Tag Archives: worst movies

Deadly Prey

Deadly Prey

Today, I’m going to look at a true classic among bad action movies: 1987’s Deadly Prey.

The plot of Deadly Prey, according to IMDb, is as follows:

A group of sadistic mercenaries kidnap people off the streets and set them loose on the grounds of their secret camp, so the “students” at the camp can learn how to track down and kill their prey.

Deadly Prey was written and directed by David A. Prior, who made a huge number of cheap b-movies from the early 1980s up until his death in 2015. His works include Deadliest Prey, Invasion Force, Raw Nerve, Night Trap, White Fury, and Killer Workout, among countless others.

The central cast of Deadly Prey is made up of the writer/director’s brother Ted Prior (Killer Workout, Surf Nazis Must Die), Troy Donahue (Dr. Alien, Cry-Baby, Godfather Part II), and Cameron Mitchell (Hollywood Cop, Space Mutiny, The Swarm).

The cinematographer for Deadly Prey was Stephen Ashley Blake, who also shot the Frank Stallone movie Order of the Eagle, Hack-O-Lantern, numerous episodes of America’s Most Wanted, and LL Cool J’s music video for “Mama Said Knock You Out”

Due to the underground cult popularity of the film, in November of 2013, a remake/sequel was released by much of the same cast and crew as the original, titled Deadliest Prey.

Much of the attention that Deadly Prey has earned over the years has come through word of mouth, as well as spotlights on internet b-movie review shows like RedLetterMedia’s Best of the Worst and Everything Is Terrible, which have all roundly praised the film for its cheesiness.

Currently, Deadly Prey holds an IMDb user rating of 5.8/10, alongside a 58% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. However, as with many good-bad movies, it is hard to tell how many votes were cast with sarcasm, so the scores should be taken with a grain of salt.

Deadly Prey is, through and through, the perfect example of a low-budget 1980s action movie. There are plenty of elements lifted from better-known action films like First Blood, lots of goofy action shots that make little-to-no logical sense, gratuitous, brutal violence at every turn, and a plethora of terrible one-liners delivered by sub-par actors (at lease one of them clad in only jorts).  This is a thoroughly enjoyable, utterly predictable exercise in 1980s action that gleefully follows just about every trope and pattern of the genre that you can imagine (despite the downer ending). There’s not much more to say than that: this movie is a complete blast for b-movie fans.

While awareness of Deadly Prey has been steadily growing over the years, I dare say that still not enough people know about it, or have had the pleasure of seeing it.  If you are one of the many who haven’t yet, do yourself a favor and add it onto your queue. This is a rare movie that I can easily recommend to casual viewers as well: I’m confident that most would find something to enjoy with this cheeseball.

 

Ivy On Celluloid: Dead Man On Campus

Dead Man On Campus

[CN: Suicide]

In this installment of Ivy On Celluloid, the series where I examine movies about higher education, I’m going to take a look at the tone-deaf 1998 suicide-centered comedy, Dead Man On Campus.

The plot of Dead Man On Campus is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Two college roommates go out and party, resulting in bad grades. They learn of the clause that says, “If your roommate dies, you get an A,” and decide to find someone who is on the verge, so to speak, to move in with them.

The screenplay for Dead Man On Campus is credited to Mike White (The Emoji Movie, School of Rock, Nacho Libre, Orange County) and Michael Traeger (The Amateurs).

Dead Man On Campus was directed by Alan Cohn, whose other credits include directing a handful of episodes of The Man Show, and composing the theme music for The Wayans Bros.

The cast of the movie includes Tom Everett Scott (Boiler Room, That Thing You Do), Mark-Paul Gosselaar (Saved By The Bell, NYPD Blue), Poppy Montgomery (Without A Trace, Unforgettable), Lochlyn Munro (Riverdale, White Chicks, Unforgiven), Alyson Hannigan (American Pie, How I Met Your Mother), and Jason Segel (How I Met Your Mother, The Muppets, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I Love You, Man).

The cinematographer for the film was John Thomas, who has shot movies like Sex & The City and Sex & The City 2, as well as television series like Gossip Girl, The Big C, Conviction, Law & Order, Law & Order: Trial By Jury, and Sex & The City.

The editor for Dead Man On Campus was Debra Chiate, who also cut Movie 43, The House Bunny, Never Been Kissed, Clueless, Look Who’s Talking, and Look Who’s Talking Too, among others.

The musical score for the film was composed by Mark Mothersbaugh, whose other credits include The Lego Movie, Last Vegas, Fanboys, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, Bottle Rocket, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Sorority Boys.

Interestingly, Dead Man On Campus follows a similar plot and premise to another movie from the same year: The Curve, starring Matthew Lillard. However, that movie is a thriller: a more fitting genre for the premise than comedy.

Dead Man On Campus was made on a production budget of $14 million, and was the third theatrical release by MTV films (Orange County, Napoleon Dynamite, Jackass: The Movie). However, it brought in just over $15 million in its lifetime theatrical run, barely covering the production budget, and almost certainly failing to turn a profit. The critical reception wasn’t any better: it currently holds a 6.1/10 user rating on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 15% critics and 55% audiences. The Los Angeles Times referred to the film as “disgusting in its ultimate endorsement of conning your way into academic survival,” and The AV Club noted that “it comes off as more ghoulish than anything else.”

Personally, I can’t help but side with the critics here: Dead Man On Campus is as mean-spirited as it is alarmingly unfunny.  The characters are outlandishly cruel in their disregard for human life, and the jokes are stoner-grade, lazy attempts at humor when they aren’t punching down at the mentally ill. All of that said, there are some elements of the film that interestingly relate to higher education.

First off, the school that serves as the setting for the film, Daleman College, is entirely fictitious. A couple of universities were used as filming locations to create the institution, however: University of the Pacific and the University of Southern California.

The impetus for the film’s plot is an old higher education urban legend: it claims that, if one’s roommate commits suicide, then the student is granted straight A’s for the semester to cope with the grief. I’m not sure exactly where this idea came from, but, per Snopes, “no college or university in the United States has a policy awarding a 4.0 average (or anything else) to a student whose roommate dies.” To add to that, if any policy did theoretically exist, it would almost certainly vary institution to institution.

While the urban legend may not be true, I was able to dig up a Purdue University study that corroborates the foundational assumption behind the policy: that grief impacts students’ academic performance.

College students who experience the death of a family member or friends also experience a corresponding drop in academic performance during the semester the loss takes place.

– Servaty-Seib, H. L. & Hamilton, L. A. (2006)

An example of a policy that does exist, however, is described as follows (from a Columbia University source):

While a person’s grades will not automatically be changed, most colleges and universities provide some type of emotional and academic support to roommates, including extensions on due dates, make-up exams, and time off without penalty.

On the same note, I also managed to dig up a blog post from The New York Times blog The Choice, which collected a series of comments from former students who dealt with the death of a parent while in college. While this is a different scenario than the one in this movie, these accounts are far more reflective of how your typical university deals with student grief. Here is abridged version of one of the comments:

I will never forget the kindness and consideration that Mount Holyoke College showed me. From getting me on the plane to keeping in touch with me while I was home sitting shivah, they could not have been more compassionate…Each of my faculty members hand-wrote a note of condolence to my mother and me, expressing sympathy and telling me to take as long as I needed in coming back and picking up the responsibilities of my studies…I was able to return promptly and finish the semester with high grades and renewed respect for my college. Forty years later, I still remember.

All of this taken into account, this is an urban legend that is strangely persistent. The Chronicle of Higher Education has referred to it as “one of the most persistent and morbid rumors on college campuses.” I’ve read accounts of it showing up as a matter-of-fact in television shows like Law & Order: Criminal Intent and CSI: NY. It is honestly alarming how pervasive this potentially harmful misconception is, to the point that it is just assumed to be true by many.

Getting off of the grim topic of suicide for a moment, I want to address one of the other major focal points of the film: the character Cooper’s most prized possession, a six foot tall bong. Now, I am not what you would describe as a marijuana enthusiast, so I wasn’t sure if this was simply a gag prop, or a practical smoking utensil. As it turns out, if you have about $60, the website smokea.com can hook you up with a six foot bong: the Headway Big Boy.  Per the description, “Headway Acrylics has been a leading manufacturer of high quality acrylic water pipes for nearly 20 years” which places its founding roughly around the time of filming for Dead Man On Campus. I suppose that means that the bong prop in the film is plausibly one of their creations?

During an early sequence in Dead Man On Campus, a professor is shown gleefully assigning one of his classes a textbook that he wrote himself. This is, in truth, a very common practice throughout many disciplines. Slate.com featured an article that said the following of professors who assign their own texts:

If your professor requires you to buy his or her own books as course textbooks at full sticker price, get out now…Heed this simple warning, and you are almost certain to avoid your institution’s most pompous, self-serving twits…assigning one’s own work is an eye-roll-inducing ego stroke.

In response to this popular perception of unethical behavior, in 2004, the American Association of University Professors released a statement which generally defended the practice. However, in that same statement, the AAUP cited a handful of standing school policies intended to curb the practice, which is an interesting read:

At Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, materials written by faculty members and intended for purchase by students may not be assigned unless their use is first approved by the appropriate departmental, collegiate, and university-level committees. Faculty members at the University of Minnesota cannot “personally profit from the assignment of materials” to students without authorization of the department chair. At Southern Utah University, a department chair and dean must approve the assignment of faculty-authored materials. Approval by a faculty committee is required at Cleveland State University. Faculty at North Dakota State University and the University of North Texas can assign their own works but are cautioned against retaining profits earned from sales to their students unless, as the North Dakota policy states, “the text has become independently accepted in the field.”

There is a thoughtful post on the ethics of professors selling their own textbooks on PsychologyToday.com which I found to be more than worth the read as well, which comes to a similar conclusion as the AAUP:

I’ve encountered lots of people—students, friends, colleagues, and publishing professionals—who think it’s automatically a conflict of interest for professors to assign their own books. But is it an unethical conflict of interest?…No. Not under most circumstances. Assigning one’s own textbook…is, on the face of it, ethical.

In Dead Man On Campus, the character Josh is shown taking a unique degree program: a six-year combined undergraduate degree and Doctorate of Medicine. I was able to dig up a list from November of 2017 of combined BA/BS/MD programs, of which the following schools reportedly offer a six-year program that high school seniors can apply directly to:

University of Texas Southwestern
Northeast Ohio Medical University
University of Missouri-Kansas City
Sidney Kimmel Medical College
Howard University
California Northstate University

Getting back to the light and cheery topic of higher education and suicide, Dead Man On Campus‘s lead character of Josh is shown as being held to impossibly high standards by his parents. To paraphrase his mother: “you always exceed my expectations. And I expect straight A’s!” In 2015, The New York Times ran an article titled “Suicide on Campus and the Pressure of Perfection”, the introduction of which reads almost exactly like Josh’s first act in Dead Man On Campus:

Kathryn DeWitt conquered high school like a gold-medal decathlete. She ran track, represented her school at a statewide girls’ leadership program and took eight Advanced Placement tests, including one for which she independently prepared, forgoing the class.

Expectations were high. Every day at 5 p.m. test scores and updated grades were posted online. Her mother would be the first to comment should her grade go down…In her first two weeks on the University of Pennsylvania campus, she hustled…surrounded by people with seemingly greater drive and ability, she had her first taste of self-doubt…Classmates seemed to have it all together.

The article lays some of the blame for perfectionism on college students’ parents, quoting that “children deserve to be strengthened, not strangled, by the fierceness of a parent’s love.” In the context of Dead Man On Campus, it is an interesting note: by the end of the film, Josh is apparently on the verge of suicide due to his failing to meet the academic expectations of his parents, peers, and professors.

At one point early in the film, it is stated that suicides are a common occurrence on the local college campus, to the point that it is just assumed that at least a few students will kill themselves by the time the semester’s final exams roll around. Unfortunately, suicides are, in fact, tragically common at college campuses. The aforementioned New York Times article notes a preceding academic year that saw 4 suicides at Tulane University, 3 at Appalachian State University, and 6 at the University of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Collegiate Mental Health has reported that 25.5% of college students had “purposely injured themselves,” and that 9.3% of college students had made a suicide attempt in the 2015-2016 school year.

In the story of Dead Man On Campus, Daleman College has launched a campus suicide hotline to help deal with the outbreak of suicides on the campus. While I didn’t find any examples of an identical program in use on a college campus, many colleges are making innovative strides in dealing with the tragedy of student suicides. Ohio State University offers training courses to faculty and students on how to spot warning signs, and how to intervene or approach at-risk students. Vanderbilt University offers a joint program  through its Psychological Counseling Center and Center For Student Wellbeing aimed at suicide prevention and mental health awareness on campus. Cornell University launched a video project, where school leaders spoke of their own struggles with mental health, which were shared with students during orientation.

Once again, there are plenty more higher education topics worth discussing in Dead Man On Campus: homophobia, Greek organization party culture, and the popularity of recreational use of prescription drugs by college students, to name a few. However, there are plenty of other higher education movies out there for me to cover those topics in: just stay tuned.

Overall, I consider it a tasteless travesty that Dead Man On Campus ever made it to the screen, and I believe it belongs (at best) in the realm of obscurity where it currently resides. It certainly isn’t worth seeking out: black comedy fans and college stoner comedy fans can both equally easily find better than this without having to dig so far down.

For this entry, given the topics covered, I wanted to conclude with some resources for anyone who feels that they need them.

Suicide Prevention Resource Center

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

National Institute of Mental Health | Suicide Prevention

 

 

My Bloody Valentine (2009)

My Bloody Valentine (2009)

Today, I’m going to look at the 2009 3D remake of the 1981 horror movie, My Bloody Valentine.

The plot of My Bloody Valentine is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Tom returns to his hometown on the tenth anniversary of the Valentine’s night massacre that claimed the lives of 22 people. Instead of a homecoming, Tom finds himself suspected of committing the murders, and it seems like his old flame is the only one that believes he’s innocent.

The cast of My Bloody Valentine includes Tom Atkins (Maniac Cop, The Fog, Halloween III), Jensen Ackles (Supernatural), Jaime King (Pearl Harbor, Sin City), Kerr Smith (Final Destination, Dawson’s Creek), Edi Gathegi (Gone Baby Gone, X-Men: First Class), Kevin Tighe (Rose Red, Newsies, K-9, Another 48 Hours), and Megan Boone (The Blacklist).

The screenplay for the film is credited to Todd Farmer (Drive Angry, Jason X) and Zane Smith, the latter of whom has no other listed credits on IMDb. Additional credits are given to the writers of the original 1981 screenplay: John Beaird and Stephen Miller.

My Bloody Valentine was directed and co-edited by Patrick Lussier, who also directed Dracula 2000, The Prophecy 3, White Noise 2, and Drive Angry, and cut such films as Scream, Vampire In Brooklyn, Mimic, Scream 2, Scream 3, New Nightmare, and Red Eye.

Lussier’s co-editor for the film was Cynthia Ludwig, who served as an assistant editor on Carnosaur 3, Rush Hour 2, Scary Movie 2, and numerous episodes of Mr. Robot, Warehouse 13, and Justified.

The cinematographer for My Bloody Valentine was Brian Pearson, whose other credits include Into the Storm, Final Destination 5, Step Up All In, American Mary, and Drive Angry.

The musical score for the film was composed by Michael Wandmacher, who also provided music for the films Drive Angry, Piranha 3D, Punisher: War Zone, and From Justin To Kelly.

My Bloody Valentine is distinctive in that it was one of the earliest films in the modern 3D gimmick boom, and was even the first R-rated movie to use the modern 3D “RealD” technology. Part of the movie’s eventual financial success can almost certainly be attributed to the novelty of the technology at the time.

Interesting, there is a notable change in this remake from the ending of the original My Bloody Valentine – the killer’s identity is swapped, possibly to deliver a surprise to audience members familiar with the original film.

My Bloody Valentine was made on a production budget of $15 million, on which it took in a lifetime international theatrical gross of $100.7 million, making it hugely profitable. However, it didn’t fare as well critically: it currently holds an IMDb user rating of 5.5/10, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 57% from critics and 44% from audiences.

In my opinion, the biggest issues with My Bloody Valentine are the central performances. Outside of a couple of stalwart character actors, the burden of the movie falls on a weak central cast of television actors who don’t seem equipped to bear the weight. The nature of this story relies on central characters that the audience can identity and empathize with, but in this case, they are all paper thin and far from realistic in their language and demeanor.

It is to the point that I am curious if there was director influence in the matter: did Lussier want the actors to put in shitty performances, for the sake of homage to the golden age of slashers? In his review for the Los Angeles Times, Mark Olsen notes that “the filmmakers have created something too authentic in spirit to the original film, as it also fairly quickly becomes a plodding chore to watch.” Other reviewers have noted the film’s adherence to “old school slasher rules,” and its general appeal to horror genre fans in particular. I think it may be too easy to say that the movie is “bad on purpose,” but I think there was some consideration of the genre’s traditional expectations and norms incorporated into the casting, directing, and writing of the movie.

Next to the less-than-ideal central performances, the biggest issue with My Bloody Valentine are the 3D effects. Frankly, they have aged incredibly poorly less than a decade after the film’s release, to the point that they look amateurish and cartoon-like now. Unfortunately, this is the nature of computer-heavy digital effects in a marketplace that sees constant technological development and improvement: the effects age very quickly as the standards rise. That said, the effects were the primary selling point for the film to begin with, and the 3D gimmick is what brought people to the theaters and made the movie money. Essentially, the movie wouldn’t exist without them. So, it is probably a fair trade-off that the movie lacks longevity because of the effects, given the effects gave it life to begin with.

Overall, My Bloody Valentine has the right spirit of wanting to be a throwback horror film, but it is significantly hindered by the modern 3D gimmick, and it is harder to watch now because of it than it should be. Despite the glory of Tom Atkins being present, too many other movies have done this same sort of concept better. That said, this is still one of the better and more watchable horror reboots of the 2000s, and is a fun enough ride for genre fans.

 

Worst of 2017: Monster Trucks

Monster Trucks

Concluding my spotlight on some of the worst films of 2017, I’m going to take a look at Monster Trucks, one of the financial flops that kicked off the year back in January.

The plot of Monster Trucks is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A young man working at a small town junkyard discovers and befriends a creature which feeds on oil being sought by a fracking company.

The screenplay for Monster Trucks was written by Derek Connolly, who also penned screenplays for movies like Jurassic World, Safety Not Guaranteed, and Kong: Skull Island.

Monster Trucks was directed by Chris Wedge, who has primarily worked on family-friendly animated features like Robots, Ice Age, and Epic.

The cast of the film is made up of Lucas Till (X-Men: Apocalypse, X-Men: First Class, MacGyver), Jane Levy (I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore, Evil Dead, Don’t Breathe), Thomas Lennon (Reno 911), Barry Pepper (The Green Mile, Saving Private Ryan, Battlefield: Earth), Rob Lowe (The West Wing, Parks & Recreation), Danny Glover (Predator 2, Saw, Lethal Weapon), Amy Ryan (Birdman, Gone Baby Gone, Bridge of Spies), and Frank Whaley (Luke Cage, Pulp Fiction, Swimming With Sharks, Broken Arrow).

The cinematographer on Monster Trucks was Don Burgess, whose credits include some significant critical and financial hits, such as Forrest Gump, Spider-Man, Cast Away, Source Code, Blind Fury, Contact, What Lies Beneath, The Book Of Eli, and Flight.

The credited editor for Monster Trucks was Conrad Buff IV, whose list of film credits includes the likes of Titanic, The Last Airbender,  The Abyss, Training Day, The Happening, Species, True Lies, Spaceballs, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

The musical score for the film was composed by David Sardy, who also worked on the movies Zombieland, 21, End of Watch, Sabotage, and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.

Reportedly, five outwardly-identical green Dodge trucks were built for the movie to play Creature’s automotive shell. One, with its engine in the pickup bed, could be driven from a position under the hood, so that the stunt driver wouldn’t need to be digitally removed from the cab.

Monster Trucks was originally produced by Nickelodeon Movies. However, as the budget spun out of control, they left the project during post-production. Ultimately, they re-joined the film prior to its release, and are given a production company credit.

According to some second-hand reports I’ve heard, the crew responsible for the driving stunts in Monster Trucks had no idea that there were going to be CGI monsters added to their work, or that the production was a kids movie: they apparently assumed that it was going to be an action movie with elaborate truck stunts.

Monster Trucks was struck with multiple release delays, due to the extensive work needed in post-production. Depending on the source, the movie is qualified as either a 2017 or 2016 film, though it officially hit theaters in January of 2017. However, it was originally set for release on May 29, 2015, making its total release delay over a year and a half.

One of the biggest questions surrounding Monster Trucks is how it wound up getting a green light in the first place. It seems beyond belief that such an odd concept would get approved with such a high potential price tag: it just doesn’t make business sense. Reportedly, it was a pet project of former Paramount head Adam Goodman, who was let go before the film came to completion (likely in part due to its disastrously expensive production). However, the real interesting tidbit about his involvement is that the story of Monster Trucks was reportedly based on a pitch from his four-year-old son, which has led to the film being additionally ridiculed.

The final production budget for Monster Trucks was put on the books at $125 million. In its lifetime theatrical release, it managed to take in a gross of roughly $65 million worldwide, making it a massive financial failure.

In accordance with its financial failure, Monster Trucks did not fare well with either critics or the audience at large. Currently, it holds an IMDb user rating of 5.7/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 32% from critics and 53% from audiences. Scott Meslow of GQ described it as “a movie so bizarre, wrong-headed, and obviously destined for failure that it practically demands further exploration.” 

It is worth noting right off the bat that the biggest reason that Monster Trucks entered the public consciousness was on the basis of its bloated budget. Basically, this movie was guaranteed to fail from the minute it started getting press coverage, and was already being predicted as one of the worst movies of the year back in January. In his Rolling Stone review of the movie, Peter Travers even mentions that the primary production company, Paramount, had already chalked it up as a loss before it even hit theaters:

Paramount Pictures, which is releasing the film, took a $115 million write-down against anticipated losses before it even opened. It’s like having your parents write off your college tuition because they know you’ll never amount to shit.Talk about lack of faith.

However, just because a movie is a flop, or has an outlandish concept, doesn’t mean that the film’s overall quality is necessarily bad. In the case of Monster Trucks, the film’s advance reputation, due to both its bizarre conceptualization and swollen budget, may have poisoned the well in regards to its public reception.

The movie is by no means a classic, but it does have some notable redeeming qualities. The first and biggest one, to my surprise, was the monster itself: “Creech.” I expected the CGI to look jarring and immediately dated, but to my shock, it works a lot better than I expected it to, and he blends pretty well into his surroundings. Creech is also interestingly designed with a handful of juxtaposed natural elements to be simultaneously familiar, sympathetic, and alien. Part shark, part squid, part whale, and part adorable puppy, it is an interesting beast that was clearly the result of a lot of work, and it definitely could have come out of the design phase a lot worse.

As far as other positives go, the supporting cast is surprising deep and entertaining. Rob Lowe is a blast as he channels an approximation of George W. Bush as an oil tycoon, Danny Glover is always nice to see on screen (even in a very limited role), and Thomas Lennon provides some of the better comedic moments as an ethically-compromised scientist working for a soulless oil company.

All of those positives considered, there are still some big issues with Monster Trucks.  For the most part, most of the issues boil down to the screenplay. The writing, particularly when it comes to the dialogue and characters, is sub-par, and the comedy is uneven and poorly executed as a result. Most of the characters are thin to the point of caricature, even when they are played well by their actors, which doesn’t help a movie with an already contrived premise that was in dire need of depth to give it some grounding.

The lead of the movie, played by Lucas Till, is one of the few characters who changes over the course of the story, or has any kind of depth. However, even that isn’t completely a positive: his character comes off as an aloof jerk early in the story, during the period where the audience should be identifying with him and getting on his side. While he does warm as the story progresses (particularly to his love interest), his earlier disposition is never justified or apologized for, and makes him a hard character to pull for.

Overall, Monster Trucks isn’t as bad as its reputation indicates. It is a deeply flawed movie, but it has enough positives to keep it from ever being completely boring. All considered, it is probably on par with an average children’s movie. That said, this isn’t a movie that is easy to see in a vacuum from its context: the stories surrounding its budget, production, and conception are hard to avoid, and inevitably color the film.

When it comes to a recommendation, I don’t think this is a movie that needs to be sought out by bad movie fans, because it just isn’t all that bad. At the same time, it isn’t good enough to recommend to general audiences. The stories surrounding the movies are more interesting than the movie itself, so I do recommend reading up on it, but watching it is something I would consider totally optional.

Worst of 2017: The Circle

The Circle

Continuing my spotlight on the worst films of 2017, I’m going to take a look at The Circle, starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks.

The plot of The Circle is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A woman lands a dream job at a powerful tech company called the Circle, only to uncover an agenda that will affect the lives of all of humanity.

The Circle was directed and co-written by James Ponsoldt, whose other film credits include The Spectacular Now, The End of The Tour, and Smashed, as well as a handful of episodes on shows like Master of None, Shameless, and Parenthood.

The film is based on a 2013 book of the same name written by Dave Eggers, an acclaimed writer and publisher who is probably best known for founding McSweeney’s. He also co-wrote the screenplay for the adaptation, marking one of a handful of times he has written for the screen (Away We Go, Where The Wild Things Are).

The impressive cast of The Circle includes the likes of Tom Hanks (Cast Away, The Green Mile, Philadelphia, The Burbs, Dragnet, Forrest Gump, Road To Perdition, Catch Me If You Can, The Ladykillers), Emma Watson (Noah, Beauty & The Beast, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Glenne Headley (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Don Jon, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Dick Tracy, Breakfast of Champions), Ellar Coltrane (Boyhood, Barry, Fast Food Nation), Bill Paxton (Frailty, Aliens, Predator 2, Twister, Nightcrawler, Big Love, Club Dread, True Lies, Apollo 13, A Simple Plan, Next of Kin, Slipstream), Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Doctor Who, Oculus), Patton Oswalt (MST3K, Odd Thomas, The King of Queens, Big Fan), and John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Detroit, Attack The Block).

Two editors are credited for work on The Circle: Lisa Lassek (Serenity, The Cabin In The Woods, Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, Community, Firefly, The Avengers) and Franklin Peterson (Safety Not Guaranteed, It’s A Disaster, Comet, Mr. Robot).

The cinematographer for the film was Matthew Libatique, whose notable shooting credits include Iron Man, Requiem For A Dream, Black Swan, Chi-Raq, Phone Booth, The Fountain, Pi, and Everything Is Illuminated.

The music for The Circle was composed by Danny Elfman, one of the most recognizable and acclaimed film composers working today. His credits include Milk, American Hustle, Mission: Impossible, Spy Kids, Spider-Man, Red Dragon, Edward Scissorhands, Men In Black, Mars Attacks!, Darkman, Batman, Batman Returns, Beetlejuice, and Scrooged, among countless others.

The Circle marks the final film appearance of beloved character actor Bill Paxton, who died just before the film’s release. Sadly, one of his co-stars, Glenne Headley, also passed away in 2017, just after the movie hit theaters.

A handful of last minute reshoots were done in January of 2017 after test audiences cited some issues with the characters. However, the additional footage failed to remedy the grievances, and arguably worsened the issues, which contributed to the film’s poor reception.

Interestingly, the ending of the story for the film is changed from the one present in the original novel. In the book, Mae betrays Ty, and foils his plan to bring down the circle.

The Circle was made on a production budget of $18 million, on which it grossed roughly $34 million in its lifetime theatrical release. Interestingly, it wound up being released straight to Netflix in the UK, due in part to the devastating early reviews, as well as to the lower than expected grosses in its brief American theatrical release.

The Circle premiered at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, just days prior to its theatrical release in the United States, and the negative word spread quickly. Currently, it holds Rotten Tomatoes scores of 15% from critics and 23% from audiences, along with an IMDb user rating of 5.3/10.

In his review for The Atlantic, David Sims describes The Circle as follows:

The Circle has absolutely no grasp on its own tone. It veers from insidious social commentary to wildly absurd comedy sometimes within the same conversation, warning of a world where we may use Facebook to vote, but also have microchips implanted in our children’s bones. As a satire, The Circle might have been worth a few giggles, but as a deadly serious drama, it’s laughable in an entirely different way.

As Sims points out, The Circle suffers from a very serious tone problem. While I don’t think it ever becomes an “absurd comedy,” it does vary quite wildly in intensity. There is also certainly a lack of clarity in regards to what the film is trying to say or advocate, which makes the vision and purpose of the whole movie muddy.  If it had been executed as a straight satire, there might have been something interesting to say about corporate identity and the modern surveillance state. However, everything in The Circle is taken to an absurd extreme beyond even remote plausibility, which makes the whole experience feel paper thin. Stretching the suspension of disbelief so far actually undercuts the biting criticisms that the work was trying to make, and the production looks ridiculous for it.

There are more than a few moments where The Circle devolves into the typical “kids these days” griping that every generation loves to levy at their successors (which is surreal in how out of place it is for a movie whose characters are supposed to be analogous to Google or Apple employees). There is also, unsurprisingly, a lack of understanding of technology, and the culture that surrounds it.

At least in my experience, the people who are most up to date with the latest technological advances are also at the forefront of defending net neutrality, and opposing mass surveillance measures. There is a difference between people selectively sharing aspects of their lives on social media and being “fully transparent,” a distinction The Circle doesn’t seem to grasp. Truthfully, I don’t think anyone really wants full transparency through social media: they want to be able to cultivate and cater their image, which is the whole appeal of the platform. There may be more public sharing involved than previous generations could imagine, but it isn’t unlimited sharing – it is deliberate and selective sharing, in order to build an outward persona.

It is a shame that The Circle devolves into an infantile exercise in slippery slope catastrophizing, because there is a seed of an interesting idea underneath all of this: there are things to be said about the modern surveillance culture, as well as how people incorporate brands into their personal identity. Unfortunately, the potentially salient points are all completely buried underneath a thick layer of Luddite ideology here.

Aside from the technological aspects of the film, there are plenty of other flaws worth addressing with The Circle. While the performances are for the most part pretty good (Boyega, Hanks, and Gillan all stand out), the characters are all one-dimensional, and are defined by a single trait or flaw: they don’t even remotely feel like or behave like tangible, realistic people. On top of that, the story of the film is almost completely without structure: instead of having a cogent arc to it, the story is just a sequence of events that happen, with very little connection between them. In an art movie, this technique might work: something like a snapshot of an intriguing life. However, for a movie that is allegedly a drama or a thriller, there needs to be some connection between events to build tension. For the most part, The Circle is just a series of unconnected fictitious TED talks, with brief intermissions. The result is a movie that feels about 20 times longer than it actually is – a dreadfully boring and mind-numbing experience.

The Circle, on the whole, feels like a movie with a rushed screenplay that needed a whole lot more work. For the most part, all of the movie’s critical errors boil down to writing issues: namely the characters, the structure, and the story. For the record, everything else is pretty good: the movie looks decent, has a fair share of good performances, and has an interesting enough premise. However, it is all built on a shoddy foundation, and the movie is a wreck because of it.

As far as a recommendation goes, there isn’t much to see here. Unless you are a tech geek and want to pull your hair out, this is a movie that should never even pop up on your radar. If you are looking for a bad tech movie with a poor understanding of the internet, Hackers and The Net are always there for you.

 

Worst of 2017: Black Butterfly

Black Butterfly

Today, I’m continuing my tour through a handful of the cinematic failures of 2017 with Black Butterfly, starring Antonio Banderas.

The plot of Black Butterfly is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Outside a mountain town grappling with a series of abductions and murders, Paul (Antonio Banderas), a reclusive writer, struggles to start what he hopes will be a career-saving screenplay. After a tense encounter at a diner with a drifter named Jack (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), Paul offers Jack a place to stay-and soon the edgy, demanding Jack muscles his way into Paul’s work and the two men begin a jagged game of one-upmanship that will bring at least one tale to an end.

As mentioned in the above synopsis, the minimal cast of Black Butterfly is headlined by Antonio Banderas (Desperado, Four Rooms, The Mask of Zorro, Spy Kids, The 13th Warrior) and Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Vikings, The Tudors, Mission Impossible III).

Black Butterfly is, notably, a remake of a 2008 French made-for-television movie called Papillon Noir. The screenplay for this American version was written by Marc Frydman, one of the film’s producers, and Justin Stanley, who had penned a handful of little-seen movies like Beneath Loch Ness, Dusting Cliff 7, and The Shadow Men.

Black Butterfly is the second film by director Brian Goodman, who has spent most of his career as a minor actor in television shows like Aquarius, Chance, Castle, Lost, and 24. His first film was 2008’s What Doesn’t Kill You, which received generally positive to mixed reviews.

The cinematographer for Black Butterfly was José David Montero, whose other credits include Apollo 18, What Happened to Monday?, The Hunter’s Prayer, and Open Grave.

The music for the film was composed by Federico Jusid, who provided scores for films like Neruda, The Hunter’s Prayer, Kidnap, Misconduct, and The Secret In Their Eyes, among others.

The production history for Black Butterfly traces back to 2012, when Nicolas Cage was reportedly set to star. However, as the production delayed, many changes occurred between the film’s conception and release.

Culturally, the image of a black butterfly is widely considered a bad omen. They are not only uncommon, but visually evocative of death and mourning due to their dark coloration. Depending on the mythology and culture, they can represent the souls of the dead, the end of a season, or a coming disaster.

The film features a cameo role by prolific exploitation director Abel Ferrara, who directed movies like King of New York, Bad Lieutenant, Body Snatchers, and The Driller Killer, among others.

Black Butterfly was released in May of 2017 to generally negative reviews. Currently, it holds Rotten Tomatoes scores of 50% from critics and 45% from audiences, along with an IMDb user rating of 6.1/10. I suspect that the film released solely on video on demand services, given that no theatrical or financial information is readily available for it.

Black Butterfly boasts two very good performances from its leads: Antonio Banderas and Jonathan Rhys Meyers. For most of the movie, the onus of holding the story together is placed entirely on their shoulders, due to a generally lackluster screenplay. Both men manage to turn dialogue that could have easily sounded cringe-inducing into something mildly compelling and suspenseful – at least to a point. Both actors, who have proven themselves capable in the past, are better than this movie, and put in serious effort to elevate it. For all of Black Butterfly‘s faults, the cast is certainly not one of them.

Something that has been noted by many critics is that Black Butterfly feels familiar for audiences acquainted with the thriller genre: movies like Misery or Secret Window immediately come to mind from the synopsis alone. However, what is interesting about Black Butterfly is how it both subverts those genre expectations, as well as plays directly into tired cliches. Typically, a movie either cleverly goes down the first path, or trudges down the second: Black Butterfly straddles both paths, making for a simultaneously confusing, captivating, and frustrating experience. This is further emphasized by the screenplay’s tone, which is developed through a combination of predictable cliched lines, smug insights into the “writing process,” and non sequiturs masquerading as sapience. In the words of Vikrim Murthi of RogerEbert.com:

“Black Butterfly” communicates all of its empty-headed ideas idiotically, but still retains a knowing smugness regarding its intentions, like it’s pulling a rabbit out of a hat while acting like no one’s ever seen such a trick.

By far the defining element of Black Butterfly, for better or for worse, is its cavalcade of twists. Bafflingly, even the marketing for the film relied on its twists, with the poster sporting the tagline of “A Killer Story With A Twist.” Not only does that marketing spoil the fact that there is a twist, but an audience that had seen the poster would spend the whole movie searching for the twist, which would effectively ruin the viewing experience. In any case, whether spoiled by marketing or not, the twists are a net negative when taken together: despite one debatably good one, it is more than cancelled out by a final bad twist at the conclusion, which undoes all of the previous developments of the film. The rapid twists abruptly shifting from cliche, to novel, to cliche again would give any viewer severe whiplash, and make the movie all the more tiresome.

On a technical level, there is some suspect camera work peppered throughout the film, which is likely a result of what I assume was a low budget. A number of shots and angles seem like they were filmed on cell phones awkwardly placed on tripods. While that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, there are moments where it is a bit jarring, and it is clear that camera limitations are preventing some necessary coverage. On a positive note, however, the locations are absolutely gorgeous, and provide a stunning backdrop for the story: it is hard for any given shot to not look scenic as a result.

Overall, Black Butterfly is an exemplar of how twists (and an unpolished screenplay) can hurt a film. To be honest, it is not one of the worst movies of 2017, and it was right on the cusp of making my list for the month. However, it is a more interesting failure to cover than something like The Emoji Movie, which was doomed from conception. Black Butterfly squanders real potential, sees a sharp decline in quality internally due to the degrading twists, and is a surreal juxtaposition of positive and negative elements.

As far as a recommendation goes, it is hard for me to say whether this is worth the time. The performances, as mentioned, are good and worth seeing. While the screenplay is tiresome, I think the twists would be interesting for film buffs to both praise and critique. Casual viewers would likely be less interested in this one, and should probably avoid it.

Worst of 2017: Arsenal

Arsenal

Today, I am going to be kicking off an entire month dedicated to the worst films of 2017. First up is the mostly overlooked Arsenal, featuring Nicolas Cage and John Cusack.

The plot of Arsenal is succinctly summarized on IMDb as follows:

A Southern mobster attempts to rescue his kidnapped brother.

The sole credited screenplay writer for Arsenal was Jason Mosberg, who currently has no other listed credits on IMDb.

The film was directed by Steven C. Miller, who also helmed Silent Night (the loose remake of Silent Night, Deadly Night), Marauders, and Extraction.

The cast of Arsenal includes Nicolas Cage (Ghost Rider, Drive Angry, The Wicker Man, Face/Off, Vampire’s Kiss, The Cotton Club, Snake Eyes, Army of One, Leaving Las Vegas, Raising Arizona, The Rock), John Cusack (Con Air, 1408, The Raven, Say Anything, The Ice Harvest, 2012, High Fidelity, Grosse Pointe Blank), Adrian Grenier (Entourage), and Johnathon Schaech (That Thing You Do, Prom Night, Road House 2).

The cinematographer for the film was Brandon Cox, who additionally shot the films Heist, The Collector, Extraction, and Marauders.

The editor for Arsenal was Vincent Tabaillon, who has cut such films as Taken 2, Now You See Me, The Incredible Hulk, Clash of the Titans, The Legend of Hercules, and Transporter 2.

The music for the film was composed by Scott Nickoley, who did extensive work for the television shows South Park, The Osbournes, and Clone High, and Ryan Franks, who provided the music for the film Bad Ass.

Arsenal was released in January 2017 by Lionsgate Premiere, a division of the larger Lionsgate production company which specializes in direct-to-streaming and on-demand releases.

The movie is interestingly a quasi-sequel to Deadfall, a mostly-forgotten 1993 crime film that also features Nicolas Cage as the character of mobster Eddie King. However, it is not clear if this was actually intended by the screenwriter, or something that Cage decided to do on his own, and was permitted by the production.

Arsenal was filmed on location in the gulf coast city of Biloxi, MS, and features a baseball game of the local minor league team, the Biloxi Shuckers. Biloxi is known primarily for its handful of casinos and resorts, as well as being the base of operations for the notorious Dixie Mafia.

Arsenal was released under a couple of alternate titles in international markets. The first is more than a little sensible, given the movie’s Mississippi setting: Southern Fury. The other title, however, really boggles the mind: Philly Fury. I’d love to know who thought that this alternate title was even remotely accurate, or why they thought it would have appealed to international viewers.

The reception to Arsenal was overwhelmingly negative: it currently holds an IMDb user rating of 4.0/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 4% critics and 20% from audiences.

Arsenal, unfortunately, is one of those dreadful films that suffers from not having quite enough Nic Cage to be fun, but also having too much of him to be taken seriously.  Part of the problem is that Cage isn’t given the room to be truly crazy: he doesn’t have much screen-time, and his few sequences are far too brief for him to get cooking. In his one-star review for RogerEbert.com, Simon Abrams writes the following:

it’s hard to say what kind of performance Cage is trying to deliver since director Steven C. Miller frequently cuts Cage off before he can get going. Cage…is a scene-stealer even when he’s over-acting, like a car wreck that keeps finding ways to explode…But because he’s never allowed to cut loose, “Arsenal” never comes to life.

When Cage is given sufficient time on screen and enough slack in his chains, he tends to do something memorable (for better or worse). Arsenal is a movie that desperately needed some element to stand out and inject energy into the story, which is exactly what Cage excels at. However, it seems that Miller just couldn’t figure out how to use him and his strange, dark powers to elevate the movie.

That said, Nicolas Cage is by no means the problem with Arsenal. His performance is weird and unintelligible, to be sure, but he is hardly a fatal element here. The biggest issue, in my eyes, is the screenplay, provided by first-time scribe Jason Mosberg. As you might expect from a rookie screenwriter, Arsenal lacks a lot of the finer touches: elements like the rhythm and pacing just feel off, for instance. The dialogue isn’t terrible, though it is doesn’t really ring as organic either: it mostly just serves the purpose of moving the story along, rather than rounding out characters. The result of all of this is that the story moves its way along slowly, and it is notably difficult to identify with and invest in the cast of characters along the trek.

Beyond Nicolas Cage, the rest of the cast isn’t much to write home about either. John Cusack, for the few minutes that he shows up, sleepwalks through his role, and even looks like he is actively trying not to be recognized (always in a pair of sunglasses and a hat). Adrien Grenier, who is perplexingly the lead of the movie, just doesn’t work as an engine for a film. He is a guy who can typically slot in well in a supporting role, ideally with some kind of comedic material. Part of why he worked well in Entourage is because, somewhat ironically, he was always in a supporting role to the people around him, and didn’t have to bolster the weight of the story himself.

One of my personal pet peeves with b-movies is the uninspired and excessive use of slow motion sequences. The big A-list films tend to make decent use of slow-motion: think of Dredd or 300, where the effect is used to either cleverly imitate the effect of a drug, or enhance a memorable image that would otherwise have been lost in the action. Likewise, the more recent X-Men films have managed to use slow-mo to showcase the perspective of a speedster. These are all interesting ways to use slow-mo that fit an artistic or story-related purpose. In Arsenal, and many movies like it, slow motion sequences are included for seemingly no reason: whenever something sudden or violent happens, the action is just slowed down. The resulting images may be spattered with gore, but they are far from iconic or artistically composed. I suppose the effect is supposed to give the events more weight or gravity, but the result is usually that the movie just slows down, which doesn’t do the poorly-paced screenplay any favors.

Overall, I don’t think that Arsenal is necessarily any more or less than your typical straight to video feature. Honestly, I think the biggest reason that it attracted the critical flak that it did came from the top-heavy cast. However, it is hard not to feel that some real potential was wasted here. I still think that both Cusack and Cage have gas left in the tank, and could make for an interesting on-screen combo again. However, they really need to be in more capable hands (of both a screenwriter and director). Ultimately, the point of Arsenal was clearly to put recognizable faces on a cheap and utilitarian product, and in that regard it succeeded. The fact that anyone watched the movie or is talking about it is proof of the production’s (relative) success.

All of that said, there is absolutely no way that I could recommend this movie. It may be “successful” in purely financial terms, but it is still roughly as boring as watching paint dry. The pain of seeing Cusack and Cage so under-utilized just makes it all the worse, and more than justifies its reputation as one of the worst films of 2017.

 

The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t

The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t

In the spirit of the season, today I am going to take a look at the infamous 1966 holiday movie, The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t.

The plot of The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Santa has to get a job as Santa to earn money to pay his overdue rent bill.

The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t was co-written and directed by the Italian actor Rossano Brazzi, who appeared in movies like The Italian Job, Final Justice, and South Pacific. However, his directing credits were very limited, and is best remembered for his works as an actor.

The movie was based on a book of the same name written by Paul Tripp, a children’s author and musician best known for the song “Tubby the Tuba”. Not only did he adapt The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t to the screen himself, but he also portrays the lead role in the film.

The music for The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t was provided by Bruno Nicolai, who composed music for for well over 100 features over his career, including Caligula, X312: Flight To Hell, and Django Shoots First. However, his more distinguished credits are as a conductor: he performed music for such films as Django, For A Few Dollars More, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, The Battle of Algiers, The Cat O’ Nine Tails, and Waterloo.

In 2017, The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t was featured in the eleventh season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, where it was mocked by the show’s hosts.

In an episode of The Simpsons, specifically season 12’s “Skinner’s Sense of Snow”, a parody of The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t is briefly shown on a television, titled The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t, But Then Was.

Even though the actors spoke their lines in English, there was no recording done on set, and everyone was dubbed over by other actors to avoid Italian accents. The only exception was the director, Rossano Brazzi, who recorded his character’s dialogue himself.

The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t currently holds an unenviable 4.2/10 IMDb user rating, which likely has its featuring on Mystery Science Theater 3000 in large part to thank for that.

Not unlike the similarly silly Christmas-themed bad movie classics Santa Claus Conquers The Martians and Santa Claus (1959), The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t is mostly ridiculous in how over-the-top its plot is. However, it is also just a goofy, utterly harmless little movie, that is endearing in how simple it is. Its internal logic is wholesome and childlike on a level that few stories can really touch: it sounds and feels like it might have even been written by a child.

The odd combination of the whimsy of Santa Claus with the harsh reality of financial inequality and greed is a weird mixture at the core of the movie to be sure, but it always feels grounded on the side of naivete. That said, the very premise of saddling Santa with real-world problems feels almost a tad like heresy: Santa is inherently supernatural and separate from the real world, and suggesting otherwise always turns a bit weird in movies in my opinion.

Probably due to the extensive use of dubbing, The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t just looks and feels like a poorly translated foreign film. The mannerisms certainly add a lot to that as well, but there is an undeniable charm to watching a badly dubbed old movie. As someone who is a big fan of English-dubbed Godzilla movies, I have an admitted soft spot for bad dubbing in movies, so it was kind of a plus in my book.

Overall, I think there are definitely better bad Christmas movies to watch out there. However, if this one happens to pop up on you, it is totally worth sitting through. It might not merit seeking out, but it is hardly painful.

Worst Movies of 2017

Howdy loyal followers! As you are well aware, we are just about to put another year behind us. With 2017 coming to an end, I wanted to, once again, shine a spotlight on the publicly perceived worst films of the year.

I want to re-emphasize that this is a list I generated based on public perception, and not objective quality. I chose to measure this by compiling 11 currently published year-end “Worst of 2017” lists (from sources like The AV Club and The Chicago Tribune), then I tallied up how often each film appeared. It is a pretty simple and data-driven way to make this sort of list, and gives a rough idea of how widely despised individual films were.

As with last year, there was no consensus between the various “Worst of 2017” lists. Between the 11 ranking lists I initially pulled movies from, I wound up with roughly 70 different films with at least one tally, which included some obviously contentious, contrarian picks like Phantom Thread and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. For the sake of brevity, I’m only listing out movies here that appeared on more than 2 lists, but if you want to see the final version of my spreadsheet with all of the tallies and sources used, you can find it here.

Once again, there was no consensus pick for the worst picture of 2017. Last year, the most consistently reviled movie (Independence Day: Resurgence) was on 10/14 rankings, which crunches out to just under 72%. The fact that the closest thing to an agreed “worst movie of the year” failed to land a vote on 28% of lists certainly says something about either a variety of tastes, or a competitive field of bad movies. This year was no different: the highest vote-getter only barely squeaked by a tight pack of contenders, and received votes on only 7/11 lists (63.6%).

Without further ado, here are the publicly perceived worst movies of 2017:

  1. Transformers: The Last Knight
  2. Book of Henry / 50 Shades Darker / The Emoji Movie
  3.  The Mummy / Baywatch
  4. The Great Wall / King Arthur / Chips / The Snowman / Geostorm
  5.  The Dark Tower / Flatliners / Rings / Suburbicon 

Are there any movies that you expected to see that didn’t make the cut? Let me know in the comments!

The Identical

The Identical

Today, I’m taking a look at a bizarre alternate history film about identical twins who are, in turn, identical to Elvis Presley: 2014’s The Identical.

The plot of The Identical is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Twin brothers are unknowingly separated at birth; one of them becomes an iconic rock ‘n’ roll star, while the other struggles to balance his love for music and pleasing his father.

The screenplay for The Identical was written by Howard Klausner, whose other writing credits include Hoovey, Space Cowboys, Grace Card, and The Last Ride.

The Identical was directed by a man named Dustin Marcellino, who has no other directorial credits listed on IMDb. His only documented experience is shooting and editing a short film in 2011, called The Last Train.

The cast of the film includes the likes of Seth Green (Austin Powers, Idle Hands, The Italian Job, Rat Race), Ray Liotta (Goodfellas, Smokin Aces, Revolver, The Iceman), Ashley Judd (Heat, Bug, Frida), Joe Pantoliano (Memento, The Matrix, Daredevil, Pluto Nash), and Erin Cottrell (Love’s Abiding Joy). The lead of The Identical, Blake Rayne, is a well known Elvis Presley impersonator. He was cast in the dual lead role after one of his performances was seen by the film’s casting director, despite his lack of acting experience.

The cinematographer on The Identical was Karl Walter Lindenlaub, whose shooting credits include Independence Day, Stargate, Nine Lives, Universal Soldier, and Moon 44.

The editor for the film was Rick Shaine, who also cut Pitch Black, The Incredible Hulk, Theodore Rex, Loverboy, and the horror classic A Nightmare On Elm Street.

Four people are credited with composing music for The Identical, including Klaus Badelt (Ultraviolet, Equilibrium, Catwoman, Constantine, 16 Blocks, Rescue Dawn, Poseidon), Christopher Carmichael (The Howling: Reborn), and producers Yochanan and Jerry Marcellino, the latter of whom composed Michael Jackson’s hit single “Music & Me”.

After the film’s critical and financial failure, the production’s twitter account launched a campaign for fans to flood Rotten Tomatoes with positive reviews, claiming that the popular review aggregator has an anti-Christian bias. Even with that directed campaign, however, the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes for The Identical sits at an unenviable 62%.

The Identical only played in theaters for three weeks before getting pulled for low grosses. In that time, it took in only $2.8 million of its $16 million budget, making it a significant loss for a small production.

The reception to the film was arguably even more disastrous: Linda Cook, film critic for the Quad City Times, summarized it as “Showgirls bad: a vision that slowly goes wrong, then terribly wrong, then hits disaster levels.” Likewise, Randy Cordova of The Arizona Republic wrote that “Elvis Presley made some bad movies, but…He never made anything as outright awful as The Identical.” Currently, The Identical holds an IMDb user rating of 5.1/10, along with a Rotten Tomatoes critics’ score of a measly 6%.

As far as positives go, I have to say that some of the music featured in the film is kind of catchy, even if the lyrics aren’t exactly deep. That said, this was definitely a music movie first, and everything else second. Unfortunately, that definitely shows once you delve beyond the soundtrack.

It would be easy to poke at first time actor Blake Rayne as a key issue with this movie. After all, he had no acting experience previously, so he’s an easy target. However, I thought he was actually pretty decent here. Given that his character is basically Elvis, it shouldn’t be too shocking that a professional Elvis impersonator could pull the role off well. Likewise, most of the cast is pretty decent: Liotta in particular deserves props for a performance that far exceeds the needs for this film.

The area where The Identical really suffers is in the screenplay writing. Not only is there a ton of unnecessary narration that drifts in and out of the film, but the very structure of story is bizarre: notably, it flashes back and forward numerous times, making it unclear when certain events are happening, and glosses over years at a time.

On top of that, there are some serious historical issues with the screenplay. For instance, it dodges the Civil Rights Movement and racism in any way that it can. Even more glaringly, the film doesn’t address that Elvis is an established figure within the film’s acknowledged historical canon. Basically, in the film’s version of history, both Elvis and an identical Elvis look-alike are celebrities at the same time, doing the same kind of music. On top of that, the Elvis look-alike’s identical twin winds up with an enviable music career, which is inexplicably never compared to Elvis’s. Despite establishing Elvis’s existence as a popular figure, at no point does anyone in the film note similarities between Elvis and his fictional identical(s), which is beyond mind-boggling. I assume this is the result of the screenplay originally having Elvis as a character (instead of Drexel), and being changed at some point to avoid issues. However, to leave in references to Elvis is a glaring flaw in the story’s world and internal logic, that both the screenwriter and director should have caught and omitted.

It may be a minor gripe, but one of the most egregious issues with The Identical is the costuming. There are countless bad wigs scattered throughout the film, in an attempt to convey ages of characters and time periods, but they all ultimately distract the eye because of how unconvincing they are. Costuming, ideally, should blend into the background, and only catch the audience’s eye if it is meant to establish something about a character or the setting. In this movie, wigs and outlandish outfits constantly stand out without cause or need, which takes away from the audience’s immersion and investment in the story.

Similar to the costuming, another pair of unusual issues with The Identical are the casting and makeup. Given the story spans over multiple decades, there were going to be some inevitable difficulties with portraying characters over time. Some productions elect to re-cast characters in order to convey different points in time, like Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight. This can create a slight disconnect, but audiences are usually a bit forgiving if the actors look plausibly related. The other popular way to show that characters have aged is the use of makeup, such as in Citizen Kane, which allows the same actor to portray an older version of their character. While some movies have been innovative in terms of prosthetic use or digital enhancements to achieve similar aging and de-aging effects, these two methods remain the most effective and cheapest ways to deal with having the same characters portrayed across long spans of time in a story.

In the case of The Identical, however, the production chose to do nothing at all. Seth Green and Blake Rayne, outside of changing goofy wigs occasionally, look the same when their characters are in high school and when they are grown adults. Particularly in the early sections of the film, this decision makes their scenes straight comical. In one sequence, the two clearly adult men are in a bar, and are supposed to be playing minors. Then, the “teens” are scolded by their also-adult parents. “Surreal” might not be the right descriptor, but it is pretty close.

If I didn’t know from the marketing that The Identical was a Christian movie, I’m not sure if I would have figured it out otherwise, and that is pretty noteworthy to itself these days. While religion does play somewhat prominently in the story, it is hardly the focal point. That is not even to mention that the version of Christianity lauded is not nearly as conservative as one might expect, particularly when comparing the film to its contemporary Christian features like God’s Not Dead or The War Room. Theoretically, this is what a Christian movie should be: a story that involves Christianity, insofar as it impacts the characters. The crux of the story isn’t that Christianity is rad: there is a (mostly) coherent narrative with tangible characters, who are often guided by their religion. It may seem like a minor distinction, but when a movie’s transparent purpose is to preach and convert, it automatically gets the tone of hokey propaganda, and it undercuts any character motivations or story investment that the audience might develop.

I don’t think there’s much to recommend with The Identical, but I did find it to be a bit thought-provoking. If you are curious, Ray Liotta and the music may justify your time, but there isn’t much entertainment to be had beyond that. I do think that, with some work on the screenplay and a little more attention to detail on screen, there might have been the makings of an interesting alternate history film here. Hell, if Bubba Ho-Tep can work, I’m not writing off any outlandish Elvis movie ideas.