Ah, Thanksgiving – that venerated holiday when our nation celebrates manifest destiny, the overindulgence in turkey* (or Tofurky, if you swing that way), and terrible movies. Submitted for your disapproval are the following cinematic leftovers for your indigestion. I’ve conveniently parsed them into three categories: “So Bad They’re Good” (the cream of the crap), “Could’ve Been Good” (movies that had potential, but failed), and “Just Plain Bad” (so bad, they’re bad). You’ve been warned…
* Random useless fact: Did you know that a group of turkeys is called a rafter?
So Bad They’re Good:
Gymkata (1985) U.S. Olympic gymnast Kurt Thomas stars as Jonathan Cabot, a gymnast (surprise!) hired by the government to infiltrate the mysterious country of Parmistan, and help pave the way for the installation of an early warning system vital to security. The plot, which rips off The Most Dangerous Game, concerns a barbaric competition where Cabot must run for his life. After working with Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon, director Robert Clouse probably hoped to capture lightning in a bottle once more, but only proves that Thomas is no Lee. The goofy mix of gymnastics and karate seems impossibly cumbersome and contrived, and Thomas, with his wooden acting, is devoid of charisma. Gymkata is full of unintentionally hilarious moments that make viewing worthwhile, as in one scene when Cabot conveniently finds a bar to swing on (watch for his chalk-covered hands) after being chased down an alley, or when he discovers a thinly disguised pommel horse in the middle of a village square. Unbelievable.
Rating: **½. Available on DVD
Showgirls (1995) After the career highs of Robocop and Total Recall, Dutch filmmaker Paul Verhoeven went on to direct this glittery turd. Joe Eszterhas’ tone deaf script aims to make some sort of statement about the pursuit of fame, but fails miserably. The ham-handed dialogue only demonstrates that he has no idea how real people speak, and his superficial treatment of the seamy underbelly of Las Vegas seems to suggest that the full extent of his research was to watch some pole dancing.
Showgirls follows the exploits of Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkley), a girl with a shady past who will stop at nothing to fulfill her dreams of becoming a Las Vegas dancer in a schmaltzy production. Although the filmmakers likely intended her to have an edge, as a protagonist she’s unlikeable and irritating. Besides being disproportionately defensive and combative with every character she encounters, she’s completely obtuse, especially when she’s manipulated by sleazy talent director Zack Carey (Kyle MacLachlan). Leaving Las Vegas was a better advertisement for the city that never sleeps than this flick.
Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray and DVD
Street Fighter (1994) There’s not much in the way of street fighting going on in writer/director Steven E. de Souza’s movie, based on the video game with the same title. Jean-Claude Van Damme stars as Colonel Guile, leader of an international anti-terrorist force, tasked with bringing super criminal Bison (Raul Julia) to justice. The real attraction in this ridiculous film is Julia (in his final movie appearance), who seemed to enjoy himself in spite of the material, and takes every opportunity to ham things up. His cartoonish lair includes a “hostage pit,” where his victims are conveniently stored for later rescue. The filmmakers seem to actively apologize to the audience at one point when a character comments “I can’t watch this,” while his comrade is being tortured. Indeed.
Rating: *½ (**** for Julia’s performance). Available on Blu-ray and DVD
Could’ve Been Good:
Robocop 3 (1993) Director Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps and The Monster Squad) took a step in the wrong direction with this misguided third installment in the Robocop series. Evil corporation OCP is taken over by stereotypical Japanese businessmen, and takes steps to rid old Detroit of its working class residents. Some of the displaced urban dwellers won’t leave without a fight, however. Robocop (this time played by Robert Burke) teams up with a plucky little computer whiz kid (Remy Ryan) to help militant city residents combat the OCP menace. Robocop 3 unceremoniously kills off a beloved character from the series, and features goofy battles with sword-wielding androids. The coup de grâce for this misfire occurs when Robocop straps on a jet pack (depicted with unconvincing flying effects) to fight the bad guys. If nothing else, the film moves along at a decent clip. While it’s not as awful as I expected, it’s not particularly good either. Someone should have pulled the plug on this half-baked sequel before it ever got the green light.
Rating: **. Available on DVD and Netflix Streaming
Masters of the Universe (1987) I was a bit too old to appreciate the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon, or the Hasbro toys that spawned the beloved franchise, so I probably wasn’t the target audience for the eventual live action film. Instead of starting from scratch, the filmmakers seemed to assume we already knew who the characters were and what the hell was going on. As a result, we never learn much about the origins of He-Man (Dolph Lundgren), Skeletor (Frank Langella), or anyone else. As the main character, Lundgren demonstrates about as much range and expressiveness as his plastic counterpart. Billy Barty appears as the diminutive, loathsome Gwildor, who provides dubious comic relief to the proceedings. Instead of taking place on another planet, most of the action for this wannabe epic is confined to a small (mostly deserted) town in the middle of nowhere, where a battle ensues for a glowy cosmic key. In a move that prefigured the current crop of Marvel Comics flicks, the filmmakers inserted a scene in the end credits, optimistically hinting at future installments. A defeated Skeletor proclaims, “I’ll be back.” Fortunately for everyone, he proved to be wrong.
Rating: **. Available on DVD
Just Plain Bad:
ThanksKilling (2009) I can appreciate what director/co-writer Jordan Downey managed to do with a microscopic budget, but this comedy/horror flick hurt. Even with a running time of 70 minutes, this story about the legend of a murderous turkey seems overlong. Some college buddies (who have the relationship dynamics of high school kids) go on a camping trip, and are terrorized by a rubber turkey puppet. The humor consistently falls flat (the same lame joke is used three times), and the leads are aggressively unlikeable. ThanksKilling reminds us that the best bad movies are unintentional. Watching this film only makes me pine for the painstakingly crafted ineptitude of an Ed Wood film. When it comes to this movie, you won’t be asking for seconds.
Rating: *½. Available on DVD and Hulu Plus
Mortal Kombat (1995) Hack director extraordinaire Paul W.S. Anderson’s (Resident Evil) interpretation of the eponymous popular video game franchise won’t please fans with its PG-13 violence, nor will it please aficionados of martial arts flicks. With quick cuts and poorly staged fights, it’s tough to tell what’s going on most of the time. This shoddily executed action movie also features unconvincing computer-generated effects (the lizard-like character Reptile resembles the GEICO gecko), and a repetitive techno/dance ditty, punctuated by the battle cry “Mortal Kombat!” to remind you of the title, in case you forgot. The forgettable cast is led by the very Caucasian actor Christopher Lambert, playing the mystic Asian fighter Rayden. Shameful.
Rating: *½. Available on Blu-ray and DVD