Posted January 5, 2022

 

Earlier in 2021 I saw a number of online critics that I follow state that they are giving up on posting yearly WORST FILMS lists because - to loosely paraphrase them - they know filmmakers, the know that making films is hard and requires ample commitment from multiple parties involved, and that efforts such as this should not be ridiculed and looked down upon. 

Wait...what?! 

For starters, I would challenge those notions by saying that going to the movies is also a time consuming and costly endeavor for people (and families, in particular).  Shouldn't we all demand the best bang for our hard earned dollars?  Shouldn't we demand something finer for our valuable time?  Shouldn't putrid films be called out for wasting our collective time and robbing us of cash out of our wallets?  I never go to any film wanting to hate it (I adhere to the late Gene Siskel's philosophy of filmgoing: I'm driven by the prospect of discovering something new, fresh, and great every time I enter a cinema).  I also accept the hard fact that making films is not easy by any stretch.  Having said that, letting films (and their makers) off the hook and not calling them out does everyone involved a disservice.  It's also critically disingenuous to only focus on good films by ignoring the bad.  I'm not sure how the art form evolves without directors being held accountable for failing to achieve the higher ground and mature into something better. 

I described 2020 as the worst year for the movies in terms of how the entire industry was devastatingly affected by the still raging COVID pandemic.  In the year that was the industry rebounded (sort of) when pockets of the world re-opened and cinemas began letting patrons back in.  Despite more product coming out in 2021 compared to the previous year to that, I don't believe that it was a particularly good year for quality releases (I struggled to give out many four-star reviews during the past twelve months, which either means that I'm getting stingier in my old age or that the movies weren't that good...I subscribe to the latter).  What I offer below - as I do every year - is ten reasons why no one should have either (a) ventured out to the cinema or (b) stayed home and sought out a movie via VOD streaming (with many at a ridiculously high rental fee) during the last year.  Consider this list as a cautionary warning of what films should have been - and should be, moving forward - ignored and avoided at all costs, regardless of your method of consumption. 

So, I begin with 2021's worst offender and follow that up with nine other very worthy unworthy contenders:

 
 

CHAOS WALKING

 
 

 

Poor CHAOS WALKING.  You never once stood a chance. 

I have no idea even where to begin with this colossally awful and creatively bankrupted sci-fi thriller.  It's not like there wasn't talent on display here in front of and behind the camera.  We have director Doug Liman, who previously made the first film in the JASON BOURNE series as well as one of the most underrated high concept sci-fi thrillers of the last several years in THE EDGE OF TOMORROW.  Then we have the likes of stars Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley, who gave their respective franchises in SPIDER-MAN and STAR WARS a definitive heart and soul.  

Sooooooooo...how could CHAOS WALKING be such an unmitigated failure on all levels?  

Multiple well publicized reshoots (coming after what was reported to be an unreleasable first cut) didn't help its cause (nor did multiple pandemic related release delays), but the real nail in this film's coffin was that it was hopelessly dreadful on a level of world and universe building in adapting Patrick Ness's novel.  That, and this film was proof positive that a book's premise - no matter how potentially enthralling - could still translate horrendously to the silver screen...and not work...and subsequently become pure and unwelcoming auditory/visual diarrhea.  Added to this dubious mixture was a couple of unendingly charming lead stars that exuded little to no charm or chemistry here and what we were left with was a $100 million fiasco that could have killed careers afterwards.   

Ridley, Holland, and Liman will survive this disaster, but memories this inexcusably ill conceived film will last forever. 

 

 
 

HITMAN'S WIFE'S BODYGUARD

 

While I watched this truly and supremely unpleasant sequel last summer all that I could think about was whether or not the word THE should have been in its title.  Seriously.  THE HITMAN'S WIFE'S BODYGUARD rolls off of the tongue much better than the grammatically awkward HITMAN'S WIFE'S BODYGUARD.   Now, no one should be thinking about how a film's title is worded while watching said film, but that's all I really cared about while viewing HITMAN'S WIFE'S BODYGUARD; it represented probably one of the biggest misappropriations of talent (Samuel L. Jackson, Ryan Reynolds, Salma Hayek, AntoniO Banderas, and Morgan Freeman, for Christ's sake!) in any recent film production that I recall.

And...why...do...all...these...actors...SCREAM...so...much...here?!  Is this what constitutes comedy these days?  Beyond being tragically bereft of hearty laughs and full bodied action (the choreography and editing here was a total dumpster fire of ineptitude), HITMAN'S WIFE'S BODYGUARD was about as enjoyable as listening to fingernails on a chalkboard.  This film's predecessor was a forgettable, by easy going diversion, but one that never once cried out for sequels, and this is one of the flimsiest sequels in many a moon.  

 

 

DEAR EVAN HANSEN

 

 

I grew dizzy after my screening of DEAR EVAN HANSEN just pondering the numerous ways that this coming of age musical went so inexplicably wrong.   

This should have worked and worked well.  We have a film adapting the multiple Tony Award winning musical of the same name, not to mention that we have the director of one of the finest youth oriented films of recent times in THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER.  Mournfully, though, something just felt wrong about DEAR EVAN HANSEN within its first few minutes.  Much of it has to do with the casting of the titular character.  Ben Platt has, no doubt, an unqualified gift as a vocal talent (and he played this role on stage for many years to rave reviews and a plethora of awards), but he never once - not ever! - came across authentically and physically here as a high school senior.  Like...at all.  Once you got past that casting error, DEAR EVAN HANSEN made the cardinal blunder of making its lead character an insufferable and manipulative heel that uses other people's suffering to help him deal with his own.  The social crimes that this young adult commits are so heinous that it becomes equally heinous when the film - in its shamelessly cringe inducing final act - wants us to sympathize with him...and then the whole enterprise becomes hopelessly derailed.  Lastly, maybe making a would-be lively and upbeat musical about teen suicide, poverty/class shaming, and cyber bullying was a horrible lapse in judgment to begin with.  And at 131 minutes, DEAR EVAN HANSON was as punishing of a slog to sit through as any film from 2021.

 

 

RED NOTICE

 

 

The Netflix heist/adventure action comedy cost a reported $200-plus million to produce.

 

Let that settle in.

 

This was one of the most cheap looking expensive films that I've come across in an awfully long time.  Maybe a majority of that money went to the trio of stars in Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Gadot.  I suspect that, mostly because the cash just doesn't seem to have been spent on screen...or in the scripting.  You have to just give your head a shake and wonder how such a costly endeavor featuring such limitlessly attractive and likeable stars could be so creatively lethargic on most levels.  The more I watched RED NOTICE the more I began to notice other things on the screen surrounding the stars (that's not a ringing endorsement of the star power and their collective charisma here).  As a potentially exciting NATIONAL TREASURE/INDIANA JONES-esque globetrotting caper comedy, RED NOTICE was a misfire the size of one of Johnson's biceps and is perhaps one of the most blatantly obvious paycheck grabbing efforts of the lead actors' careers.  And, again, at a whopping $200 million to produce, the ones on the losing side of things will be Netflix subscribers when all of our subscriptions go up to help finance bloated junk like this.

 

 

ESCAPE ROOM: TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS

 
 

 

I'll fully confess to finding some enjoyment in the overall premise of the first ESCAPE ROOM film (place a group of unsuspecting everyday people against their collective wills in a series of increasingly complex and dangerous escape rooms), and on pure psychological horror thriller levels there's surely room here for grisly entertainment value.  

The thing that struck me so vividly about ESCAPE ROOM: TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS was that it lacked the frightening pulse of intrigue of the first film and just flatlined down to its finish line over the course of its - thank the movie gods! - short 80-plus minute running time.  I'm not entirely sure that this film ever made a case for the value of its existence (other than its studio trying to milk a franchise out of the first film's relatively dry teats), but the most damning aspect of ESCAPE ROOM: TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS was that there was no real evolution of this material or premise.  We got, yes, escape room after escape room...but inserted into a logic straining to the max screenplay that easily forced the least inquisitive moviegoer mind to ask a lot of questions about what in the hell was transpiring on screen.  And what made this an even larger scale offender is that - in the end - it was just a lame set-up for more installments to come.  

I don't want these games to continue.  I just want these games to be over.

 

 
 

\SNAKE EYES: G.I. JOE ORIGINS

 
 

As a toy fanatic child, I remember the Snake Eyes action figure being so undeniably cool.  Every one of my friends wanted to play with it.  Fights erupted in bedrooms way, way back when about who got to wield this silent and masked assassin. 

Speaking of fights, if I could punch a film right in the pie hole then I would definitely cold cock the awkwardly titled and impossibly dull SNAKE EYES: G.I. JOE ORIGINS.

I know what you're all thinking: Didn't they already make two G.I. JOES films that adapted the iconic 1980s toy line?  Yes.  They did.  There was the perpetually goofy, mostly meh, but watchable G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA from 2009 that was then followed up by the thoroughly lackluster G.I. JOE RETALIATION from 2013.  SNAKE EYES: G.I. JOE ORIGINS is (sigh) a re-imagined reboot of the entire JOE cinematic universe by honing in on the undeniably cool Snake Eyes himself.  Even though this film contained some modestly decent production values and a more intimate character focus, SNAKE EYES: G.I. JONES ORIGINS pretty much failed as an enthralling back story for the clandestine hero to be, not to mention that it came off - as oh-so-many films do these days - as one large placeholder entry for more fully realized franchise entries to come (or if one considers the box office tanking of this film, that most likely won't come at all).  This film was more of a deeply cynical mass marketed product as opposed to a full bodied and well realized film, and one that pathetically tried to sell a brand that's just not worth your playtime anymore. 

 

 
 

OLD

 

This film was written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

It's a TWILIGHT ZONE-inspired psychological horror thriller about an inescapable beach that makes people age at accelerated rates. 

I aged twenty years while sitting through this.  

All I could think about was trying to escape my screening.    

On a positive, it was one of the funniest films that I saw all year.

Remember, though, that this was intended to be a TWILIGHT ZONE-inspired psychological horror thriller.I

Next...

 

 

THE ICE ROAD

 
 

 

THE ICE ROAD is the single worst Liam Neeson as a Manitoban semi-truck driver thriller that I've ever seen.  

 

Next...   

 

 
 

THUNDER FORCE

 
 

 

I have to be honest.

I completely forgot that (a) this film existed and (b) that it came out in 2021.

That's ultimately telling.

Melissa McCarthy has had an unfortunate knack for appearing on these WORST OF lists for many years running.  I have always come to her defense by conceding that she is most assuredly an actor with talent (look at her brilliant turn in CAN YOU FORGIVE ME).  Alas, she continues to make one puerile and trashy comedy after another with her husband and production partner in Ben Falcone, and the new Netflix super hero satire THUNDER FORCE was yet another valid reason why their cinematic partnership should end abruptly in a divorce.  There was absolutely a kernel of promise with this material - a female led super hero farce that wants to satirize comic book genre troupes - but the resulting film here was so criminally unfunny, lacking in style, and abysmally rote that to even make it past the first thirty minutes of it would require the fortitude of Superman.  THUNDER FORCE emerged as yet another obnoxious vanity project for McCarthy and Falcone, but the fact that they also dragged the sensational Octavia Spencer into this (an Oscar winning performer that is far above such mediocre material) is almost unforgivable.  

If you want to seek out a superb super hero satire then just check out SKY HIGH from a decade-plus ago and just avoid this flat footed crapfest.  

 

 
 

DEMONIC

 

Oh, how the once mighty have so terribly fallen. 

A decade-plus ago I thought that South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp might be the second coming James Cameron.  Just look at his multiple Oscar nominated and game changing alien invasion thriller that began his once promising career in 2009's DISTRICT 9 (which was also one of the very rare sci-fi films to be nominated for Best Picture).  He then followed that up with the propulsively entertaining and criminally underrated ELYSIUM a few years later.  After those two films, however, Blomkamp's high pedigree sheen was starting to dull with the somewhat well realized, but messy CHAPPIE.  I thought that the latter film was a lesser Blomkamp effort that, despite its issues, still managed to tackle some big ideas about sentience and the human condition.  I defended that film when so many others didn't, which brings me to his latest in DEMONIC, and after screening it my defense of Blomkamp came to a crashing and burning end.  This was a micro-budgeted high concept supernatural horror thriller that, to be fair, contained a catchy premise, but the end product was so amateurish in so many unfathomably ways that I grew to doubt whether or not the man behind DISTRICT 9 was even behind it in the first place.  DEMONIC was shot during our current COVID pandemic, and is arguably the one that most easily shows its production limitations.  

And considering that this film delved into the nature of reality and demonic possession, I'm still aghast at just how painfully dull it was to experience.   

 

 
Well...that felt good.  My TEN WORST list is complete...but I'm not done yet!  Here's a few more films that were not terrible enough to make the TEN WORST, but were easily forgettable all the same.  Consider these:
 

CrAiGeR's NEGLIGIBLE FILMS OF 2021:

 
 

LOCKED DOWN:  An insufferably bad pandemic themed comedy that no one wanted...and no one will remember after watching it.  

MALCOLM & MARIE:  Two great actors in a lush and beautifully shot black and white Netflix film couldn't overcome the creative pretentiousness on display here.

CHERRY:   This Apple original was one of the most slickly made bad films featuring proven talent in front of and behind the screen that I've seen as of late. 

THE MARKSMAN:  Another Liam Neeson led letdown; he has never looked so bored and disinterested in an action thriller as he did here.

THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW:  This Netflix psychological thriller was all about tantalizing teases that regrettably didn't pay off in any meaningful manner whatsoever.

AWAKE:  How fitting is it that this Netflix (again here!) post-apocalyptic thriller that featured a plague that causes people to not fall asleep ended up being an easy cure for insomnia.

THE TOMORROW WAR:  A ludicrously and nonsensically scripted Amazon Prime sci-fi time travel mind bender thriller that was neither thrilling nor mind bending.  

JOLT:   An Amazon Prime (again here!) action thriller with a fairly engaging premise that never fully harnessed its B-grade trashiness. 

INFINITE:  Second only to THE TOMORROW WAR for being one of 2021's more laughably preposterous high concept sci-fi action pictures. 

VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE:  At 90 minutes, franchise newcomer in director Andy Serkis made a respectfully lean and mercifully short sequel here...with an emphasis on mercifully short.  

HALLOWEEN KILLS:  All of the qualitative good will that writer/director David Gordon Green brought to the table with the previous HALLOWEEN rebootquel was all but undone by this lazily constructed and messy follow-up.  

COMING 2 AMERICA:  The long awaited sequel to the cherished Eddie Murphy fish out of water comedy from the 90s found some fresh takes on old material, but nevertheless felt like a dry rehash of what came before.

YES DAY:  I wanted to say yes to this well meaning Netflix family comedy, but ultimately this film was too tonally inconsistent to warrant a watch.

GODZILLA VS. KONG:  A Monsterverse sequel that was more like a superficial amusement park ride than a full bodied and thoroughly engaging piece of blockbuster entertainment.  

MORTAL KOMBAT:  Saying that this is represented the best MORTAL KOMBAT movie of all time was not really saying all that much.  

TOM CLANCEY'S WITHOUT REMORSE:  A sloppily engineered and completely disposable espionage franchise wanna-be starter that was inexplicably co-written by the great Taylor Sheridan and squandered Michael B. Jordan's talents. 

RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON:  Disney's unendingly gorgeous computer animated fantasy was a feast for the eyes to engage with, but lacked the creative depth to make for a truly transcending genre effort.  

BLACK WIDOW:  It's great that this character finally got her own solo film, but the MCU really, really missed the boat by not releasing this well before her AVENGERS: END GAME demise, leading to this film feeling more like a gluttonous corporate cash grab.   

GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE:  The action genre definitely needs a more female centric approach, but the cartoonishly over-the-top spectacle of this Netflix film failed to utilize its female talent well. 

FREE GUY:   This Ryan Reynolds' starring vehicle had so much unbridled potential as a topical and engaging send-up, but it was all about flashy visual dynamism and silly hijinks in the most soft-pedaled, audience pandering manner possible.

BECKETT:  Like THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW before it, this Netflix Hitchockian thriller sure left a lot to be desired (as you can see, this was not the year for streaming giants). 

THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD:  Once you stripped away Angelina Jolie's presence (her first role in several years) and the typically capable Taylor Sheridan behind the camera then all we were left with here barely attained the moniker of a direct-to-video flick. 

SWEET GIRL:  This Netflix thriller (whoa, such a pattern for multiple appearances here) started off relatively strong, but then engaged in ludicrous M. Night Shyamalan plot machinations that hopelessly derailed it. 

CRUELLA:  A cruelly unnecessary live action period origin film for an iconic Disney animated villain that egregiously attempted to soften her evil edge.  

KATE:  Even the always fantastic and committed Mary Elizabeth Winstead couldn't save this Netflix assassin thriller from its adherence to the oldest and most stale genre conventions in the book. 

THE ETERNALS A comic book extravaganza that was commendable for its fearless ambition, but was also pretty uneventful and substandard as far as memorably enjoyable MCU fare goes.  
     
  And finally, here's a dishonorable mention list of films that I felt were more disappointing than truly awful.  Consider these:  
 

CrAiGeR's MISSED OPPORTUNITIES of 2021:

 
 

OUTSIDE THE WIRE:  This was Netflix's attempts as a brainier UNIVERSAL SOLIDER, but it absolutely needed to be brainier than it was. 

BLISS:  Amazon produced this high concept sci-fi drama that had an awful lot on its mind and some ambitious ideas that it wished to explore, but it lacked a thorough and satisfying follow-through on them. 

THE MAURITANIAN:  A fairly obvious attempt at Oscar bait that certainly told a fact-based narrative that needed to be told, but too much of this potentially powerhouse 9/11 courtroom drama came off as a flavorless TV-movie-of-the-week. 

STOWAWAY:  Director Joe Penna made a huge splash a few years ago with his survival thriller ARCTIC, and his follow-up here in this intriguing and nightmarishly premised sci-fi space themed thriller was a solid, but problematic sophomore effort.   

PERCY:   A semi-biographical/environmental legal drama that was well acted, but painted with broad and obligatory strokes. 

JUNGLE CRUISE:  Another attempt by the House of Mouse to make a large scale blockbuster based on one of their Disneyland rides; PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN this ain't!

F9: THE FAST SAGA:  Should have been called TOO FAST, TOO LUDICROUS.  

PRISONERS OF THE GHOSTLAND:  It's always a thrill to see Nicolas Cage fully harness his most most out-there intense performance energies - and in a post-apocalyptic hellscape, no less - but this film touched cult status and fell disappointingly short.

THE FOREVER PURGE:   I've been an apologist of this doom and gloom sci-fi franchise and appreciated its retrograde trashiness throughout, but franchise fatigue started to appear with this fifth film.  

NO TIME TO DIE:   Daniel Craig is arguably the greatest cinematic James Bond that regrettably has appeared in too many shaken and stirred 007 adventures for his own good, with this one being no exception.

DON'T BREATHE 2:  There were some swing big for the fences creative choices with this implausible sequel, but it was hard to overlook this as a risky failure. 

THE LAST NIGHT IN SOHO:  Writer/director Edgar Wright made a haunting and dreamlike psychological horror thriller here, but all of its masterful technical merits couldn't save this film's lack of genuine scares and weird eleventh hour plot twists. 

HOUSE OF GUCCI:  What should have been a cinematic home run for director Ridley Scott ended up emerging as nothing more than a sumptuously produced soap opera. 

ROCKY IV: ROCKY VS. DRAGO - THE ULTIMATE DIRECTOR'S CUT:  This heavily and well publicized new fangled cut of the highest grossing ROCKY sequel ever didn't fundamentally improve what came before in any substantial way.   

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME:  Tom Holland remains one of the best cinematic Spider-Men that unfortunately and frustratingly has been given solo films that are more inclined to set up more MCU waves than simply focus on his character's world.  

DON'T LOOK UP: This star studded socio-political satire should have been a hilarious grand slam home run, but director Andy McKay's aggressive approach with his fish-in-a-barrel targets hurt the film overall. 

SPENCER:  Critics were enamored with this insular portrait of Princess Diana's eroding mental health while with the Royal Family in the early 90s, but I found it too emotionally hollow and idiosyncratic for my tastes.

 

 

 
 
     
 

  H O M E