10 Movies We Truly Hated In 2016
By Joel Wicklund in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 28, 2016 3:25PM
Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe in “Swiss Army Man.” (Photo: Joyce Kim/A24 Films.)
If proclaiming the best films of the year is a foolhardy endeavor, as we stated when listing our favorite films of 2016, then focusing on the worst movies over 12 months is an exercise in self-torture.
Chicagoist's cinema samplings were not masochistic enough to include the likes of Steven Seagal's Contract to Kill (stunningly, it was actually released in theaters), Yoga Hosers (Kevin Smith's continued decline into cultural irrelevance), or countless marginal releases from talentless hacks overflowing on home viewing platforms.
As for more mainstream offerings that received near-universal pans—movies like Dirty Grandpa, Boo! A Madea Halloween (another big hit for Tyler Perry, by the way) or Zoolander 2—well, there is no shortage of outlets doling out failing grades for those films and others in the multiplex arena.
So the selection that follows is not an attempt to expose the dregs of filmdom. In fact, several movies listed here are undeniably well made (others, not so much). But there was something in each film that made for a truly miserable viewing experience. Whether it was preening self-importance, grating stylistic flourishes, irresponsible journalism, or just misusing Jean-Claude Van Damme, they all demand public punishment.
1. Swiss Army Man
Widely admired by many critics, this movie certainly deserves credit for originality. With that acknowledgement, it’s hard to express how relieved I was when this alternately twee and gross endurance test finally ended. Paul Dano is a suicidal castaway who finds salvation (I guess) through the title character—a re-animated, multitasking corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) who, among other things, provides flatulence-powered transportation and vomits out drinking water for his companion. Basically, this is a fart fetish movie set in some kind of horrible, wilderness hippie arts and crafts show. It’s all supposed to be emotionally cathartic too, but it feels like performance art gone terribly awry.
2. Money Monster
Not merely bad, but utterly cowardly, Money Monster targets corporate corruption and vacuous, irresponsible TV journalism and misses both marks by a mile. With activist talent like director Jodie Foster and star George Clooney involved, you might expect a smart, angry movie condemning a financial system rigged for one-percenters. Instead, this poor man's Network takes refuge in a safely broad big business villain and pretty much lets the system off easy as the plot gets more and more ridiculous. Weak as entertainment and impotent as a rallying cry.
3. War on Everyone
It really, really hurts to include this one on the list. Following his gleeful dark comedy The Guard and his profound, deeply moving Calvary, John Michael McDonagh had become one of my favorite new filmmakers. So his third feature as writer-director is a crushing disappointment. As in The Guard, rogue cops are the protagonists here, but this time they cross over from antiheroes to full-on assholes and the gags don't make them any less insufferable. The film confuses outrageous with obnoxious at every turn. Making things immeasurably worse, McDonagh throws in a subplot about child sexual abuse that could not fit less comfortably with the intended rowdy spirit of the movie. That subplot seems especially inappropriate considering the gravity with which the subject was treated in Calvary. (Viewed at the Chicago Critics Film Festival. Local theatrical opening TBD.)
4. Kate Plays Christine
This "behind-the-scenes" documentary is a self-congratulatory formal exercise in which indie film actress Kate Lyn Sheil prepares to play Christine Chubbuck, a Florida news personality who shot herself on live television in the '70s. However, the movie she is preparing for does not exist—it's just the pretext for a mopey, navel-gazing exploration of the oh-so-precious creative process of Sheil and writer-director Robert Greene. Defenders of this highly exploitative, annoyingly contrived movie seem to buy its supposed insights into documentary form and challenges to audience bloodlust. But the movie seems utterly devoid of empathy for, or even much interest in, Chubbuck. Her story is merely used to prop up pretentious thematic and structural gamesmanship. Skip it and see the excellent biographical drama Christine instead.
5. Kickboxer: Vengeance
Hopes for mindless, guilty-pleasure, ass-kicking fun get dashed quickly in this tossed-off remake of the 1989 Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle, Kickboxer. JCVD returns, but he's the trainer, not the hero in this factory-issued martial arts revenge saga. "The Muscles from Brussels" looks as bored by charisma-challenged leading man Alain Moussi as viewers are bound to be. The movie also wastes former mixed martial arts star Gina Carano, who seemed on the verge of action superstardom after headlining Steven Soderbergh's terrific Haywire. Here she's limited to a paltry role as a scheming promoter. Despite having some top-level athletes at his disposal, director John Stockwell can't find a decent camera angle to show off their gifts. Even going in with appropriately low expectations, Kickboxer: Vengeance disappoints.
Julie Delpy (the Before Sunrise series, Three Colors: White) is a terrific actress and she might be a terrific director (this is the first of her six features behind the camera I've seen), but this Oedipal complex comedy is a serious embarrassment. It's a crude and unfunny big-screen sitcom in which a single mother's attempts at romance are thwarted by her smug, Mama's boy of a son. Raunchy comedy can be great when you hit the right notes, but Lolo's lame comedy of sexual misunderstanding falls flatter than the average Three's Company episode.
7. The Blackout Experiments
Pretending to be an investigative documentary, this is really an elaborate infomercial for what appears to be the Abu Ghraib of haunted house attractions. Hiding behind amateur psychology excuses, the Blackout entrepreneurs (barely-shrouded creative partners in this film) offer invasive, abusive and traumatic treatment to their willing customers. Simulated waterboarding and sexual humiliation are part of the fun for troubled folks. To each his own, but the movie's gimmicky structure and pretense of objectivity make it little more than another crummy "found footage" horror movie in non-fiction clothing.
8. Operation Chromite
A smash hit in South Korea, this ridiculous film about the Battle of Inchon is bursting with incompetently staged action scenes and editing by Cuisinart. However, those scenes start to look pretty good when the movie breaks away to show off its international casting coup: Liam Neeson as General Douglas MacArthur. The performance might have survived Neeson’s native Irish accent peeking through if his moments on screen consisted of anything more than unintentionally hilarious sermonizing. Korean cinema has given the world many memorable films in recent years. This is not one of them.
9. Don't Breathe
I'm baffled by the largely positive reception from both critics and audiences for this slick exercise in unpleasantness. The novelty plot is basically a role reversal of Wait Until Dark (1967), with Stephen Lang's blind man as the hunter (instead of Audrey Hepburn's blind woman as the hunted) battling home invaders. Director Fede Alvarez has an undeniable talent for stylish camerawork, but no eye for convincing atmosphere. He's all "pumps and jumps," relying on loud soundtrack stings and improbable surprises, none of which are effective if, like me, you simply hope every dumb character in this movie dies. As with his rotten Evil Dead remake, Alvarez also shows a stunning lack of humor for material that would certainly benefit from it. Instead we just get more of the same "extreme horror" excesses—the epitome of which is a semen-filled turkey baster getting crammed into Lang's mouth. Classy touch, Fede.
10. Clinton, Inc.
Considering its obvious mission as a right-wing hit job on Hillary Clinton's campaign, this propaganda piece actually had some surprises in store when it opened in October. For a film of its type, it has an unexpectedly subdued, non-antagonistic tone (P.R. releases tried to sell it as a "non-partisan" documentary) and it did offer some legitimate criticisms about business interest conflicts of both Hillary and Bill Clinton. Once you get past those virtues, however, the film is chock full of gossipy smears and outright lies. Most absurdly, it posits the theory that Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky was triggered by her close resemblance to Bill's mother. (The two women look nothing alike.) In October, Clinton, Inc. seemed like little more than one more example of "narrowcasting"—selling a message to those already converted. In the wake of the presidential election results, however, it feels much more nefarious and part of the wave of fake news that helped bring Donald Trump to power.