who can speak to the souls of the dead in Heaven after a tragic accident. Wallace, who previously helmed the tone deaf Secretariat, is an outspoken Christian who isn’t bashful about his religious affiliation. Which is great, he has nothing to be ashamed of. He’s also something of a terrible filmmaker, if anyone has seen his ham-handed We Were Soldiers, and here he’s working with Bishop T.D. Jakes in adapting a nonfiction book where a pastor’s son recovered from a near-death incident by not only claiming he spoke to the dead, but also that he met Jesus riding a "rainbow-colored horse." Not gonna lie, that sounds pretty awesome, but it takes a pretty capable filmmaker to make a concept and/or visual like that not seem like a profoundly silly idea.
Best Case Scenario: People who have read the book claim that the boy’s story doesn’t check out. Maybe Wallace flips the script on us, and turns the film into an honest inquisition as to whether someone can actually see Heaven, or if it’s the type of coping mechanism that exists within all of us when we ha ha ha just kidding, this movie’s going to be terrible.
Release Date: April 16
DivergentWorst Case Scenario: Before the trailer surfaced, Divergent just seemed like yet another throwaway YA adaptation, just further pandering to an over-served fanbase apparently starved for protagonists who are young and determined, in advance, to be told they’re special. And then the trailer hit and, oh boy. Is that dialogue, or buzzwords shouted out by a producer while he’s on the line with Snackwells, Denny’s and Redbox? Shailene Woodley gives off such a smart vibe, and it feels like she’s definitely too bright for this weak rip-off of The Hunger Games, complete with what feels like rejected costumes and sets saved from Panem deleted scenes. After highlighting how special Woodley’s Tris Prior (oy!) really is, the shift is made towards the male action figure love interest, as if they knew the first half of this preview would appeal to women, and that some action would help get the guys, as well as turn women on to the appeal of Jonathan Schaech-ish Theo James.He says he wants to be, "brave, selfless, intelligent, honest and kind," perfect boyfriend traits that, coming from the wooden James, sound like hashtags. People don’t really like this reheated crap, do they?
Best Case Scenario: Director Neil Burger previously helmed diverting films like The Illusionist and Limitless, and while it’s disconcerting that they aren’t holding onto him for the sequel, he should bring a brainy economy to the film that a lesser filmmaker would not.
Release Date: March 21
Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesWorst Case Scenario: The Heroes in a Half Shell are back in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles thanks to the folks at Platinum Dunes. This studio, fyi, makes movies. Though, looking at their output, you might be confused and think they’re actually professional torture merchants freelancing at Guantanamo. There’s that time they remade The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Or that time they made A Nightmare On Elm Street. Also, remember when they re-did Friday The 13th? And remember when everyone hated all those movies, and each one opened huge and then withered and died at the box office? This is a studio that makes terrible movies, mostly remakes, that NO ONE LIKES. Not the critics, not the audiences, not the people in the cheap or the assigned seats. And this latest offering from the studio that brought you The Purge (which logged a "C" Cinemascore and boasted a premise even a five year old would understand crumbles after twenty seconds of thought) is being directed by Jonathan Liebesman. Liebesman you may recall, is the man behind the failed Battle: Los Angeles, who killed the franchise with Wrath Of The Titans and who already worked with Platinum Dunes on Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, which made less than half of what its predecessor generated. Even Megan Fox, who was previously fired from the Transformers series by Dunes head honcho Michael Bay, is re-teaming with him again as April O’Neil. Everybody involved with this movie has failed upwards!
Best Case Scenario: You are on excellent drugs when you watch this movie. Somehow, you don’t mind that nothing onscreen makes any sense. And that is the best-case scenario.
Release Date: August 8