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Thursday, March 11, 2004

The Worst Films of 2003

By Kevin John

10. "Old School": What's up with Todd Phillips? As with "Road Trip" but more so, he blunts the irreverence of this low comedy with tasteful, laconic pacing. The thing never knows where it wants to go. Some will maintain that the resulting cognitive clashes are a product of self-conscious stylization, others that the way-too-late introduction of key points about Luke Wilson's character bespeaks a principled refusal to settle for Hollywood formula. Most likely, hitting the big time after several surefire documentaries has simply left Phillips bewildered. Here's hoping this talented director finds his way next time outů with the feature-length "Starsky & Hutch."

9. "A Mighty Wind":You'd think the music angle might lift the latest Christopher Guest/Eugene Levy mockumentary above the condescension of "Waiting for Guffman" and "Best in Show." At the very least, I thought I'd have a repertoire of silly songs to sing. But I actually prefer the numbers in "Guffman" to these. Why couldn't Levy tap into the dead-on, genius parody of Peter, Paul and Mary that he performed on SCTV (a moment of silence for "Cliff the Magic Squirrel")? Even worse, you never got a sense of what was at stake in the climactic reunion concert, so scant and shoddy were the scenes purporting to trace the bands' post-'60s decline. Only Fred Willard's character manages to get out from under the now trademark mean-spiritedness, and conceptually he didn't even have to be in the thing.

8. "Comic Book Villains": An ugly, ugly film that moves from slapstick to black comedy with little conviction, rendering the killing sprees that take over the second half repulsive in a way very different than what was intended. And as with "Chuck & Buck" or "About a Boy," two much better films that similarly choke on their own hipness, socialization norms are rewarded in a decidedly unhip ending, here with rote heterosexual romance in Spain.

7. "The Eye": This dull supernatural thriller has about as much tension as a broken rubber band and rewards us with, surprise, yet another rote heterosexual finale. Why does such swill open on art screens across America but not "Flowers of Shanghai" or "Platform"? Pray an English version doesn't become "necessary" à la "The Ring."

6. "Cowboy Bebop: The Movie": Further, unwarranted evidence that feature-length animation brings out the worst, most self-indulgent tendencies in filmmakers. Simultaneously hebephrenic and deathly solemn, this painful elongation of the Cartoon Network series is a standard issue sci-fi/noir/action/anime/whatever/whocares flick in paint-by-numbers drag, pointless without the colors, pointless with them.

5. "Highway": The very definition of arch hip. Give credit to Jared Leto and Jake Gyllenhaal for bringing Scott Rosenberg's (there's a name to rememberů and revile) self-satisfied dialogue to the video store. But no actor alive could make it coherent (why bring up the boys' problems in the sack, for instance, and then let the issue go unexamined?). And the Kurt Cobain vigil was especially clueless and appalling.

4. "Spun": "Requiem for a Dream" was bad enough. This rip-off is rendered all the worse by thinking its every exhausting shot is oh so much more avant than you. All that it has to recommend it is the presence of Rob Halford (who's predictably abused in his pitifully minor scenes) and John Leguizamo naked.

3. "Abandon": "Sixth Sense"-style snafus have transformed too many recent movies into Rubik's Cubes, ignoring the question of what to do with your pathetic life once you've solved them. "Abandon" achieves the absolute nadir in this trend. Its only (and I mean ONLY) asset is the fact that it was partially shot at McGill University where I attend, which should hopefully mean nothing to you.

2. "Taboo": Not Oshima's masterpiece, unfortunately. Instead, all "Wild Things"-esque twists and turns with each character representing a "sin." And who are these sinners? A hypocrite. An infidel (have you ever used this word to describe anyone you've ever known?). A, grrr, homosexual. Predictably, the film lacks the conviction of this latter "transgression" by showing the sole gay male here locking lips with a girl. Grrrr. "Se7en" now seems downright heartwarming.

1. "Camp": For sure, there are worse, more inconsequential items on this list than "Camp." But no film in 2003 made me angrier. Here we have an unquestionably queer setting, theatre summer camp, and the production centers around a hunky straight white boy whose heteronormative thrust is augmented every step of the way. His introductory rendition of "Wild Horses," shot with adoring, predatory roundlets, stereotypically marks him as heterosexual to the relief of the counselors and the lust of the teenage misfits who attend the camp. His obsessive-compulsive disorder supposedly marks him as a misfit too, but it plays a barely existent role in the story. And his lecherous ways get elided by a rushed dénouement where everyone inexplicably comes back around to his deadly obliques. It all plays as if writer/director Todd Graff were nervous about focusing too much on his gay or overweight or Puerto Rican characters and used this monstrous paradigm of lean, compulsory heterosexuality to ward off the threat. As a result, they're reduced to the secondary characters they've always been in cinema. Graff epitomizes a new breed of filmmakers who trip over themselves to throw identity politics up on the screen but wind up creating more oppressive representations than most mainstream product. Like "Lost and Delirious" but even more dangerous, "Camp" is a film best avoided by teenage misfits of any stripe.

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