TROUBLE CITY

CHUD'S 50 BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS, DAY 13

Movie NewsJeremy SmithComment


Welcome to the next CHUD List.

We've tackled our essentials list and the continued revelation of our Kills List from 2003, and now that we've begun the beguine, we must continue. Behold:

The CHUD.com Top 50 Disappointments.

A quick word on the criteria. We could very easily have spent this whole article discussing sequels and prequels and adaptations of television shows and called it a day. Instead, we tried to go a different route. Also, from a master list of over 100, the involved parties (Devin, Jeremy, Micah, Russ, and myself) all killed off a choice for each one we claimed. As a result, we'll run a big list at the end of this of the 'ones that got away'. So, here is day one of many where we chronicle the 50 Biggest Disappointments. Two a day, every week day for five weeks. In no particular order:

http://chud.com/nextraimages/hookteaser.jpg#34 - Hook (1991, dir. Steven Spielberg)

We've been hating Hook for so long that it's hard to remember why we wanted it in the first place. Basically, the excitement was engendered by screenwriter James V. Hart's high concept premise: what if Peter Pan grew up? From there, Hart spun out a self-conscious, unofficial sequel to J.M. Barrie's play that captured the imagination of the ultimate eternal child, Steven Spielberg, who convinced Sony - then being mismanaged by Jon Peters and Peter Guber, as chronicled by Nancy Griffin in her essential showbiz tome, Hit and Run - to bankroll his soundstage trapped vision of Neverland. Depending on whom you talk to, this was the beginning of the end for Hook. Or maybe it was the cadre of rewriters Spielberg brought in to reconfigure Hart's screenplay to his liking. Or perhaps it was Dustin Hoffman's alleged troublemaking on the set.

There are so many behind-the-scenes stories about the unmaking of Hook that it's amazing the movie is at all watchable. As with many films on this list, Hook isn't a terrible movie; it just fails to deliver the goods in proportion to the pre-release hype. This isn't to suggest that it's more than mediocre, or that it isn't at times an astonishing bungle of theme and tone. After a promising first act set largely in London - where we're introduced to Robin Williams's workaholic Peter Banning and the great Maggie Smith as a soulful, grown-old Wendy - the film moves to Neverland and pretty much ceases to work. Spielberg gets nearly everything wrong here: the Lost Boys are bratty skateboarders who banally misbehave, Hoffman overwhelms every scene as Captain Hook to the point of distraction (though his moments with Bob Hoskins's Smee are nice), and the sets are so ostentatious and so distractingly backlot that we're always aware we're watching a really expensive movie.

For a film about a neglectful father who rediscovers his inner-child and learns how to balance work and family… well, that preceding mouthful of bullshit why Hook failed. It's a sentimental fairy tale offering redemption for yuppies who want to feel okay for spending their way through the 80s. It wants to take flight from the wretched excess of the previous decade while still being wretched excess itself. Spielberg might've seemed like the guy to inspire us with this never-grow-too-old yarn, but he was too conflicted emotionally and artistically to pull it off (he'd just missed two years earlier with the better-than-its-reputation Always). The result is a 131-minute master class in everything that's wrong with big studio filmmaking.

It's important to note that the immediate post-Hook period might've been the lowest point of Spielberg's career. There were serious questions as to whether he'd lost his touch. Then 1993 happened. - Jeremy

Travesty Scale (1-10): 8 out of 10

#33 - The Replacement Killers (1998. dir. Antoine Fuqua)

 Bear with me as I take a quick aside before getting to today's Disappointment: I grew up in Charleston, SC, which is a nice enough city to live and vacation in, and it’s the very image of seaside beauty. But the abundance of visual appeal it had was inversely proportionate to the amount of unique culture one could find there, and as far as the rest of the country was concerned, it was a backwater town for movies and musical acts, so why bother? Thus, as I grew up and broke with my peers by getting into rock music (It’s “white people music”. What are ya gonna do?), I was hard-pressed to catch acts of any note performing live. It was so bad that the few local promoters there slapped together whoever they could in hopes of maximizing appeal. I once caught a triple bill of – no lie – Bitches With Problems, Fishbone, and B.B. King, all of whom I’m pretty sure were unaware of the presence of the others.

This long draught was shattered one day when I caught news of the one and only Bad Brains coming to town at one of the better venues. Running out to buy the ticket the same day I read the notice, I spent the rest of the time until the show counting the days with the nervous energy of a basehead. Then, on show night as the lights went low and I fought my way toward the front of the stage, I quickly and painfully realized that this was Bad Brains MkII (i.e. the more commercial, brief-lived lineup of the early 90s without H.R. and Earl). Sure, Dr. Know was still at the forefront, and the new singer and drummer were just as if not more capable than their predecessors, but for all intents and purposes, this was a Bad Brains cover band with a few of the real guys sitting in. The danger, the chaos…it was gone and replaced by a more professional and lifeless replicant that left me wanting no matter how many classics they pulled out.

That crushing letdown would surface again for me several years later when I saw The Replacement Killers. We can all remember the excitement any Chow Yun-Fat would have at news of his big budget, American gala debut on the bigscreen. The man had spent years projecting an effortlessly cool persona in John Woo gunplay and camaraderie flicks like Hard-Boiled and A Better Tomorrow. Beyond the two-fisted bullet ballet and iconic poses, he simply took possession of any room or scene he was in, and Hollywood could only ignore that sort of language-transcending presence but for so long. Thus, they crafted a seemingly perfect starring vehicle – a story of a hit man with an inconvenient conscience – and put him in the hands of music video vet Antoine Fuqua, a telling decision that indicated how little they understood of what truly made his Asian films work beyond spectacle.

And so we have what’s an essentially a cover film - all poses, fury, and noise, but with no heart in sight. Fuqua somehow found a way to make film look dull and slick at the same time, and the personality-lite “replacement killers” that Chow Yun-Fat squared off with (e.g. Til Schweiger, Danny Trejo) gave him little to play off of. Looking for knockout action sequences along the lines of Hard-Boiled’s baby ward battle? Sorry. Want an interesting story? No can do. Looking for equals for our man to team up with? How about Mira Sorvino? Looking back from our geek-friendly movie business of today, it seems inconceivable that such a lame project would make it past pre-production without an outcry so mighty as to scuttle it altogether. But the democratizing power of The Internet had yet to change the game and so this travesty went on anyway.

The Replacement Killers is guilty of many things, but chief and most heinous among them is leaving a celluloid god stranded in a Hollywood playground drained of any sort of vitality.

- Micah

Travesty Scale (1-10): 9 out of 10

Previously Disappointing:
The Ladykillers
Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Bram Stoker's Dracula
Ultraviolet

New York, New York
Billy Bathgate

Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Willow

Superman Returns
Blade: Trinity
Art School Confidential
Lifeforce

Bonfire of the Vanities
Exorcist: Dominion

The Black Hole
Harlem Nights
The Last Castle
Ghostbusters II

Love on the Run
Full Frontal
Celebrity
Alien Resurrection

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