The Joy of Bad Movies

I’ve been discovering lately that I don’t particularly mind watching bad ones.

By “bad movies,” I don’t mean movies that have no aspirations to be any good.

The worst movie I have ever seen is a movie called “Hong Kong 97,” a 1994 straight to video release starring Robert Patrick as an assassin who kills a bunch of Chinese on the eve of Hong Kong’s return to China.  The movie is so forgettable, so uninspired and so bland that there is no word to describe it other than “boring.”  The only thing I remember about this action flick is that it went into slow motion whenever Patrick sprung into action.

It’s hard to fault the movie for failing to entertain, though, when the film is directed by a guy who has 51 movies to his credit but none that anyone would recognize and it stars co-stars whose names aren’t even has-beens.  The late Gene Siskel once noted in his review of the film “Ed Wood” (1994) that anyone who manages to finish a full-length movie should be applauded because completing a film is in of itself an accomplishment.  I suppose, then, that “Hong Kong 97” deserves credit for putting together 91 minutes of film reel that exhibits some level of professionalism in directing, acting, filming and editing as well as set design, costume and music, all clearly without benefit of much money.

Despite what Siskel says, giving attention to movies like “Hong Kong 97” isn’t worth the effort because there are thousands of films like it made every year.  No, the bad movies that I love to talk about are much rarer.  These are the ones with a backing from major studios that spent tens of millions of dollars hiring a famous director and A-list stars and co-stars, building elaborate sets and filming on exotic locations, with a script written by screenwriters who have in the past written movies that any casual moviegoer would recognize.  I’m talking about movies like “Old Dogs” (2009), a purported comedy starring Robin Williams and John Travolta (who shamelessly schemed to have her daughter play a major role), or “Battlefield Earth” (2000), a Scientology-inspired movie so notoriously bad it has come to define the bad movie genre.

Watching these awful movies is a lot of fun because I get to ask this same question every time as I watch the train wreck unfold live: where did all the money and talent go terribly wrong?

Sometimes, I’m astonished that the film ever got made because everything that’s wrong with it must have seemed obvious long before filming began.  The humor in “Old Dogs” falls so flat that it couldn’t have possibly read funny on paper.

Or take “Sweet November” (2001).  Choosing the one-expression-fits-all Keanu Reeves to star in a romantic flick is such poor casting that one would think the studio would have fired the director once it realized it was writing checks for millions of dollars to Keanu Reeves.

Then there are movies whose tragedy probably became obvious only in retrospect, long after things first began to go terribly awry.  Many critics blasted the clichéd dialogue in “Battlefield Earth,” but there are lots of clichéd films that are forgotten because they still managed to achieve mediocrity.  It takes a near-perfect combination of incompetence to achieve a truly unpleasant visual experience like “Battlefield Earth.”  Everyone, from the costume designer to the lighting technician, contributed to the eye-sore, and leading the brotherhood of the inept is director Roger Christian, whose idea of a skillful filming technique is tilting the camera diagonally to the point of causing nausea for the audience and inserting fade-out transitions that an at-home dad could have done for home movies on Apple’s iMovie.

The most fascinating question I’d love any of the crew on these movies answer for me is, what was it like being involved in a project that fails so spectacularly on almost every level?  Did they know they were being involved in a disaster that will become legendary?  And if so, how futile did it feel, knowing that there was no other choice than to go full steam ahead because they were damned if they do (since the inevitable wreck awaits at the end) and damned if they didn’t (after so much money was invested)?

I know many people think watching bad films is a waste of time and money, but the next time you find yourself being stunned at what you are seeing on screen, just remember how forgettably average most of the movies are.  The fact that you will be able to talk about what you saw weeks and months after you leave the theater truly makes the experience you are going through unique.  That must be worth the 2 hours and the 20 bucks you are spending for the experience.


2 Responses to “The Joy of Bad Movies”

  1. 1 Jay the elitist October 3, 2015 at 12:56 pm

    Stop watching bad movies!

    • 2 joesas October 6, 2015 at 10:13 am

      Jay the Elitist,

      To be clear, I said I didn’t mind watching bad movies, not that I go out looking for them!

      Not that your definition of a “good movie” will be mine…

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