5 Critically Mauled Movies I Love

Well…Maybe ‘LOVE’ is too strong a word.

Provocative titles work though…

I rarely visit Rotten Tomatoes but found myself disappearing down a bit of a rabbit hole recently when looking up a few random films just to see what the consensus was on a few of my favourite films and realised how far from the critical pulse my fricking finger apparently is.

So here are five films I have a lot of time for that the critics hated…from best rated to worst.

 Very Bad Things –  Peter Berg 1998. 43%

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Ranging from the title puns – “…extremely lousy material” to the in-no-way-sitting-on-the- fence: “hollow, simple-minded and about as profound an experience as stepping in a pile of roadkill.”

Weighing in with a positively Oscar-worthy 43% compared to some of these choices, Peter Berg’s directorial debut follows a reluctant stag and his keener buddies on his final ‘night of freedom’ ahead of his perfect wedding to a perfect, if controlling bride. Surprisingly, things don’t go quite to plan and in an ever-escalating (or descending…) series of events, things do indeed get very bad. How bad? Well, Christian Slater’s character Boyd assessment that, “If you take away the horror of the scene, take away the tragedy of the death, take away all the moral and ethical implications that have been drilled into your head since grade one, do you know what you’re left with? A 105-pound problem that needs to be moved from point A to point B. “ pretty much sums up the less-than-perfect bachelor party. And things go downhill from there.

With John Favreau in the lead, and Cameron Diaz as his bride-to-be and the aforementioned Slater, Jeremy Piven and Daniel Stern making up the stag group, Very Bad Things is a very dark comedy. Some say too dark – taking glee in the murderous mayhem that goes on and a mean spirited, misogynistic tone to boot. It’s not an unfair argument – it’s been a long time since I saw this film but I remember it being absurdly black and funny as it free-falls into ever more distasteful scenarios. I haven’t watched much of Peter Berg’s more recent output which seems to be exclusively Mark Wahlberg related, but Friday Night Lights was really good, and I’ll always have a soft spot for the man who was so very good in The Last Seduction and right or wrong (and it’s most definitely wrong…) Very Bad Things hit my funny bone like a sharp spiky thing back in the day.

 

Jersey Girl – Kevin Smith  2004. (42%)

jersey girl

After the critically acclaimed Clerks, the studio ‘misfire’ of Mallrats (which I also love),  the ‘return to form’ of Chasing Amy, the controversy of Dogma, and fan fodder of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Kevin Smith made what he said at the time was a highly personal film – a love letter to his home town and being a father, with the star power of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez headlining Jersey Girl should have been a sure-fire hit. Instead Ben and Jen split and the movie was slaughtered – probably not helped by the other Bennifer flick of the time, Gigli, critics hated its’ ‘cheap gags’ ‘Affleck’s efforts at emoting’, a’ grating sense of commercial calculation’ which was a ‘cloying attempt at mainstream’…it tanked not just critically, but commercially.

Me? I think it’s a massively under-rated comedy cum tear jerker (and two of those words are probably more at home in Smith’s more ‘usual’ fare.

Affleck gives a strong performance, ably supported by George Carlin in one of his last roles, Liv Tyler is charming, and Raquel Castro is refreshingly obnoxious-free as the child star of the bit.

It’s a sweet, non-mawkish tear-jerker, with some nice cameos and with a heart that feels as if it’s genuinely in the right place from both director and performers.

I never understood the hate for this and to this day it’s one I go back to quite often.

 

Man on Fire – Tony Scott 2004 39%

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Considered variously as “Po-faced, dull and sadistic” “racist” and, in one of the more bizarre criticisms “(Scott’s)  way of saying, “Get a load of this, Quentin”, the speed of response (12 years since Reservoir Dogs) leaves something to be desired.” Man of Fire was a remake of a not-good movie based on a not-great novel.

I don’t even understand the Quentin/ Reservoir Dogs bitch comment. Something to do with True Romance from 1993 which Scott directed from Tarantino’s script? It doesn’t really make sense – especially given the fact that Man on Fire is as far from a QT style film as you could get: indeed, it’s actually quintessential Scott (no near-pun intended): all-flash, visuals, soundtrack and editing. So much so, I can see how it would be off-putting for some, but for me, it was probably Scott’s last good film.

I watched the movie for the first time as I was flying into Mexico City and as OTT as it was, it did make me nervous leaving my hotel for the time I was there. Despite the last-minute attempt to make amends by the end title card declaring “Special thanks to Mexico City. A very special place.” Man on Fire is never going to be a Tourist Board recommendation to entice visitors to the city.

Washington plays John Creasy, a broken-down, alcoholic ex-services bodyguard (you know the type – we never know what he did in his military career but he was the best at it etc.) hired by a rich businessman to protect his daughter from the all-to-common kidnappings which apparently take place on every other street in the region.

The kid is Dakota Fanning – apparently already a veteran actress at 10, the supporting cast including Mickey Rourke and Christopher Walken who gets to spout the most Walken of lines as he explains, “A man can be an artist… in anything, food, whatever. It depends on how good he is at it. Creasy’s art is death. He’s about to paint his masterpiece.”

And he does. And it’s as OTT as you might expect from a combination of Scott and writer Brian Helgeland.

 

Twenty Four Seven – Shane Meadows 1998 35%

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This one surprised me: I wasn’t aware that Meadows had had any critically panned films (and for bloody good reason in my view), but critics were pretty sniffy about it – claiming “It follows the familiar formulaic path of Brit working-class films of the 60s, but has less edge than those films.”

Maybe it’s just too British for the majority of US critics who make up Rotten Tomatoes ratings: IMDB gives it a much more respectable 7.1

His first full film, Twenty Four Seven sets out a style that Meadows would refine but not deviate from substantially over the next thirty years: an English working-class town, teenagers with nothing to do but doss around in gangs and cause trouble. Bob Hoskins plays Alan Darcy, a man from similar roots, but trying to make things better for the next generation, who believes “It doesn’t matter how much or how little you have; if you’ve never had anything to believe in you’ll always be poor.” And looks to make a difference by opening a boxing club and training the youths up

What follows is a pretty straight forward narrative – Meadows was not one for massive twists in the early stages of his career (and indeed now uses them with sense and story purpose rather than just for the hell of it) – the story is more of a series of vignettes rather than a strictly formulated narrative, but that just allows Hoskins room to breathe – his presence on the screen as brilliant as it so often was.

And Meadows? It’s fascinating to see the themes of  grit and the underclass in a post Thatcher era coming through in such an early work – themes which would be refined maybe over the years, but so many of his characteristics already fully formed even then – bleak landscapes, literal and figurative, a pervasive soundtrack of his favourite music and an acute eye on the society whose story he’s telling.

Drop Dead Fred  – Ate De Jong 1991 9%

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This is the film that got me thinking about this article, to be honest – featured on the podcast How Did This Get Made in a recent episode I was surprised by how divisive this film is. Well – not that divisive apparently: Gene Siskel kept it simple – “This is easily one of the worst films I’ve ever seen.” While many saw it as a bad Beetlejuice rip-off: “It tries too hard to mimic Beetlejuice, especially in British comic Rik Mayall’s frantic performance as the title character — Mayall is no Michael Keaton — but it has whimsical comic energy.”

Maybe it’s just a case of fond memories – the idea of Mayall hitting Hollywood was an amazing thought back in the day. He may not have been Michael Keaton – but then Keaton wasn’t (P)Rik, Kevin Turvey, Richey Rich or Lord Flashheart, all of whom were familiar to those of us fans of the man back in the ’80s. The fact that it co-starred Phoebe Cates was no bad thing, to be fair either.

It’s been a good few years since I watched Drop Dead Fred and watching it now would undoubtedly always be tainted with rose-coloured glasses thinking about Mayall, gone way too soon, but I remember it at the time as being a good, dumb, fun flick. True – critically speaking it would be possible to delve into the Freudian analysis and childhood misery the film pokes around the edges at. But it also has some great insults and dog shit jokes.

 

 

Coming next time…the ones the critics love that I’ve never got…just to continue my ripping away ANY credibility an ancient old Film Studies degree might have once held.

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