TROUBLE CITY

CHUD'S 50 BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS, DAY 25

Movie NewsMicah RobinsonComment


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/Dreddchud.jpg#2 - Judge Dredd (1995. dir. Danny Gannon)

We’ve grown somewhat spoiled as a result of enjoying an age in which comic book adaptations are continually handed off to auteurs (Guillermo Del Toro, Sam Raimi) or, at the very least, marginally-talented superfans (Mark Steven Johnson). Movie studios take fans of the source material more seriously than ever and while commercial considerations remain paramount, getting the spirit of the comics right, if not the letter, is usually a high priority as well. Even the failures of this period (The Punisher, Superman Returns, Spider-Man 3) come from a place a genuinely good intentions on the part of the creative forces behind the films rather than intent to simply churn out lucrative, star-driven product.

With things this good, it’s easy to forget that not so long ago, everything was just the opposite. And it’s hard to think of a comic adaptation that better embodies that dark period of mindless, cynical garbage than 1995’s Judge Dredd. Sure, the Schumacher Batman films (moreso Batman and Robin) left their own considerable stain on this genre, but when Schumacher failed, he had the grace to fail big, and while you can call his dayglo-colored, madcap spectacles many things, you cannot call them generic. If only the same could be said of Judge Dredd, a Sylvester Stallone vehicle which somehow figured out everything that worked about the original comic…and then did the opposite.

Where the comic was a right-wing satire, the film never saw Dredd as anything more than a typical action hero and was devoid of any political subtext whatsoever. Where the comic made Dredd a faceless force of nature crushing desperate criminals, the film made him a star enforcer indistinguishable from John Spartan, Marion Cobretti, or any of Stallone’s previous one-man-army avenging angels. Where the comic used his unchanging, emotionless nature to reflect on the world around him, the film made Dredd evolve into a softie with a comic sidekick and a blossoming love interest. It’s bad enough that these changes were a slap in the face to people who actually cared about the comic, but it was far worse that none of them helped the film to succeed, even as mindless entertainment. The action sequences were beyond lame, with two of the biggies being the obligatory “Run like fuck from the oncoming fireball” stunt and a Lucas-esque “bike speeder” chase against a particularly unconvincing greenscreen that was embarrassing even for the time it came out in. Aside from the appropriately corny and showy performances from Armand Assante and Jurgen Prochnow, there’s barely even a pulse to the film.

Since its theatrical release, it’s found a new life as a perpetual placeholder action film on pay cable networks. Hell, it’s probably showing on the Starz SuperPak right now as I write this and as you read this. And only in that capacity does Judge Dredd assert itself as anything but perfunctory: It makes for great background noise as you’re doing or thinking about something else. - Micah

Travesty Scale (1-10): 6 out of 10

http://chud.com/nextraimages/neighborssmall.jpg#1 - Neighbors (1981. dir. John G. Avildsen)

When Neighbors arrived in theaters during the 1981 holiday season, no one had any idea that it would be John Belushi's last movie. At the time, we were just excited to see the comedic force of nature back in what looked like a raucous, raunchy comedy - alongside Dan Aykroyd - after his shockingly civilized turn in Michael Apted's Continental Divide. Though we knew Belushi was going to have to grow up sooner or later, it seemed reasonable to request that he cut loose a few more times for our own amusement.

That was the plan going into the production of Neighbors, an adaptation of Thomas Berger's darkly comedic skewering of suburbia. Belushi was supposed to play Vic, a licentious scumbag who, with his equally unrestrained wife, moves in next door to the tightly-wound Earl Keese (Aykroyd). But right before principal photography, Belushi and Aykroyd decided to switch roles, which allegedly frustrated director John G. Avildsen - who, by the way, had no business directing any kind of comedy. This resulted in a tumultuous production that would've been the talk of the internet had the film been made twenty years later; in 1981, however, no one outside of Hollywood had any inkling that the stars were clashing with the director and the screenwriter, Larry Gelbart (who'd have a ringside seat the following year to Hoffman v. Pollack during the shooting of Tootsie). Only two things mattered: Belushi and Aykroyd. Audiences were going to line up around the corner regardless.

Indeed, Neighbors enjoyed a strong opening despite mixed reviews from the nation's critics. But the sight of Belushi playing the straight man for the second film in a row was a real bummer. Though he's actually quite good in the role, there's something profoundly discomfiting about a pent-up Belushi; it's a violation of the man's unrestrained nature. As Vic walks all over Earl, flirts with his daughter and wrecks his marriage, you keep waiting for Belushi to run amok in outraged response. This is why the movie works fairly well at times regardless of Avildsen's uncertain direction; it's shocking to see the Belushi, three years removed from his iconic turn as John "Bluto" Blutarsky in Animal House, sit there and take these indignities like a complete pussy.

But it all seemed so very wrong. Only, back then, we didn't know how horribly wrong it really was. When Belushi died on March 5th, 1982, Neighbors suddenly became his unintended swan song, thus compelling the pay cable networks to run the film into the ground over the next year. Multiple viewings did the muddled picture no favors; good as Belushi and Aykroyd are playing off of each other, Avildsen's inability to settle on a tone gradually rendered Neighbors completely unwatchable. Worse, though, was the knowledge that we were bearing witness to the squandering not only of a prodigious talent but of an entire life. That's why you don't read or hear much about Continental Divide and Neighbors nowadays; they're straight-laced showcases for a man whose appetite for fun, whose need to entertain killed him. There's a dissonance here; if only Belushi could've been more like Earl Keese or Ernie Souchak, he'd still be here today. But we didn't want him to be those guys. We wanted him to be Bluto every time out. And so he was until his body gave out. Thanks, John. - Jeremy

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


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