So far, it’s been a pretty lackluster year. The highs are so high, and the lows so bottomless, that the middling, mediocre center has been particularly problematic. Imagine eating a three course meal, where the dessert was fantastic, the appetizer awful, and the main course merely serviceable, and you get the idea. Naturally, this makes rummaging through the wreckage of any celluloid season that much more maddening. On one hand, the pros stand out significantly. So do the cons. But how do you handle those in the middle. Does something like ParaNorman, perhaps the best family film of the year, earn a place, merely because it’s better than the rest of the kid flick claptrap out there? Does a long simmering horror show like [REC]3 deserve acknowledgment, even though it’s been released around the world for months?
It’s always hard, but we’ll give it a shot anyway. Granted, before we go forward, it’s important to state that we couldn’t see everything the Cineplex had to offer. We skipped a couple anklebiter epics—Madagascar 3, Ice Age 4—since, in our opinion, they are remnants of franchises well past their prime. We skipped other examples of the genre as well as (The Odd Life of Timothy Green, The Oogieloves) basically on a lack of interest. On the other hand, there are many honorable mentions to take into consideration, such as Pixar’s pleasant Brave, as well as some few would champion (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and That’s My Boy, anyone???) as well as the usual compendium of outright mediocrity. So, when 2012 is written, these will be the films we think people will remember, both in a very good and a very bad way… and here’s hoping the rest of the year can save us from such seesaw aesthetics.
Let’s begin with the bad:
Otherwise known as Transformers Meets Pearl Harbor. A rogue naval cadet gets a shot at redemption, becomes an accidental officer, and then finds himself pitted against an invading fleet of extraterrestrial baddies. It all takes place in the middle of the Pacific (apparently, few remembered the “success” of Kevin Costner’s submerged epic Waterworld) and in line with the hokey Hasbro game that “inspired” it. No, no one shouts “You sunk my…” you know what, but we do get grid strategies and exploding “pegs” as part of the action. Oh yeah, and then the ‘Greatest Generation’ shows up to kick some alien butt, real elderly school style.
If Tom Cruise doesn’t get a Best Supporting Actor nod for his turn as Stacey Jaxx, the borderline burnout rock star trying to revitalize his career and his karma in this ‘80s hair metal jukebox musical, something is seriously wrong with Hollywood. He was, quite frankly, the only thing that kept this claptrap from stinking more miserably than a Winger song. As for the rest of the cast and crew, they don’t deserve kudos. They deserve life. Overlong, poorly scripted, and lacking a real understanding of the scene being showcases (we said it before and we’ll say it again… QUARTERFLASH?!?!), it was pure joyless junk.
Nothing is worse that a comedy without jokes. Wait… we take that back. Nothing is worse than a mangled high concept comedy without a lick of legitimate humor. That’s apparently what happened here. Somebody got the brilliant idea to mesh The ‘burbs with Ghostbusters (or a close cloned approximation thereof) and the let supposed talent comedians loose on the nutty narrative. Sadly, Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn are so uniformly awful that they make an underwhelming Jonah Hill and a decent Richard Ayoade seem positively amazing. The invasion angle does nothing, and to make matters worse, the extraterrestrials aren’t smart, just space holders.
It’s time for the typical summer scary movie atrocities, with this one losing out on the top slot because of its desire to milk a familiar chapter in world ecological disaster history in order to hide its lack of actual horrors. We get a group of tourists visiting the ghost town that resulted after the famed nuclear reactor meltdown. Apparently, some scientists are tracking the growing mutant population nearby, and when some of them get out, it’s time to go slasher on our unsuspecting victim fodder. Aside from a few shocks, there’s no dread. Just something dreadful.
At least Chernobyl Diaries had some moment of mock terror. Here, we get a haunting, an economic downturn Poltergeist setting, and a lead couple who put a whole new spin on the term “uninteresting”. Apparently, a séance inspired experiment leads to the opening of a portal to another spiritual dimension. After that, angry specters decide that a vet tech and her pouting boy toy deserve to have some things go bump in the night. Add in an overdose of Paranormal Activity inaction and the unnecessary presence of Draco Malfoy, and you’ve got the standard end of summer supernatural slop.
Sci-Fi Author Ursula LeGuin's Stories of Class War, Religious Dissension, Identity Politics and More