Last time in the pages of The Next Reel we explored a series of Horror Sequels so Bad They’re Scary. From Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) to Jaws: The Revenge (1987), they all suck like a pulsar-powered Hoover.
The last of that forlorn lot was a little film called Basic Instinct 2 (2006) which most everyone could agree was horrifyingly bad but not everyone could quite agree was exactly “Horror”. After all, how dare we bump S. Darko (2009), Omen IV: The Awakening (1991) or The Ring Two (2005) from the list in favor of that Action flick? “Horror”, Basic Instinct 2 may not have been, but “Suspense” it truly was… or at least, was intended to be, especially as many critics compared the original film (somewhat generously) to Hitchcock (whose The Birds (1963) similarly received a mind-numbingly bad sequel). For those out there who would call that more of an Action film, trust me, Action has more than its fair share of incredibly bad sequels to quality movies, too.
Bridging that proverbial gap between Horror and Action (with a healthy dose of sci-fi thrown in) is a certain alien Invasion flick called Predator (1987), a fatal blitz of invisible and invincible predation. Directed by no less an Action heavyweight than John McTiernan (whose next film would be 1988’s Die Hard) with a title creature brought to hideous life by none other than Stan Winston (who had brought us the Alien Queen in the prior year’s Aliens and took suggestions for this monster from Aliens’ director James Cameron) and Action stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Duke, Carl Weathers, Sonny Landham, Jesse Ventura and even Shane Black. How could this film lose?
You read that right… Shane Black! The team is so freakin’ tough it features the very creator of Lethal Weapon (1987), not to mention three tough-guy body builders turned politicians (yeah, you know all about Ah-nuld “Cally-Fawnya” Schwarzenegger and Jesse “Mini-Sooooda” Ventura, but Sonny Landham also ran for governor of Kentucky). Mercenaries and aliens are one thing, but politicians, too? Now that’s scary!
But not as scary as its sequel (and I don’t mean that as a compliment), but we’re getting to that. The title character himself was played by the towering actor Kevin Peter Hall (who stood at 7′ 2 ¾”) and was voiced by none other than Peter Cullen. Yes, folks, if you thought the team of super strong guy politicians were tough, our villain was over seven feet tall and sported the voice of Optimus Prime!
I grew extra knuckle hair just typing those last three paragraphs! Woof! Woof! Woof!
Predator may have initially been met by poor reviews, but the ticket sales were boffo, earning the film almost a $100 million (against an $18 million budget) and the second overall box office spot of its year. Further, the critical reception to Predator warmed in the years and it has become a critical darling. RottenTomatoes currently lists the film as Certified Fresh with 78 percent positive reviews.
20th Century Fox demanded a sequel and assembled an impressive cast and crew. Up and coming Action director Stephen Hopkins was given the folding chair after having just come off of A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989). Original writers Jim and John Thomas returned to pen the script, composer Alan Silvestri returned to write the score, Stan Winston returned to reinvent the creature effects surrounding a returning Kevin Peter Hall and the heroes included action stars like Danny Glover and Bill Paxton.
Predator 2 hit theatres in 1990 and I liked it even better than the first film. This proves what an idiot I was back in high school, doesn’t it? All the ingredients for a great film were there, from a not-too-distant future Los Angeles of 1997, an exciting plot featuring exhausted police against warring drug cartels, both of which the new Predator hunts in this now urban jungle and those admirable stars and creators. The title inter-planetary hunter himself sports more weapons than a New York Public School Guidance Counselor, cooler dread locks than Ziggy Marley and a serious desire to kick more ass before 9AM than most earth-bound alien visitors kick all day long!
While Predator 2 pumped the Dark Horse Comics into high gear with new mythology and the confirmation that 1979’s Alien took place in the same universe as Predator (wow), the sad fact is that this sequel does indeed suck like the Eureka Steamer Carpet Cleaner!
The Predator inspects Danny Glover
Re-watching the film as an adult, I can say that Predator 2 is a third-rate Robocop with graduates from the Bill Shatner school of acting and enough story to fill a half hour of HBO’s The Hitchhiker! It’s the only action film I’ve ever fallen asleep during two nights in a row (except Pearl Harbor). I am hardly the only critic to say so. While Danny Glover was impressive (after Schwarzenegger declined to return over salary disputes), the rest of the film was almost universally lambasted as hokey, unoriginal, ugly and mindless. The film opened at #4 and ultimately underperformed, earning a worldwide gross of $57 million against a $35 million budget. Sure it made its money back but not nearly in the way Fox had hoped. Critics were as unimpressed as audiences and Predator 2 now enjoys a 25 percent Rotten rating on RottenTomatoes.com.
Predator lived on in the comics but wouldn’t see celluloid again until 2004’s Alien Vs. Predator and not as a true main villain until 2010’s Predators. Luckily rumor has it that a new installment is in pre-production to be handled by none other than writer/ director Shane Black himself. Given his intimate experience with the monster (who killed him in the first movie), that might be something to see.
The action thundered on in the 1994 thriller known as Speed, which firmly placed Keanu Reeves in the Action star A-List and Sandra Bullock’s career skyrocketed faster than the bus’ iconic overpass jump in the film. Speed was an unexpectedly huge hit for Fox, earning well over ten times its budget at the box office, becoming a critical favorite (with a current 93 percent Fresh certification from RottenTomatoes) and even winning two Academy Awards. The film continues to feature on many “Best Of” lists and, if that’s not enough for you, February 22 has been designated as “National Speed Day” in honor of the film. Not even Predator has a holiday.
First time director Jan de Bont felt that Speed was a one-time story and Fox, while hoping for profit, never contracted the stars for sequels and was taken by surprise by the film’s runaway success. De Bont, however, did have a sequel written into his contract for the first film, in spite of the fact that no one expected such a sequel to ever come to pass. Well, kids, when your film makes over $350 million against a $30 million budget, you make a sequel, right?
Well, Fox thought so, but Reeves did not, in spite of an offer for a $12 million paycheck. Bullock, however, accepted her role with a similarly sized payment and Fox’s agreement to fund her next project, Hope Floats (1998). Without Reeves, de Bont considered the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Billy Zane, Christian Slater and even Jon Bon Jovi (not kidding) before accepting Bullock’s suggestion of Jason Patric to play the male lead (Alex, as opposed to Reeves’ Jack) and with Willem Dafoe as the villain things seemed to be shaping up for an exciting action film.
Then again, de Bont also cast his favorite comedian Tim Conway in the film (for a comeback opportunity) and as for the plot… well… it came to him in a dream.
Although de Bont was inundated with hundreds of ideas for the sequel from various writers, he rejected them all in favor of an adaptation of one of his nightmares. Spoiler Warning: In this recurring dream a cruise ship crashes into an island at top speed. And this is the same man who thought Speed was “one-time story”. Oh, his prophetic soul!
Still, how badly could it fail with this much going for it, not to mention a budget that had ballooned from the originally envisioned $100 million to $160 million?
Quite spectacularly so. That dreamy crash scene alone cost no less than a full $25 million to shoot (remember, the original film cost $30 million to make). That might have been money well spent and a wise investment if the sequel followed its predecessor to gold. It did not.
Speed 2: Cruise Control finally hit theaters in 1997 to overwhelming critical disdain. Reviews indicated that Speed 2 was as unoriginal as Predator 2 before it. In spite of its title, critics derided the slow moving plot on the (ironically) slow moving boat and called the film “laughable”, “familiar”, “uninteresting” and (again) “slow-moving”. Speed has been listed among the best Action films of all time and won two Academy Awards, its only sequel frequently makes the list of the worst sequels ever made and won itself a Razzie award for “Worst Remake or Sequel”. Speed has a 93 percent “Fresh” certification, Speed 2’s RottenTomatoes score is… three percent.
Control is lost in Speed 2: Cruise Control
This could all be forgiven by Fox if the film pulled in similar box office to the original. Again, Speed 2 failed to impress. Sure, the film made $164 million at the worldwide box office (only $48 million of which came from the USA), but the film cost $160 million and was heavily advertised.
By every account Speed 2 was a flop that sank like the Titanic. Ironically the same year saw the release of the film Titanic and while the title ship sank spectacularly, that film became the biggest selling movie of all time for many years to come.
The only actor actually praised for Speed 2 was Reeves… for passing on it. Patric and Bullock later joined critics and audiences in their insults and dismissal of their film. But they were hardly the only death-defying, fast-moving heroes to crash and burn in a lamentably lamentable sequel.
Ever hear of Superman? He’s only the first ever Superhero upon whom every follower is based. While the character became one of the first to be filmed in live action, for decades his motion picture exploits were kid stuff with unconvincing flying sequences and overall simple plots.
That is until 1978’s Superman: The Movie which promised in its advertising that “You Will Believe a Man Can Fly”. Warner Bros. and Alexander and Ilya Salkind made good on this promise with excellent new special effects, great direction by Richard Donner, an all-star cast and an earnest, endearing performance by the late Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent himself. Sure the film looked great, but the point is that critics, the film industry and audiences believed in it enough to earn Superman critical praise (93 percent Fresh on RottenTomatoes), a Special Achievement Academy Award (for Visual Effects) and a $300 million box office take against a budget of $55 million.
Surprisingly, the film’s first sequel, 1980’s Superman II (directed by Donner with Richard Lester taking over for just about 50 percent of the film) received almost as much critical praise (88 percent Fresh on RottenTomatoes) and while it didn’t initially make as much money as its predecessor, Superman II literally doubled its $54 million budget, pulling in $108 million. Many fans (especially comic fans) consider this to be the best of the series. And while Richard Lester’s Superman III (1983) was a misstep (largely due to its reconfiguration as a comedy vehicle for the great Richard Pryor, rather than a real Superhero movie), and made just over $70 million (against a $39 million budget) the series remained highly regarded and had sequel potential.
The Salkinds went on to make 1984’s Supergirl (which failed to make even half of its $35 million budget back and holds an eight percent Rotten ranking on RottenTomatoes). The film rights to Superman went (inexplicably) to Golan-Globus’ horrible Cannon Films.
Then again, how could Cannon lose? The studio was given a cool $40 million by Warners, star Reeve agreed to not only come back, but write the story that the new screenplay would be based on. With the Salkinds gone, estranged supporting cast members Gene Hackman and Margot Kidder returned to reprise their roles and series favorites Jackie Cooper and Marc McClure joined them. Throw in the flavors of the month in the form of Jon Cryer and Mariel Hemingway and the cast rounds out quite nicely. But one look at Superman IV will tell you that this experiment didn’t succeed.
In fact, the end result is just short of terrible, making even Superman III and Supergirl look better by comparison. The reasons for this are many-fold, but they start right there on the toilet seat of Cannon itself. Cannon was a slipping studio to begin with and its successes were dubious at best. Its catalogue to date had included such films as Exterminator 2, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, King Solomon’s Mines, Bolero and American Ninja. Next in the pipeline: Masters of the Universe!
What went wrong? Well, for one thing, instead of adding to the $40 million that Warner Bros. had ponied up (as Cannon was expected to), the “studio” (a term I use loosely here) more than halved it to a mere $17 million and used the rest to help fund Masters of the Universe (1987) and other films that you don’t want to see. Some of the pilfered funds even ended up in Cannon’s last ditch effort, Cyborg (1989).
The opening credits look like something from a hastily thrown together TV special. As the film unwinds we see more flaws than the budget saw dollars. The flying scenes (one of the biggest draws of 1978’s Superman) are unconvincing and are often matted in to a static, still photo background. You can actually see Superman flying away from Metropolis (really New York) in front of a boat in the harbor with waves rolling behind it totally static and frozen in time like a Kodak commercial!
Flight scenes got worse in the nine years between Superman and Superman IV
The outer space scenes are painful to watch, particularly the sequence set on the moon, during which the blackness of “outer space” is obviously a dusty black velvet curtain (that wrinkles toward the dirt-encrusted bottom) and (even in the weightlessness of space) Superman and his super-rival are obviously suspended by well-lit wires.
That “super-rival” is the idiotically conceived Nuclear-Man (Mark Pillow with the voice of Hackman for some reason). With him involved some of the lamest and saddest chase and fight scenes in Super-History are montaged across the screen. Again, you’ve got to see to believe that Moon Fight.
If this was the only problem with Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) a lot still might have been forgiven. But I would have to write an entire article (and I have) just to encapsulate the flaws this well-intentioned film meted upon the globe.
At the box office, Superman IV failed to fly, debuting at #4 and quickly falling out of the sky. The domestic box office was just over $15 million and while that sounds like a disaster compared to the $40 million Warners invested, it is still a failure when compared to the actual $17 million budget.
Critics tried hard to be kind to Superman IV partially out of reverence for the series and partially out of sympathy for Reeve and the rest of the filmmakers who were clearly doing the best with the very limited resources they had. It’s depressing to note how poorly this film worked both on the screen and at the box office. This is a real shame too, as Reeve’s story idea (though admittedly a bit preachy) is filled with good intentions and some very positive messages. They’re buried there and their presence, coupled with the earnestness of Reeve and the rest of the “little cast that could” make this a hard movie to hate. Still, RottenTomatoes lists Superman IV as Rotten with only 12 percent positive reviews.
The series lay dormant for 19 full years and for a time it was believed that Superhero films in general were to be buried along with this forlorn fourth film.
That was until 1989, when another DC Superhero took to the tights on the big screen. Batman had been captured in live action (on TV and in movies) several times but thanks in part to the campy 1966 series, the character had come to be regarded as something of a joke in Hollywood and the press. In comics, the story was different and the Caped Crusader had returned to his noir roots as the Dark Knight Detective. Soon Hollywood took notice.
While still somewhat campy and comical, Tim Burton’s expansive Batman (1989) was also dark and terrifying with a concept much closer to the original vision than ever before. It was also an undeniable hit, becoming the first film to make $100 million in its first ten days. It was the biggest film in the USA for 1989, ultimately pulling in $411 million worldwide against a budget of $48 million. Critics largely ate up the film, which currently holds a 72 percent Fresh rating on RottenTomatoes and even earned an Academy Award for Best Art Direction.
Burton and star Michael Keaton reteamed for 1992’s Batman Returns, which was larger in scope and budget. Still, it made $266 million at the box office against an $80 million price tag. The number 80 is also the percentage of positive reviews that RottenTomatoes counts for the sequel. Much like the third film in the Superman franchise, Batman Forever (1995) was something of a comical misstep (thanks, in part, to new director Joel Schumacher), the new Batman, Val Kilmer, was called by Batman creator Bob Kane the closest actor to his original vision. The third film was still a hit and managed to pull in $336 million against a $100 million budget, but still received a larger amount of negative reviews (Tomatometer score: 41 percent Rotten).
A Cabal of Demons Who Hate Comic Books Crawled Up From the Sewers
The future looked bright for the Dark Knight, right? Wrong. Almost as wrong as the final “film” in the saga, 1997’s Batman & Robin, a film so obnoxiously bad that it actually makes Superman IV look better by comparison. Unlike Superman IV, the fourth Batman film cannot blame its budget for its failures.
With a $140 million price tag, the direction of the returning Schumacher, a new Batman in up-and-comer George Clooney, returning star Chris O’Donnell (as Robin) and Hollywood heavyweights Uma Thurman and Schwarzenegger to round out the cast, things looked great for Warner Bros. Let me stress the fact that Schwarzenegger passed on Predator 2 but agreed to be in this turkey!
What the hell happened? My best guess is that from the dark depths of Hell, a cabal of demons who hate comic books and continuity managed to bribe everyone from the president to the janitor at Time Warner Communications in order to get this lugubrious experiment in unnecessary surgery produced.
It’s nothing less than the filmic equivalent to a cant hook to the gut. It is, in fact, so damned bad that it makes King Kong Lives look like Lawrence of Arabia! The 1966 campy Adam West Batman show seems like serious art by comparison. This multiplex infection is intentionally overacted, embarrassingly directed and is written as if screenwriter Akiva Goldsman was told to turn in the worst script he could, with bonus bucks for each bad pun.
For reasons beyond sanity, Schwarzenegger was cast as the genius Mr. Freeze who has almost as many flash-freezing gadgets in his collection as he has incredibly stupid lines. Almost. Arnold sounds like he’s having incredible problems with speech as he delivers the worst quips I’ve ever heard in any movie bar none (“You’re not taking ME to the cooler!”, is just one agonizing example). He conducts his idiotic minions in battle like a Smurf Maestro throughout the film and at one point he actually has them sing “Mr. White Christmas” from The Year Without a Santa Claus as he gleefully waves his arms and taps his feet. This version of Freeze is more embarrassing to Comic Book fans than the Ken Starr report was to Bill Clinton.
Meanwhile, Thurman’s Poison Ivy turns a skinny kid into a humiliating caricature of Bane, the smartest villain Batman ever faced in the comics (and the same guy he fought in 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises). Here Bane is reduced to a brainless lackey and more closely resembles the Saturday Morning Cartoon Hulk (he even says “Bane Smash!” at one point). His depiction here is worse than what they did to Mr. Freeze. If there really was a Bane the first thing he’d do is kill everyone involved with this horrible movie.
What follows is a cringe-worthy montage of barely connected fight scenes, silly surprises, blatant homosexual innuendo and the kind of acting one might find in a high school play when all the talented kids had already graduated. The Batmobile, supposedly the fastest and stealthiest land craft on earth, is decorated with neon lighting and is easier to see than a Mardi Gras float. Disgustingly, there is pink and purple neon everywhere in this movie, so maybe old Bruce considered this to be some post-modern form of camouflage? The Bat suits not only have nipples, but ice skates built into the boots… just in case. The “ice” is obviously plastic and wiggles in the wind.
Batman & Robin (with their man-boob nipples) must hack their way out of the menacing pink ice
The worst part is the vogueing to show off various parts of the male anatomy, particularly George and Chris’ man-ass. This isn’t even subtle, man. It’s turn, pose, shove body part at camera, pause, allow camera to zoom in, rinse, repeat. Damn!
The wisecracks are painful. Yeah, the guy who witnessed his parents getting killed and settled into a depression that both Martin Gore and Robert Smith would envy would logically go neon-happy and start saying things like “This is why Superman works alone!”, “You break it, you buy it!”, “Here’s where it all goes North!”, “Freeze, you’re Mad!”, “That’s not very PC. What about Batwoman, or Batperson?”, “Why is it that all the beautiful ones are homicidal maniacs? Is it me?” and “You’re not the only one who can set a trap, Venus!” While none of these lines are a fraction as bad as Robin’s and Mr. Freeze’s intestine-twisting one-liners (Robin actually says “Cowabunga”), even one from Batman is too much.
Much of this can be blamed on Warner Bros’ desire to make more and more money. Thus, Schumacher (who reportedly yelled out “This is a CARTOON!” before every take) did everything he could to make the film cheesier than a Wisconsin barn raising so as to sell toys and Happy Meals and clean up at the box office. The experiment was a failure.
Although the film debuted at #1, negative word of mouth caused a 63 percent drop in attendance the following weekend. The film continued to underperform, ultimately pulling in just over $107 million at the domestic box office (that amount is a hugely generous surprise) and about $131 million overseas for an undeserved take of $238 million.
Critics hated the film even more than audiences with RottenTomatoes reporting that only 11 percent gave the film positive reviews. Once again, that’s less than Superman IV. Much like its DC cousin a decade prior, Batman & Robin ended its series. Although ultimately profitable, the heavily promoted Batman & Robin did not pull in the numbers that the “Toyetic” Warner Bros. had expected (and even connived for) so the Bat Cape was hung up. Schumacher later admitted that this wasn’t “a real Batman movie” and Clooney joked that he had killed the franchise. He wasn’t wrong. Batman would not be seen onscreen again until 2005’s Batman Begins, a complete reboot which, incidentally, featured no ice skates, bat-nipples or Batmobile neon.
Batman and Superman aren’t the only heroes who devolved into silly comedy in their bad sequels. James Bond first hit the big screen in 1962 with Dr. No and continued on to even greater success with such films as Goldfinger (1964) and Thunderball (1965). Then after Roger Moore (the third actor in the series to take the role) became James Bond things got a bit campier. The films were still good… up until 1979’s Moonraker.
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) was completed with the closing credits promise that Bond’s next film would be For Your Eyes Only (which would eventually hit screens in 1981). However, just prior to the release of Bond’s 1977 bow, a tiny movie called Star Wars hit theaters and redefined motion pictures for everyone. Suddenly every studio was interested in sci-fi with a plethora of copycat films exploding into multiplexes, and Bond’s creators were not to be undone in their international search for a slice of that pie.
Thus, Moonraker was fast tracked to become the 11th 007 movie (and fourth to star Moore). The problem is that Ian Fleming’s Moonraker novel was an introspective, intelligent spy story about Bond facing off with a disguised Nazi who created “Moonraker”, a nuclear missile. There were no outer space scenes and no true science fiction of any kind appeared in the book. Undaunted, Eon Productions hired Christopher Wood to create a screenplay about a stolen space shuttle (the “Moonraker” of the title) and James Bond’s first forays into outer space, including a plot to replace the human race with a group of people bred on a space station, James Bond in weightlessness, a laser battle, James Bond in a space suit, a lunar invasion of U.S. Space Marines, James Bond with a laser pistol (his signature Walther PPK is never seen), a “Death Star”-like space station explosion and absolutely no intelligent sense whatsoever.
Even the obligatory sex puns are sci-fi related, as Q explains that “I think he’s attempting re-entry, sir,” when M asks what Bond might be doing with his belle du jour.
If these were the limits of the idiocy, the film might still be fun and exciting. However, Moonraker is a complete mess, even aside from the silly science fiction thread. A ridiculous love plot emerges between the metal-toothed villain Jaws (Richard Kiel) and a little blonde nerdy chick named Dolly (Blanche Ravalec). The romance is almost as painful to watch as that between the two giant apes in 1986’s King Kong Lives (a film that might have made this list had its 1976 predecessor been worth a damn).
In a scene even less believable than the outer space sequences, Bond drives a Gondola through the canals of Venice, then turns it into a speed boat, then a hovercraft, then a high-speed land vehicle that he drives through the streets. If that isn’t terrible enough, the “action” is punctuated by the silly slapstick reactions of the crowd. One Venezian waiter accidentally pours wine on a customer, another customer throws his own wine out believing that it has caused a hallucination and, worst of all, a pigeon is shown doing a comical double-take in disbelief at what it is seeing. Because, you know, pigeons are traditionally the most observant and analytical of the avian species.
The film is also poorly acted, unimaginative, devoid of suspense, impossible to take seriously and packed with product placement and huge wastes of money at every corner. Spoofs of James Bond flicks are often less funny than Moonraker (although Moonraker’s intentional comedy falls flat every time).
Eon and United Artists gambled on the wave of sci-fi support propelling Moonraker to the top of the charts; thus, more money was spent on this 11th film than the first six Bond flicks put together. The laughable title sequence cost more than the entire budget of Dr. No. Because there was absolutely no connection (save title and a couple of character names) between Fleming’s espionage novel and the sci-fi flick Moonraker, many viewers were sure to hit the library and be thrown out for screaming “WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?” Wood was therefore also commissioned to write a novelization based on his screenplay and called James Bond and Moonraker to help promote the movie.
While some critics actually enjoyed the film (somehow it has managed a “Fresh” rating), it has commonly been referred to as the worst of the series and continues to be a joke for anyone over ten who has seen it. That said, the gamble paid off for the franchise and Moonraker rocketed to the moon with an eventual take of $210 million against a $34 million budget. Terrible, painful and laughable or not, the film was a commercial success and remained the highest grossing Bond film of all time until it was eventually surpassed by 1995’s Goldeneye (in which Bond did not spacewalk).
Action and Comedy (mixed or not) have both soiled the screen with a plethora of bad sequels to good movies. The Sting II (1983), Stayin’ Alive (1983), Grease 2 (1982), Short Circuit 2 (1988), Son of the Mask (2005), A Christmas Story 2 (2012) and Caddyshack II (1988) all often make critics and fans of each respective preceding film sick to their stomachs.
But to close this exciting entry into The Next Reel series (a sequel in itself to March 2015’s Great Movies With Terrible Sequels: Sequels so Bad They’re Scary), let’s explore one of the biggest (and weirdest) badly divergent terrible sequels in movie history.
Way back in 1987, the film Dirty Dancing became a surprise hit at the box office, pulling in adult viewers of all ages (although teens were the expected audience), spawned a hit soundtrack (that re-popularized the ’60s songs from the film as well as new recordings) and won overwhelming critical praise (with a Tomatometer score of 72 percent). The film maintained its popularity after its release, becoming the first movie to sell a million copies on video, winning one Academy Award and propelling its stars, Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey to great fame and popularity. Dance trends followed and re-releases kept the film’s successes flowing. In 2005 it was reported that Dirty Dancing was still selling a million DVDs per year. Even excluding video rentals and purchases, the film was a phenomenal runaway success earning almost $214 million against a budget of only $6 million.
In addition, a remake is being planned, a TV show was spawned on CBS, Dirty Dancing tours were staged and a 2004 theatrical production called Dirty Dancing: The Classic Story on Stage was adapted from the film. That’s Dirty Dancing all over.
But enough about Dirty Dancing… let’s get gritty. Lawrence Bender had become a successful producer with Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992). When Pulp Fiction (1994) became a monster hit, Bender’s star only grew.
In between those times, however, he commissioned a very serious political film with romantic undertones set around the Cuban Revolution. Bender hired no less a serious author than playwright, screenwriter and NPR host Peter Sagal, who based his biting script on the true life story of JoAnn Fregalette Jansen. Now a Hollywood producer, choreographer, director, acting coach and actress, who actually did work (in a technical capacity) with Bender and Tarantino on Jackie Brown (1997), Jansen also lived in Cuba as a teenager during the revolution in the years 1958-1959, and was forced to flee with her family at the end of that conflict. Sagal entitled his hard-hitting screenplay “Cuba Mine” and although studios were very interested in this potential Oscar winner, the project fell into development hell.
So why am I telling you about “Cuba Mine” in this article? Well, in 2004 it actually was made with alterations and a new title. The film did indeed feature a young woman involved in a love affair with a young Cuban man toward the end of the Cuban Revolution… however much of the serious politics in the movie were replaced with DANCE, DANCE and MORE DANCE!
It really flies in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights
Yes, somehow under Bender, Sagal’s sober “Cuba Mine” was morphed into the quasi-prequel Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, much of which takes place in party dance clubs, bars and bedrooms instead of battlefields and war rooms. Not a single line of Peter Sagal’s dialogue made it to the screen. This was in between Bender’s production credits for Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Kill Bill Vol. 2, incidentally, so you can’t say the man’s resume wasn’t diversified. Viva La Revolucion, Amigos!
Leads Romola Garai and Diego Luna had no dancing experience between them, so they were taught to “dirty dance” over ten weeks (eight hours a day) in Puerto Rico. Their dance instructor? Who else? JoAnn Jansen herself!
While the film based on her life may have ultimately gained the approval of Jansen (who, in addition to dance training, is credited as a producer, choreographer and cameo actress), critics and audiences did not follow her lead and Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights is largely considered to be a blight on the legacy of the original film (not to mention Sagal’s resume). Critics called the film “cheesy” and “unnecessary” and the film ultimately earned a 23 percent “Rotten” rank on the Tomatometer. Critics were largely unimpressed with the claim that this film was a prequel and instead criticized it as a virtual remake set in Latin America instead of Upstate New York. Audiences were similarly disappointed and the film ultimately made just over $27 million against a $25 million budget.
Is a deep screenplay of political intrigue morphing into a funny and sexy Dirty Dancing sequel any weirder than a spy novel of political intrigue becoming a joyless and jokey Star Wars knockoff? Save your time, don’t watch either film so you’ll never have to find out.
Sagas that started with some of the most exciting and action-packed films ever to be critically acclaimed and successful somehow have sadly gone on to create sequels that are every bit as bad as the horror sequels we discussed last time. Since these works can start out so well, why not combine them as soon as they start getting ripe and going for an amalgamated ball of sequential hilarity?
I envision muscle bound state governors teaming up with fallen superheroes Batman and Superman to do battle with a predatory alien invader on a slow-moving cruise liner… only to find out that the creature isn’t here to kill or take over but to dance, dance, dance! So everybody parts as friends, but the ship crashes anyway thanks to Jan “Butterfingers” de Bont. Luckily James Bond can drive boats on streets, so it all works out okay!
Heaven help me, I’d actually pay to see that one! See you in the Next Reel.