TROUBLE CITY

CHUD'S 50 BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS, DAY 22

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/heroposter.jpg#8 - Hero (1992. dir. Stephen Frears)

Hero was perhaps the purebred of the 1992 awards season. Director Stephen Frears was a critics' darling after Dangerous Liaisons and The Grifters, screenwriter David Webb Peoples had just revitalized and eulogized the western all at once with Unforgiven, while the three leads - Dustin Hoffman, Geena Davis and Andy Garcia - had either been nominated for or won Oscars within the last five years. What's more, the premise suggested a satire worthy of Preston Sturges: petty criminal Bernie Laplante (Hoffman) saves the lives of fifty-four passengers trapped aboard a crashed airliner. When a $1 million reward is offered for the hero to step forward (the passengers, including a high-profile reporter played by Davis, can't accurately identify their savior due to the chaos of the moment), Bernie is stuck in jail, rendering his claims highly suspect. This allows a drifter, John Bubber (Andy Garcia), to mendaciously position himself as the hero. When he winds up looking and speaking the part of the samaritan (with the help of Davis), the public falls in love with him. Bernie, on the other hand, just wants his $1 million, and is more than willing to expose Bubber as a fraud to get it.

Hero is another classic case of huge expectations demolishing a passably entertaining movie. It wants to be too many things: a scathing media satire, a heartwarming tale of redemption and a rollicking comedy. The elements are all there in Peoples' complex, witty script, but Frears can't pull them together; he'd rather observe human behavior than criticize it (which made him the ideal director for Peter Morgan's ham-fisted The Queen). That's why the performances are so good, but the framing story feels more like an outline than a finished screenplay. Frears is at his best when following Hoffman's lead; the most effective scenes in the movie center on the misanthropic Bernie schooling his young son in the cruel ways of the world (Bernie's mantra: "Keep a low profile"). Had the film worked better or, at least, connected with critics, Hoffman would've probably earned an Oscar nomination for his underrated performance here.

But that's the extent of the fun to be found in Hero. The attempts at screwball comedy are hideously off-key, while the burgeoning, built-on-a-lie romance between Davis and Garcia stops the film cold whenever it's addressed. Most of this is a result of uncertain direction, but it's hard to excuse Peoples for the contrived, media circus finale, which finds Hoffman confronting the exposed and suicidal Garcia on the ledge of a building. Simultaneously forced and clichéd, the sequence essentially stuffs the film's message right down the viewer's gullet as if unsure of its validity. There's a great movie somewhere in Hero, but it needed another rewrite and another director to tease it out. - Jeremy

Travesty Scale (1-10): 5 out of 10

 #7 - Planet of the Apes (2001. dir. Tim Burton)

I’m a big Planet of the Apes fan. Huge. What Star Wars is for some of the readers of CHUD, the Planet of the Apes series is for me – it’s sort of ground zero for my taste: weird, shabby and surprisingly smart. I had followed the pre-production of a number of different remakes of the original Planet of the Apes with curiosity and sometimes excitement, like when Oliver Stone was attached. When it ended up falling into the hands of Tim Burton, I became really engaged. The casting got me psyched – Mark Wahlberg has been recently redeemed in my eyes thanks to films like Boogie Nights and Three Kings. Tim Roth remained Tim Roth. And I had been a Paul Giamatti fan since his turn as Pig Vomit in Private Parts, and his Bob Zmuda had recently been the only part of Man on the Moon I had actually liked.

Sometimes people who suffer great traumas will fall into states of denial. I had such an experience after seeing Burton’s film; there are probably still threads from that summer on the CHUD message board where I defend the movie. It took the DVD release of the movie for the enormity of its badness and its wasted potential to really hit me. Burton came onto the project late, and he rushed through it, trying to meet a date. The film fails on every single level – it’s not a return to Pierre Boulle’s original novel, it’s a pale imitation of Franklin J. Schaffner’s 1968 classic, and it doesn’t even fit well into the work of Burton. His Planet of the Apes is devoid of almost any of the thematic elements that he carries from film to film, except for the theme of being an outsider, and even that obvious aspect is submerged in favor of making the movie as much of a generic actioner as possible. That might be the really tragic part of the film – even if it had remained a failure, a very Burton-esque take would at least have remained interesting as part of his ouvre. And while the film eschews the political meaning the original series had in spades (no racist pun intended), it’s easy to see how Burton could have examined modern social situations through the metaphor of the man who doesn’t fit in with the apes or his own kind.

One of the biggest complaints about the film is the ‘twist’ ending, which seems to be pretty much nonsense – instead of finding the Statue of Liberty as Charlton Heston did in the original, Marky Mark returns home to find that Tim Roth’s ape head is on the Lincoln Monument and all the police in Washington DC are monkeys. This was apparently a set-up for a sequel, where it would all be explained, but Planet of the Apes is one of those special modern blockbusters, like Godzilla, that open big and then immediately drown. The studios can get people into theaters that first weekend, but that’s all they can get. They burned the audience on Friday night, killing the newly revived franchise.

After the stilted and awkward Sleepy Hollow, Planet of the Apes proved that the shine was off Tim Burton. He has yet to get back to where he was before those films, and while he’s been making money hand over fist with his newly commercialized vision, it’s clear that he lost whatever angry and rejected suburban kid spark it was that made him such a great filmmaker at the beginning of his career. It’s quite possible that he lost it while whoring himself out on this film. - Devin

Travesty Scale (1-10): 7 out of 10

Previously Disappointing:

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