Dark City.. one of those pleasant surprises the quest for which drove me to watch loads of crappy movies

I have been an avid if not an enthusiastic movie-watcher all my life. There was a time when I would go to the theatres or the video store, look at the movie covers, make a snap judgment, pick a movie and sit through its entirety no matter how rotten it was. I did catch lightening in bottle a few times, in the form of Kevin Spacey and The Usual Suspects, Jennifer Connelly and Dark City, Guy Ritchie and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and even Antonio Banderas and The 13th Warrior, to name a few. The allure of being pleasantly surprised still makes me take such life risks even now, albeit sporadically, since I no longer have the time for the crap load of senseless flicks released every year. These surprises have been far and few in between, interspersed with a long list of un-imaginative, cookie-cutter, B-grade Hollywood productions. All it takes for me now-a-days is a poster and a preview to sniff out where it falls in my suck-o-meter. Call it a gift or a knack honed from watching one too many Steven Segal flicks, but here are a few of my red flag rules to watch out for, if you want to avoid a bad movie.

It smells like a bad movie if Ben Affleck is playing the lead

Ben Affleck in Paycheck.. proving why he is #1 in this list

He cannot act. No ifs and buts. It doesn’t matter how well the movie is made, all you can think of throughout the movie is “Poor guy, he cannot act. I know he is trying hard, but he can’t do it. This is like me trying to dunk a basketball. I can barely touch the lower end of the net string with my tallest jump. Please put him out of this misery. He seems like a genuinely nice guy, why is he subjecting himself to this torture? Is the Director so blind that he cannot notice that his lead can’t act? This is the same guy who won an Oscar for screenplay of Good Will Hunting, why couldn’t he just stick to writing? Here comes an emotional scene. God! This is awkward. Cut! Cut! Cut!”

I do qualify these as movies with him playing the lead, because put him in as a sidekick with not much to say, surround him with actual actors, and don’t go overboard with the close-ups just because you think he is handsome, there is a chance. Examples: Good Will Hunting, State of Play

It smells like a bad movie if you are watching a period piece

The Duchess.. yup.. a period piece.

Just because you want to recreate the world of America during the Great Depression, it doesn’t mean you have to make a depressingly bad movie. Most often, these movies are dominated by the director’s obsession with capturing the moment of that era. In the painstaking detail that goes into creating the backdrop, the set, the wardrobe, the choreography, the fundamental reason for people watching movies is most often forgotten. How appealing is the story? I can also not get over the fact that everyone is dressed so impeccably well in these movies that it feels like I am watching a fancy dress competition instead of witnessing a story unfolding in front of me. These movies rarely make me feel like they are reflecting reality of its time, and even if they manage to do so, that in itself is not the motive for me to watch the movie. The fake grandiosity with glossy characters and sepia backgrounds only end up making the movie bland, predictable and boring. Movie making should be about story telling. And if you are out to tell a compelling story that happens to be set in a time bygone, the period piece should blend into the backdrop of the story being presented, not the other way round where it is in your face and overwhelming that same story the audience should be drawn to.

It smells like a bad movie if the movie is supposed to be “based on a true story”

The Men Who Stare At Goats.. based on a true story

First of all, the oxymoron that is the reality TV is no less moronic than the bullshit that is a based-on-a-true-story movie. There is as much “basis” to whatever true story these movies loosely refer to as there is “reality” in reality TV. The veracity of such movie plots aside, if I am interested in watching a true story, I will sit at home and watch the news. If I want a more detailed account I can’t get in a news capsule, I’ll watch a documentary. If I want it told in a melodramatic fashion, I’d much rather watch the B-Grade dramatization on History Channel that claim some close approximations to what really happened then. What is my interest in watching a movie that is based on a true story? None. It is neither a story nor the truth, neither fiction nor non-fiction, and in the end, neither here nor there. In fact, if a movie producer is dumb enough to advertize his movie as based on a true story, that proclamation in itself should make you want to avoid that movie like the plague, for it tells you enough about the lack of intelligence that went into that ill-fated production.

It smells like a bad movie if the entire premise for the movie is based on the lead character, most of the times a girl, suffering from a terminal disease.

Dying Young.. you get the picture

You know her time’s up and she’s a goner; but for the poor audience trapped in this miserable yuck-fest, it can’t happen sooner and they are stuck with watching her go on a sacrifice-spree preaching little nuggets of life’s lessons to people around her, perhaps an unknowing boyfriend, a long-term girlfriend, a selfish family or a troubled neighborhood. It doesn’t matter; you get no respite until the credit roll. Whether you were misguided, misled or just made a mistake by walking into this one, as soon as the family doc gives her the news, if you just abandon the show and spend the rest of that time poking your eyeballs with sharp needles, you will find that more enjoyable than watching the rest of this movie. Usually, these movies invariably fall under the category of chick flick tear-jerkers, and to think that you choose to entertain yourself like this is even sadder. If you don’t believe me, try watching shit like Sweet November or A Walk to Remember or very subtly named Dying Young.

It smells like a bad movie if the movie ends with a wedding.

Hitch.. one of the many mediocre movies ending with a wedding

What the @#$%? Is it not enough that the flawed institution of marriage is forced down everyone’s throat as the logical requirement for co-existence of love? Even if you concede to the debatable concept of love, with an over-exploited and overdone theme of “soul-mates”, to the point that the general population is brainwashed into grasping at the straws of its mere perception, do you have to really end such clichéd love stories by showing the couple getting married as the final sequence of your movie? Really? Is that the best you can do? If that’s your way of suggesting that they live happily ever after, statistically, there is a 50-50 chance that they will end up in a divorce in a few years. While a marriage is nothing more than an insurance pact to tighten the societal perceptions of morality, the bullshit notion that love and marriage go hand in hand is further perpetuated with these unimaginative endings from average directors with no creativity. If a director ends a movie with a marriage, he or she is immediately losing my respect.

It smells like a bad movie if you are watching a super-hero movie the sole purpose of its existence is to showcase geeky special effects.

GI Joe - Rise of the Cobra.. what scares me is that a title like that forebodes a sequel coming... GI Joe - Revenge of the Mongoose?

The plot for these movies exists to serve the purpose of incorporating cool special effects instead of the other way round. In recent years, I witnessed three versions of Spidey (my favorite super hero as a kid btw), an impressive Iron Man with a not so impressive sequel, two versions of the hashed and rehashed Batman with a revived Superman in between, a couple of versions of Hellboy (I do like Pearlman), an abomination of a Will Smith’s Hancock, a slew of X-Men with the last of them so bad that you should be rewarded if you are able to sit through the entire move, a not-so-bad Watchmen, a couple of no-good Fantastic Fours capping off with the crappiest of them all in G.I. Joe. The recurring theme for all the ones that suck is a brain-dead plot or a complete lack of one, and scenes exclusively created to set the stage for a cool special effect coming up. After watching a few of these, the pattern is so obvious; you’d have to be blind to not notice it.

It smells like a bad movie if the movie ends with a forced and disjointed ending to fool the audience into believing it is a great twist.

Surveillance - a good movie ruined by a truly twisted ending.

You have been watching the movie intently for one whole hour. The director has done a good job in keeping you in your seat. You are going along with the story, and you begin to get the eerie felling that it is falling apart, all in an attempt to produce an unbelievable twist. You can suddenly see scenes that are disjointed and characters acting out-of-character in trying to elevate what was seemingly a good movie into an extremely memorable one. Sadly, these attempts only end up spiraling down the movie into a forgettable one instead, turning it into one of those that had great potential, but ended up below par because someone thought forcing some ending that doesn’t satisfy the story that has been presented so far was a great idea. Whether it is a result of not starting the project with a clear and complete picture in mind or whether it is a result of statistics from pre-release audience research, the story loses its integrity and in trying to focus on the rewards instead of focusing on the quality of your product, you throw away what could have been a decent movie into an undistinguished pile of celluloid junk. All you can get out of these movies are the audience walking out the door murmuring “what the @#$% happened to this movie? It was going so well.” Case in point: Surveillance, a seemingly brilliant movie ruined by the twisted ending. Other examples: Cast away, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Vanilla Sky, Planet of the Apes

It smells like a bad movie if the movie is entirely made up of cheesy one-liners.

Vin Diesel - A Man Apart.. when it comes to cheesy one-liners

I can understand the appeal of one-liners when used sparingly, but it can’t be the only source of diet for the movie to survive. I did like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “I’ll be back” in the Terminator, but the Terminator movies (1 and 2 only) had a gripping plot, a central theme that was only enhanced by the ground-breaking special effects for their time, and even if they didn’t have these one-liners, they would have been great flicks. The movies that suck are movies that solely rely on these cheap one-liners for their entire screenplay. They don’t have a script, and are made up on the fly –  movies like 300; just a compilation of random body builders yelling unfunny macho rebuttals at each other isn’t my idea of a good movie, but I am perhaps in the minority when it comes to this particular one. Others in this category: Gone in 60 seconds, most of the Rocky sequels, almost all Steven Segal movies and except Pitch Black (that one I like), almost all Vin Diesel bad-ass movies full of his constipated one-liners.