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Eye for an Eye (1996)

15 May

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Smith’s Verdict: *

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Eye for an Eye” is a confused movie that doesn’t know what kind of film it wants to be. Is it a film that tells us vigilantism is bad, or is it a film that shows the necessaries of such? It’s about a woman whose teenager daughter is raped and murdered, and seeks bloody revenge on the man who did it. She gets ahold of a gun, practices shooting targets every day for weeks, gains assistance from other secret vigilantes, and even follows the guy around from place to place.

This is of course still going after the man calls the mother on it and threatens her other, much-younger daughter if she’s seen near him again. But for her, it won’t end. Well OK fine, but what about the police? When the same man rapes and murders another woman, they’re still not able to lock him up, even though they clearly know he’s a killer as much as we do. Give me a break.

Early in the movie, the mother, Karen McCann (Sally Field), has heard her daughter’s attack and murder over the telephone as the daughter tried to call for help. And I have to admit, this is a pretty effectively horrifying scene—that we focus more on Field’s face makes the scene work well, as she does sell it with the proper emotions. That we don’t see the killer’s face in the cutting-back to the attack helps too.

But it’s pretty obvious very quickly who the killer is, as the film never lets us forget that a suspect, a deliveryman named Doob (Kiefer Sutherland), is not merely a suspect, but the true killer. He is vile, mean, cruel, nasty, doesn’t care for anything, and even kicks dogs. And yet even though a supposed-smart cop (Joe Mantegna) knows that he’s clearly the killer, and I’m sure most of the force knows this too, Doob is let off because of lack of evidence. So he’s free to find another woman to stalk and eventually kill, just as Karen is planning to do the same thing to Doob.

Karen joins a support group for parents who lost their children to murderers (and their motto is “You show me your heartbreak and I’ll show you mine”), where she is then introduced to a few members who take it upon themselves to bring justice to those who did their children in. So that’s exactly what she decides to do. But when Doob realizes that he’s being followed by her, he advances toward Karen’s youngest daughter, Megan.

Get this—he’s actually able to walk onto the school playground and join Megan in a playhouse for mud pies. Where are the teachers on duty during this? Does it matter? “Eye for an Eye” is simply an exploitation film and this scene clearly shows you where it stands. It also sets the standards for how deplorable the film is.

The tone for “Eye for an Eye” is inconsistent. First, it wants us to question whether the characters are what we’re supposed to think of them, while what follows are scenes that clearly show the opposite of what we’re supposed to think and feel. And it’s painfully obvious that Doob, with no human or redeemable qualities whatsoever, is simply there for us to hate him. Why try to fool us into thinking otherwise at certain points? He’s clearly the killer here. But it doesn’t matter anymore, since the movie, I guess, tries to “fool” us by ultimately showing another murder committed by him.

Oh, and how about those quirky, lighthearted, comedic moments that come out of nowhere? For example, Karen thinks someone is following her in a parking garage, so she defends herself only to discover that it’s just a man walking to his car. And do I even need to mention the scene in which she has powerful sex with her husband (Ed Harris) after developing new skills?

Here’s a shock—the ending for “Eye for an Eye” is so rushed and so much of a copout that you just have to wonder if the writers had no idea where this story was going, and just decided to give it the conclusion we all knew was inevitable. Well thanks a lot. We waited an hour-and-a-half to get to what we expected all this time with nothing at all to back it up. I should be grateful that it finally just went ahead and ended, but I am past the point where I even care, after what I’ve been through to get to this point. On top of that, morality is thrown right out the window. There’s hardly a resolution, and yet we’ve spent a great amount of running time watching a movie that thinks it’s questioning certain morals and ethics. And this is supposed to be a happy ending. In some respects, it sort of is, but why would they execute it in this manner?

Not even a solid cast with Sally Field, Kiefer Sutherland, and Ed Harris could save “Eye for an Eye.” They’re let down by bad writing and deplorable nonsense. Here’s hardly a sense of moral values, you don’t much for this family’s plight since it’s merely glanced over in the first reel, and it seems like it’s more interested in cheap thrills than telling a complex story. “Eye for an Eye” is a horrible movie.

Little Monsters (1989)

25 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: *

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

What a mean-spirited movie this is! For a supposed “family movie” that markets it as a fantasy for children who like to pull pranks on their grade-school enemies, “Little Monsters” takes this fantasy the wrong way. I think kids may be frightened by most of the images and situations depicted in the film.

Fred Savage, of TV’s “The Wonder Years” fame, plays Brian, the eleven-year-old protagonist in “Little Monsters.” He’s unhappy because he and his family—his bickering parents (Daniel Stern and Margaret Whitton) and younger brother Eric (Ben Savage, Fred’s real-life brother)—have moved to a new town and house. He’s the target of the pudgy school bully and to make matters worse, he’s blamed for pranks set around the house, which he didn’t set up in the first place. Eric believes that a monster that scared him the other night is responsible and pays Brian to spend a night in his room.

It turns out that Brian’s kid brother is right and something is going bump in the night. So he sets a trap for the monster, a fast-talking, blue-skinned, horned loudmouth named Maurice, played by Howie Mandel. Maurice sees something good in Brian and introduces him to the monster world.

Well, it turns out there’s a parallel dimension under beds in which the monsters are kids who were trapped there. Now, they have their own fun, eating junk food, playing video games, breaking lamps with bats and baseballs, and pulling pranks on innocent children. Maurice seduces Brian into this world, which is referred to as “every kid’s fantasy.” But I can tell you that even the unruliest of children would be turned off by this world. The people in this world are monsters, all right. But they’re mainly disfigured children who run amok. I guess the filmmakers were trying to create a subtext that kids act like monsters, like in “Pinocchio,” when kids act like jackasses and become them. But this is just painful to watch. On a productive note, the monster world isn’t impressive. It’s badly lit (because the monsters turn to clothes when exposed to light), has cheesy digital effects whizzing by every few seconds for no good purpose, and on top of that, the whole world is made entirely of boxes.

About the pranks—this is horrific to watch. Brian and Maurice pull cruel pranks on innocent little children for only the reason of fun. And then the filmmakers have the nerve to show the kids’ parents yelling at them—I was cringing all through that sequence. Then, there’s the scene in which Brian and Maurice stop by Brian’s bully’s house. They drink his apple juice…and then Maurice pisses in it! Then guess what happens…

Then there’s the character of Snik, the villain of the movie. He is repulsive, nasty—a nightmare fodder for children. And he’s not a kid—he’s played by Rick Ducommun. He’s here to set up the climax in which Brian must choose between this world and his world.

One positive thing I can say about this movie is that Howie Mandel makes a convincing monster. But that’s very faint praise indeed.

The Waterboy (1998)

24 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: *

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

1998’s “The Waterboy” has a story that would’ve made a great starring vehicle for Adam Sandler, who—let’s face it—hadn’t had accurately good movies in his career before this. I mean, what can you say about “Billy Madison” and “Happy Gilmore,” except that Sandler played a jackass in both movies and was short on charm? Well, in “The Waterboy,” Sandler does play a nicer guy—a simple, stuttering, nervous, dim 30-year-old man who still lives with his mother and is the waterboy for a college football team in Louisiana. This is a role that Adam Sandler could use his true talents for comedy and charm.

But there is a problem and a big one at that. Right when Adam Sandler’s character Bobby Boucher speaks, our interest in him really deteriorates. He speaks through his nose, through whining, and with an accent that apparently he and the filmmakers found funnier than I did. Nobody in Louisiana talks this way. It’s an insult to Louisiana, but also an insult to us because when Sandler talks, his voice has the fingernails-on-a-blackboard effect. Is that supposed to be funny?

Bobby is fired from his job as the waterboy and goes to find a new job. He goes to a different college and asks the football coach (Henry Winkler) to be his waterboy. He gets hired and like everybody else, the football team picks on him because he’s so dim. There’s another strange person who hangs around the field—a country man named Farmer Fran (Blake Hunter). The difference between Bobby and Farmer Fran is that you can understand what Bobby is saying when Farmer Fran is simply muttering. Is THAT supposed to be funny?

Ah, forget it. Let’s move on.

The plot gets underway when Bobby realizes that when he really gets worked up, he can become a great offensive tackle. The coach lets Bobby play on the team but Bobby doesn’t quite understand the rules of football, even though he’s been to many, many games before, serving water to the players.

Filmmakers, if you want your comedy to be fresh and entertaining, use different ways of forming a sports movie; have fresher jokes. Don’t give us something we’ve seen before. The only difference of these particular football games, which are quite boring indeed, is that we’re given an idiot for a player. That’s not enough. We need more ideas so we’re caught up in the games. This is basically a formula sports movie with, worst of all, boring football games. And of course, at the end, there’s the typical Big Game, in which there is no suspense whatsoever—nothing to hold our attention.

Oh, and I forgot to mention Kathy Bates as Bobby’s mother who is possessive and manipulative and kept her son practically trapped in his cabin at the bayou. She has fun with this role but when you put it with everything else that happens in this movie, it really doesn’t mean anything.

Henry Winkler has no good chance with this movie, I’m sorry to say. He seems better than all of this. Overall, “The Waterboy” is a movie that tries to be funny but is just conventional—nothing new, just a few stupid characters. Adam Sandler’s Bobby Boucher is one of the most annoying characters ever to hit the screen. I’ve seen magazine reporters on TV with more appeal than this character.

The Final Destination (2009)

17 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: *

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I knew the “Final Destination” series was bound to sink this low. I knew that sometime sooner or later, the series would run out of ideas and sink into the same old story with nothing new or particularly exciting…and it’s shown in 3-D (that much desperation). This is the worst entry in the series—yes, worse than “Final Destination 2.”

Now, I liked the first “Final Destination.” I found the second to be dull as dishwater and the third to be somewhat of a guilty pleasure with its talented cast and even more creative death scenes. But they’re all carrying the same storyline—a teenager has a premonition of death, she saves a few people, she and the others slowly die in bizarre freak accidents. So why should the fourth one (called “The Final Destination,” which probably means this is the last entry—I seriously doubt it) be any different? But while “Final Destination 3” had more going for it than the same storyline as the original films, this one has almost nothing. It’s a pointless, repetitive, terrible waste of time.

In “The Final Destination,” a young man named Nick (Bobby Campo) is at a stock-car race track with his friends, who are the same, usual alcoholic bratty types. Already I’m sick of these characters because they resemble many characters in slasher movies that actually deserve to die. Where’s the fun or suspense in that?

Anyway, Nick has a premonition of a car crashing into the stands, killing a lot of people. When he wakes up, he freaks out, gets his friends and several others off the stands, and the vision becomes real. But it’s not over for them. Because Death is coming for them…

OK, I really don’t feel typing anymore. I know it’s not professional but I’d rather not type the same things about the plot that I’ve said the last three times. It has tired me out, even to think about it again. Just do me and you a favor—avoid “The Final Destination.”

I mentioned before that the movie is in 3-D—that, of course, is to try and hide the fact that there isn’t anything original…and of course, to distort the images of the fake-looking CGI explosions.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

15 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: *

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Man, is this movie a disappointment! Remember the big-bang action climax at the end of the original 2007 hit “Transformers?” I remember how bored I was with that, yet how entertained I was with what happened before that. And here, we have its sequel “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” a boring, loud, obnoxious, stupid movie that is easily director Michael Bay’s worst movie since “Armageddon.” Both movies are incomprehensible and idiotic with nothing to show except for an endless amount of big-budget special effects and a poorly-constructed screenplay and heavy-handed direction. These special effects are indeed special but they’re just special effects. There’s hardly anything special ABOUT them because the story is lame and the characters are one-dimensional.

Once again, we have the continuing war between the good Transformers (the Autobots) and the evil Transformers (the Decepticons). The Autobots have the US Army on their side now as they go around searching for Decepticons because…I don’t know, maybe if one of them was around, they might rally more from their home planet and possibly destroy the Earth or something. The movie opens with an especially LOUD opening battle in which Autobots seek to destroy a couple of Decepticons but end up causing more damage than the Decepticons did.

The Decepticons leave the Autobots with a warning: “The Fallen will rise again.” There are always lines like that in big-budget blockbusters. What is the Fallen? Apparently, it’s some type of evil force that can even control the Decepticons and cause world domination. The Fallen is the MacGuffin—we have to watch out for it and keep our ears open. But the movie is so loud that we actually want to SHUT our ears! There are many battles like the one in the beginning of the film that seem to go on forever and grow tiresome and annoying. Sometimes, we will cut back to the original film’s returning teenage hero Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) as he deals with his parents (Kevin Dunn as the Dad, and Julie White, who seems to be trying hard for a Razzie as the Mom) and tries to settle things in his off and on relationship with his girlfriend Mikaela (the beautiful but bland Megan Fox). He is also trying to fit in on his first days of college but it’s hard to do when his roommate Leo (Ramon Rodriguez) is a techno geek who is attempting to expose the Transformers that the government “covered up.”

OK, let me stop for a moment. We learn in this movie that the big climax in the city at the end of the first “Transformers” was “covered up” by the Government. This makes no sense. There was a city full of witnesses who saw the Autobots and Decepticons fight and kill each other. How in the world could the Government have covered up something like that?

Sam, Mikaela, Leo, and another returning character (played by John Turturro) are caught up in this battle that leads the Transformers to the discovery and possible resurrection of the Fallen. Once again, Sam must save the world while the leader of the Autobots—Optimus Prime—and the US Army (with returning characters played by Tyrese Gibson and Josh Duhamel—both of which are just standard shoot-em-up guys) fight off the resurrected Megatron, the evil leader of the Decepticons. At one point, Sam and the group wind up in Egypt, where there is (of course) an action climax bigger than any of the big action climaxes that happened earlier in the film. John Turturro has to get to the top of a pyramid to get…something, I forgot. And while doing so, he makes this hammy speech, “The machine is buried in the pyramid! If it gets turned on, it will destroy the sun! Not on my watch!”

Also in this climax is a Transformer that works as a vacuum. At one point, Leo and Turturro are behind a car while this monster sucks everything into its mouth. The car is sucked in but Leo and Turturro run away like nothing is there. I’m no physics expert but I don’t think this is possible. If a car can get sucked into this huge vacuum, how can two lighter, moving subjects be unaffected? There are also many other moments in which Sam and Mikaela barely escape death without getting hurt. They even OUTRUN EXPLOSIONS. The only time someone is really injured in the midst of all this big-time action is when Sam is TELEPORTED into another place and breaks his arm (this was written into the story because of LaBeouf’s arm was actually broken during production).

This is just one big action climax and when it stops for comedy, it doesn’t really work. The humor is juvenile at best. We see one dog humping another (twice), we see Turturro’s butt cheeks at one point, we get moments of embarrassment with Sam’s bizarre mother (actually, Julie White is funny in her scenes), and Leo is there for no good reason except to have an annoying, racist stereotype. And speaking of racist stereotype, the most annoying “comic relief” comes from two twin Autobots who act as jive-talking black stereotypes. Their dialogue is spoken so fast that I couldn’t understand anything they were saying. And they NEVER SHUT UP. Then when the film tries to attempt drama, Megan Fox has to cry. No offense to this actress, but she can’t quite cut it here.

And if you think the human characters are boring, the Transformers are far worse. They’re dumb, clanky, and their dialogue is as dumb as any of the humans’. And while in the original film they were a sight to behold, they just look like a walking pile of junk this time around.

The problem with Michael Bay is that he spends too much time creating blockbuster elements that he forgets that other stuff is important. I enjoyed the original “Transformers” movie, and also Bay’s 1996 thriller “The Rock.” But with movies like “Armageddon,” “Pearl Harbor,” “Bad Boys II,” and now, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” it’s obvious what he really wants to do—impress and/or annoy the audience with blockbuster style. The style may be fresh, but the development is rotten.

Red Sonja (1985)

13 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: *

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Red Sonja” is one of the most epically bad movies I’ve ever seen. The production is clumsy, the acting is unbelievably stiff, the dialogue is laughably awful, the special effects are terrible…and it’s a joy of a watch. This is one of those “so-bad-it’s-funny” movies. Many, many things are handled the wrong way, and in that way, it’s never boring. It’s a laugh-a-minute movie, only the laughs are unintentional. I can’t recommend the movie to anyone I respect, hence the one-star rating, but if you do happen to come across it on TV or something, give it a watch just to see how bad it is. Now how’s that for a non-recommendation for a recommendation?

It’s a sword-and-sorcery adventure tale, and those rarely do well to begin with.

The protagonist is a tall, striking female warrior named Red Sonja (Brigitte Nielsen). As the movie opens, her “fairy godmother” (I use quotations because I have absolutely no idea what this unfinished smoke effect is supposed to be, and it doesn’t return anyway, so it doesn’t matter) reminds her (and informs us) of her backstory, and how her family was killed by the evil Queen Gedren (Sandahl Bergman). This spirit grants Red Sonja the strength to become a great warrior.

I’m going to stop right here for this motif of homosexual undertones (or they could be overtones)—it’s highly possible that Queen Gedren is a lesbian. Whether that’s the intention of her character, I do not know. We just know, from that spirit, that she slaughtered Sonja’s family because she “wanted Sonja for herself.” (This is told over a clip of Gedren seductively motioning for Sonja to come to her.) Does anyone want to tell me what the deal is? I just came up with the conclusion and that’s why she continues the rest of the movie searching for her.

Anyway, years later, Queen Gedren is seeking the evil talisman, which looks like a giant radioactive green Jawbreaker, that can give power to the whole world. Oh, and apparently, only women can touch it—men who touch it just disappear, or jump-cut, from existence. Red Sonja is out to stop her from gaining control of it, and also to gain vengeance for her family’s slaughter. Aiding her is a strong male warrior named Kalidor (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a bratty little prince (Ernie Reyes, Jr.) whose kingdom was just attacked, and the prince’s loyal bodyguard Falkon (Paul L. Smith).

Of course, Sonja and Kalidor are attracted to each other, but Sonja has sworn an oath that the only man that may have her is one who has defeated her in battle. But as Kalidor points out, just as we do, if a man can defeat her in battle, where’s the fun in a relationship? You can’t honor the acting by Brigitte Nielsen and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as they both do equally terrible jobs. But you have to love their “dueling accents” battle as opposed to their badly-choreographed actual battle.

The dialogue is laughably atrocious, full of magic mumbo-jumbo and lines like “In order to be a great swordsman, you must have a great sword.” “Red Sonja” is such an entertaining watch and a fun movie to review, because I get to pick out my favorite moments to pick on. I almost forgot to mention the badly-constructed creature effect of a “vicious” sea monster that attacks Sonja and allows Kalidor to ride on him while supposedly fighting him. And get this—that “creature” turns out to be a “machine,” as they find out, and poking out its eyes will kill it. How can you not love such stupidity! And what about the giant statue that stands near Red Sonja’s training camp. I guess it’s supposed to be Buddha, but here’s the thing—he looks like he’s going to the bathroom. I am not making this up—he’s crouching down in a relieving position.

You may already get the point of this review—I am not recommending “Red Sonja,” but it’s just so spectacularly silly.

Soul Man (1986)

11 Apr

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Smith’s Verdict: *

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Whites passing for blacks” is not a subject easily done in movies. In the case of “Soul Man,” it just doesn’t work. This is the premise: a UCLA graduate can get into Harvard Law School, but he needs a scholarship and there’s one just right for him. The only problem is he’s not black and that’s a requirement. So he buys some special “tanning pills” and uses them, changing the color of his skin. So he gets the scholarship and passes for black.

Given this premise, “Soul Man” actually sounds like a semi-interesting idea for a movie. A man sees the world as someone else. Also, it sounds good as a comedy and we’ve seen it work in comic situations—remember that hilarious SNL skit in which Eddie Murphy posed as a white man? But it sounds even better as a comedy-drama. Unfortunately, “Soul Man” is reduced to idiotic TV sitcom situations and misses the entire point of this premise. It’s not race that needs to be showcased as much as ethics. This person is lying to everyone he meets and pretending to be someone he’s not…by masquerading as a black man.

C. Thomas Howell plays the now-black student. You probably know him as the protagonist in 1983’s “The Outsiders.” He’s a talented actor, but he just doesn’t have much to work with here. His character Mark Watson changes his skin color and gets a perm (though I think he looks more suntanned than black). He faces many situations at Harvard. His landlord isn’t pleased with him renting an apartment, a sex-crazed white woman has a father who doesn’t want him dating her, and then we get a lot of offbeat humor, in which stereotypical moments ensue. The basketball teams fight over who should pick Mark, they call him “Marcus,” he keeps running into a bunch of jerks who make racist jokes whenever he walks by, and he impersonates Stevie Wonder’s movements in order to disguise himself from somebody he knows. (And by the way, this is not by any means the real Harvard as much as it is a movie Harvard.) But he does meet two interesting characters. One of them is his black professor (James Earl Jones) who shows no pity. The other is a black fellow student (Rae Dawn Chong), whom Mark starts to like.

His interactions with these two people could make “Soul Man” very interesting and it makes you want to overcome its other scenes. But it just doesn’t have the wit that it needs to work. This is described as a comedy, yet its drama is a lot more interesting than anything that is supposed to be funny. Every joke here is predictable—you can see the punch line coming from a mile away.

And then once the first half is lacking in potential, the second half comes along and it’s just horrible. We get a Groucho Marx-type sequence in which the mad white woman is in Mark’s room, Chong is in the living room, and the parents (who do not know he’s black) are in the kitchen. So Mark is forced to go from place-to-place, sometimes changing his appearance in order to do so. At this point, I lost all hope for the movie.

It gets even worse when it reaches the courtroom scene, in which the wrong sort of dialogue is said in Mark’s defense when we all know this is a criminal offense. James Earl Jones should have confronted Mark about his lie. But no, he drops all charges after Mark apologizes. And I wanted Rae Dawn Chong and Mark to talk about this—just really talk about this situation.

Rae Dawn Chong and James Earl Jones give the best performances in this movie because they portray real characters. But I couldn’t identify with C. Thomas Howell as the main character Mark.

“Soul Man” is a trashy comedy that could’ve gone one way but ended up going another way—and that was the way I hated to see it go through.

Johnny Be Good (1988)

29 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: *

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

What has Coach Hisler done to deserve such rotten treatment? Huh?

Here’s a nice guy that coaches football and hopes for the best for his star high school football player, wanting him to go to a better, smaller school than his brat of a star shoots for. And yet, he’s the butt of the player’s jokes and even at one point, the brat, along with his buddy, come over and seemingly asks for help in his English class, but no—it was a setup for a prank, in which pizza delivery boys bring along about 200 pizzas, and an elephant is delivered. And I’m pretty sure I remember Hare Krishnas dancing about the kitchen while the brat and buddy laugh uproariously.

The coach is the guy I’m supposed to hate? The brat is supposed to be our hero? The coach is the only likable character in this piece-of-crap, dim-witted teenage comedy “Johnny Be Good” and I don’t think it was intentional.

Wow, is this movie bad. And it’s far from funny. The laughs aren’t there, hardly any gag works, lines of dialogue are either forced or clichéd, and reality gives way to scenes that are either uncomfortable or unfunny. I have to wonder if this is a first draft. These are the people who wrote “Revenge of the Nerds,” an offbeat teenage comedy that had its share of funny moments. There’s nothing here that I remember even slightly chucking at.

Anthony Michael Hall is best-known as the teenage geek character in movies like “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club,” and “Weird Science.” I guess he took this role to keep from being typecast. Which role am I referring to? The football hero. That’s right—Anthony Michael Hall as a high school football hero. Yeah…right.

I don’t mind that Hall wants to change his image, but he is completely miscast here as Johnny (Be Good, get it?…I don’t). He’s so bland that I was wishing his SNL persona would take over, or that Robert Downey, Jr. would smack some funny into him. Indeed, Robert Downey, Jr. co-stars as Johnny’s buddy. Downey, Jr. can be very funny, but he just doesn’t have much to work with here.

I didn’t care about popular Johnny’s quest for college—from Texas to California. I didn’t care about his relationship with his girlfriend (Uma Thurman in an all too generic role). I didn’t care that he was forbidden to see her because her father’s a hard-headed cop. I just didn’t care, nor did I ever laugh.

Paul Gleason plays the aforementioned coach, and you know you’re in trouble when you care more for the supposed antagonist.

“Johnny Be Good” is a bad movie that deserves no more words.

Weekend at Bernie’s (1989)

22 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: *

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Any subject can be done well, but I’d imagine it’d be hard to make a comedy surrounding the idea of constantly dragging around a dead body and hiding it. Alfred Hitchcock was mildly successful with “The Trouble with Harry,” but it hardly seems like the filmmakers of the comedy based around that premise, entitled “Weekend at Bernie’s,” are trying to see what they can really do with this idea. Rather, it seems like they only see the gimmick and surround it with uninteresting (and unappealing) characters and off-hand subplots. The result is an unfunny comedy in which two guys we don’t care about drag around a dead body from place to place.

The story’s two central protagonists are two young men (Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman) who work for an insurance company. Someone is cheating the company and that “someone” is their boss named Bernie (Terry Kiser). Bernie knows that the boys know his secret and invites them to his summer home on an island to have them killed. But when Bernie is fatally poisoned, the boys, not knowing what’s happened, prop Bernie on the couch as a flow of houseguests step in for a party. But the gag is, nobody—except the boys—knows that he’s dead. (A masseuse thinks he’s just relaxed, for example.)

But it doesn’t stop there—most of the humor follows with the two guys as they continue trying to cover up Bernie’s death until they can find out exactly what is going on. And this is after a lot of scenes in which the guys want nothing to do with the body, and it just keeps popping up every now and then. For example, in a stupid subplot in which Silverman and a girl played by Catherine Mary Stewart are on an on-again/off-again (and entirely boring) relationship, they roll around on the beach and what should pop up when the tide comes in? You got it; it’s the body.

I didn’t find all the material very funny; I thought the timing was off, the jokes were predictable, it was too macabre to laugh at almost every supposed joke in this movie, I had an excuse for not laughing at. But I will be fair and admit to chuckling at a scene that involves poor Bernie being dragged by a boat. I thought that was a nice sight gag and I laughed, despite myself.

But without the working humor, there’s the boring subplot featuring the dull romance I mentioned above, an even more boring subplot involving Bernie’s killers who want to kill the two guys as well, and the two unappealing characters that we have to follow. “Weekend at Bernie’s” is just an invaluably empty film.

St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)

18 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: *

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“St. Elmo’s Fire” is a great piece of ‘80s cheese—catchy, energetic, and fun to listen to.

Oh wait, I’m sorry—that’s the great 1985 John Parr single that serves as the theme song to the movie “St. Elmo’s Fire”…a movie which I do not consider a great piece of ‘80s cheese. Actually, I think it’s rather terrible.

It is possible to make a powerful, effective film about post-college graduates who go through the traumas of real life and have to deal with new issues. “St. Elmo’s Fire” is just not that film. The reason for that is that the characters—seven (yes, seven) materialistic young Georgetown graduates—are so bratty and so unlikeable that it’s hard to sympathize with any of them. And because there’s so many (yes, seven), that makes it all the more unpleasant to watch these people. We don’t care about their plights.

Where do I begin with the character descriptions? First, there’s Kirbo (Emilio Estevez)—a would-be lawyer (and also a waiter at St. Elmo’s Bar, where the group hangs out from time to time) who falls head-over-heels with an older woman (Andie MacDowell), a hospital intern whom Kirby is obsessed with. How obsessed? Well, later in the film, he’s turned down for a date so she can skiing and he follows her and knocks on her door repeatedly while yelling! Class act, guy.

Then, there’s Kevin (Andrew McCarthy)—a newspaper reporter who is a hopeless romantic. That’s his excuse for not having sex and remaining a virgin. His friends think he’s gay because he’s still a virgin. (Early in the film, one of them tries to set him up with a male neighbor. Ha ha.) He even strikes up a conversation with a prostitute and asks why she never tried to beseech him—she thought he was gay. So rather than ultimately sleep with Rob Lowe’s mother, like McCarthy did in 1983’s “Class,” he does manage to sleep with Leslie (Ally Sheedy), a young yuppie woman who seeks to be an architect…and who happens to be Kevin’s best friend’s girl.

Leslie’s boyfriend is Alec (Judd Nelson), a congressional aide who is easily the most detestable character in the bunch. He confesses to Kevin that he has been having sex with lingerie saleswomen while buying lingerie for Leslie who doesn’t know about his “extracurricular love life.” He presses Leslie to get married even though he’s out every night cheating on her, and yet when she does find out, he uses probably one of the worst defenses a disloyal boyfriend could use. This is after Alec found out that Leslie slept with Kevin after Leslie found out that Alec cheated on her: “You slept with Kevin!” “You slept with many!” “Yeah, many faceless women!” That’s his defense? I can’t write a certain seven-letter word for “jerk,” so…what a jerk!

Then, there’s Jules, a sexy young banker who has an acid tongue, isn’t afraid to speak her mind, and cannot wait ‘til the stepmother she hates dies…She functions for the film’s emotional climax in which I guess we’re supposed to feel sorry because of what she’s going through.

Then, there’s Billy (Rob Lowe), a former frat boy now drunk-driving musician who can’t handle his young marriage and is just too reckless to consider. The opening scene features him being taken away by police because he got in a car accident with his girlfriend Wendy (Mare Winningham), a nice girl who is probably the only decent character in the movie (but her stereotype is too heavily composed). He’s just laughing and pretending everything’s totally fine, even though he totaled Wendy’s car because he drove drunk. This is the first scene in the movie, and it shows why the movie can’t work. These characters are made into heroes—the film glorifies these young people instead of presenting them with a more acute attitude to better acknowledge their problems.

So we have Emilio Estevez, Andrew McCarthy, Rob Lowe, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Demi Moore, and Mare Winningham. These were some of the best young actors of the 1980s, and it seems like every young actor in that decade wanted to be in this movie. Too bad they were trapped within smugly-written and obnoxiously-developed characters that makes them all look like idiots pretty much. No wonder young actors in young-adult ‘80s movies were considered the Brat Pack.

There are other problems with the script and how it heavily resembles TV material (and the way director Joel Schumacher frames certain shots in closeup doesn’t help much either), such as the gang all coming back together when something goes wrong, even though half of them are angry at each other. But it really comes down these characters. They’re not fun; they’re not sympathetic, they’re rude and obnoxious; they hang out at the same bar where they think they’re hot stuff (singing loudly and drinking sloppily); and I felt nothing at the end of “St. Elmo’s Fire” when they realize what they need to do in order to set out on a new experience—reality.