Overrated/Underrated: Box Office Bombs
In the Box Office Bomb discourse there are few sensory experiences the average pop culture consumer is able to ignore: the putrid smell of horse brutality wafting from the set of Heaven’s Gate, the itchy sandpaper feel of Bruce Willis’ hairpiece in Bonfire of the Vanities and the grating staccato laugh of Robin Williams as the titular character in Altman’s Popeye. To be clear, all six films below are awful; all make valuable contributions to the craptastic cinematic oeuvre. However, the frequency in which three of these films – the overrated group – appear as a reference point in film critics’ reviews of other bad films tends to scan as laziness to me. Tolstoy said, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” and so it is true for box office bombs.
Popeye – Robert Altman – cast: Robin Williams, Shelley Duvall, Paul Dooley
Of the litany of things wrong with this musical-comedy treatment of the Popeye story – the script, acting, singing, casting – it’s receives far too much scorn for what amounts to me as a film no more grating or craptastic than the much beloved holiday classic A Christmas Story. For the record, I believe I am the only person on the planet not enamored with A Christmas Story. Still, the Altman bomb is evoked whenever a director unleashes an atomic bomb of a musical comedy, which is then embraced by audiences with all the warmth and enthusiasm of a crying baby on an airplane. Oddly enough I really enjoy the visuals, costuming and color palette of the film and Paul Dooley makes a surprisingly satisfying Whimpy. Williams is, of course, appalling as Popeye. Also pretty sure I don’t need to ever hear Shelley Duvall (who I adore) sing a love song to Robin Williams again.
Bonfire of the Vanities – Brian De Palma – cast: Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith
Oh the juicy intersection of a polarizing director – Brian De Palma – a “likable” movie star audiences were not ready to see play “bad” and Bruce Willis in an earnest hairpiece! It’s like they were trying to mountaineer to the top of the box office bomb reference list on the wings of a cinematic cautionary tale.
Waterworld – Kevin Costner – cast: Kevin Costner, Jeanne Tripplehorn
“Kevin’s Gate”! “Fishtar”! I tell you what; the jokes just wrote themselves! Granted, the jokes were hilarious and perfectly legitimate. Certainly seemed to designed to knock old Kevin off his high horse. Again, Waterworld is definitely an awful film, which should be viewed to appreciate every stitch of fail woven into its tattered, dystopian fabric. That said, it’s still only on par with films like 2010: The Year We Make Contact, The Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and Chicken Run in terms of lasting effects on cinema and general unpleasantness. In fact, it’s low hanging fruit as far as comparisons are concerned. If you wanna see a really see a terrible dystopian Costner vehicle you only need to meet my friend The Postman. Puts that whole Waterworld chow chow in a bit of perspective.
The Last Castle – what, there are people who don’t enjoy seeing phoned-in performances by James Gandolfini, as a military prison warden, and Redford as a chambray shirt wearing prisoner? To be fair, “The Summer of Paul and Bob” is largely responsibly for my decision to watch this movie. It was all right. I’d watch it again and don’t tell nobody, but it’s next up in the DVD queue! Ha!
K19: The Widowmaker – Seriously? Academy-award winning director K-Big’s claustrophobic sub thriller is all kinds of entertaining.
These films need MORE punishment. More scorn.
Heaven’s Gate – Michael Cimino (Hollywood, lock the doors so this mofo can’t get back in.) Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, John Hurt, Sam Waterston (oh no you didn’t), Jeff Bridges (et tu, Dude-tay?)
Oh man, you hate to see this happen to such a collection of acting treasures. I was once in a film class where we had the option of either sitting through Heaven’s Gate – a western of sorts, which makes absolutely NO FREAKING SENSE and whose filming was plagued with unspeakable and unparalleled acts of animal cruelty – or take the final; I was the only person who took option A. The professor and I had never seen the film, but we’d read accounts of the filming that cut a wide swath of destruction and nearly bankrupted (or maybe it did) a studio. Suffice to say we were not impressed with Cimino’s “humble” 19th century Wyoming family saga and its struggle for survival. Definitely check out the documentary film Final Cut: The Unmaking of Heaven’s Gate, which is actually far more interesting than the film itself. Though we’ve all become somewhat immune to the, “No ____ were harmed in the making of this film.” line films tack onto the credits both earnestly and sometimes fatuously, you can thank Heaven’s Gate for that.
Town & Country – Peter Chelsom – cast: Warren Beatty, Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, Gary Shandling
It takes a special kind of talent to botch up the paint-by-numbers “White rich folks behaving badly” genre. Open a newspaper and the scripts just write themselves. This film is like watching your grandfolks, visiting from Florida, take turns doing riffs on Chris Rock’s comedy specials. Well, maybe that might be more satisfying. It’s the kind of “good-on-paper” movie, which is made frequently and I think we could severely limit their overrepresentation at the box office if more film critics would stop trying to perfect their Bonfire of the Vanities metaphor and introduce Town & Country to the discourse.
All the King’s Men – Steven Zaillian – Sean Penn, Jude Law, Kate Winslet, James Gandolfini
Do you like being hit by a mack truck, then having the truck back up and run you over again for nearly three hours? Do you like having characters shout historically inaccurate exposition at you and each other? Do you like films where sitting in the front row means having to deal with the spittle flying off Sean Penn’s lips when he’s acting? If so, then this is the film for you. Man, hot bags of, “no thanks” were flying around the theater where I screen this film like confetti at ticker tape parade. People actually walked out. I did too! I haven’t walked out of a film since AI: Artificial Intelligence! The Times once said of the screenwriter-director Zaillian, “the most artful and subtle screenwriter Hollywood has had since Robert Towne.”, which seems kind of like a backhanded compliment. I’m kind of meh on Robert Towne. It’s a Snarky’s Machine problem; accept and move on.
So what box office bombs are you tired of critics tossing around like lit bags of shit? Which ones do you think don’t get nearly enough public derision?