January is upon us, and we film fans know what that means: nothing good. The first month of the year is traditionally the dumping ground for Hollywood studios, the month in which they unload the films that aren’t quality enough for the Oscar-courting fall, but not commercial enough for the lucrative holiday, spring, and summer seasons. January is where bad movies go to die, and where studios hope we won’t notice them. They’re usually right; viewers either tend to catch up on the prestige pictures that are going into wider release, or just stay at home and watch football. But our nation’s film critics, fat and happy after the holiday feast of smart, highbrow entertainment, are often subjected to the sugar crash of January dogs, and as a result, their reviews often pack a little bit of extra vitriol. After the jump, we’ve assembled the ten worst movies released in the month of January — according to the reliable aggregators at Rotten Tomatoes — along with a few choice words from the scribes who sat through them.
RELEASE DATE: January 5, 2007
IN BRIEF: Hey, remember Se7en? How’s about another serial killer movie with a numerical title and that number cleverly made a part of said title, but for Christians? That was the idea behind this 2007 release from Fox’s short-lived “FoxFaith” subsidiary, which featured Buffy co-star Marc Blucas as a theology student tracking the “Riddle Killer,” who turns out to be (spoiler!) HIMSELF. And yes, most of the poor souls who sat through Thr3e delighted in pointing out that the script (from premise to title to twist) is astonishingly similar to Donald Kaufman’s screenplay The 3 in Adaptation.
THE CRITICS RAVE: “Suspenselessly directed by Robby Henson, Thr3e commits the eighth deadly sin – boredom” (Lou Lumenick, New York Post); “Ultimately Thr3e, for all its philosophizing, is little more than a standard serial-killer movie with pretensions” (Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter); “Thr3e needs help with more than spelling” (Stephen Hunter, Washington Post)
RELEASE DATE: January 6, 2006
IN BRIEF: And Uwe Boll makes his first appearance on our list. The modern-day Ed Wood’s 2006 adaptation of the 2002 video game featured the filmmaker’s usual assortment of C-listers: Michael Madsen, Billy Zane, Meat Loaf, Terminator 3 babe Kristanna Loken. But the promise of a hefty payday was also enough to lure Sir Ben Kingsley into Boll’s clutches, as villainous “Vampire King Kagan.”
THE CRITICS RAVE: “Who is Uwe Boll and why does he hate moviegoers so? The German hack, the one-man Blitzkrieg of Bad, is the worst filmmaker in the movies today” (Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel); “Just when you thought camp was dead, along comes this bizarre cross between a Tarantino knockoff and a Hammer horror film” (Andrea Gronvall, Chicago Reader); “How fitting that director Uwe Boll (House of the Dead) would choose a vampire flick as his latest project — the man has a career that, despite the horror he continually inflicts on innocent moviegoers, simply will not die” (Elizabeth Weitzmann, New York Daily News).
My Baby’s Daddy
RELEASE DATE: January 9, 2004
IN BRIEF: He’s not this author’s brand of vodka, but there certainly appear to be people who find Eddie Griffin hilariously funny. However, he’s never managed to make the leap to feature film stardom (thanks to dud vehicles like Double Take), and his attempt to put his fate into his own hands by scribbling himself a vehicle resulted in the ill-fated 2004 non-starter My Baby’s Daddy. Co-starring Anthony Anderson, Michael Imperioli, and Method Man, it was the tale of three buddies who are “going from players to playtime,” and the movie itself was about as inventive and hilarious as that tagline.
THE CRITICS RAVE: “A tired send-up of hip-hop-isms that also aspires to be a Waiting to Exhale for men” (David Ng, Village Voice); “The finished product looks like it was thrown together during a lunch break — by a drunk person” (Megan Lehmann, New York Post); “Maybe the title should have been Three Men and a Turkey” (Jay Boyar, Orlando Sentinel).
Down to You
RELEASE DATE: January 21, 2000
IN BRIEF: We made a lot of mistakes, as a civilization, in the 2000s, but we can hold our heads high on one count: we unequivocally rejected the notion of “Freddie Prinze Jr., leading man.” His worst film (no mean feat, that) was 2000’s horrifying romantic comedy Down to You, which paired dull Prinze with Julia Stiles, fresh off the enjoyable 10 Things I Hate About You, and watched them gaze (with “tingles and everything!”), flirt, and lip-sync old school R&B songs at each other.
THE CRITICS RAVE: “Prinze, in particular, looks as if he’d spent the last five hours trying to muster a smile for a photograph he wished would just get taken already” (Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly); “Lamely written and directed” (Lou Lumenick, New York Post); “This is a romantic comedy, so everything turns out fine, and there are scenes that will move you to uncontrollable laughter. But not intentionally” (A.O. Scott, The New York Times).
Code Name: The Cleaner
RELEASE DATE: January 5, 2007
IN BRIEF: Your author enjoyed Cedric the Entertainer’s stand-up specials (and his turn in The Original Kings of Comedy) as much as the next guy, but as a would-be film star, he either had terrible taste, or very few choices. That said, Johnson Family Vacation, Man of the House, and The Honeymooners were comedy classic compared to the ill-advised Code Name: The Cleaner, Cedric’s 2007 spoof of — wait for it — secret agent movies! Fresh idea, no?
THE CRITICS RAVE: “January is usually not the time to expect much high art among new releases, but this is an especially limp star vehicle” (Brian Lowry, Variety); “It is not only pitched at 12-year-olds, it was apparently made by them” (Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune); “Cedric has been stealing scenes from bigger names for nearly a decade; he deserves better than a few amusingly-improvised minutes at the end of his own movie” (Elizabeth Weitzman, New York Daily News).
Meet the Spartans
RELEASE DATE: January 25, 2008
IN BRIEF: Few filmmakers (and we use the term loosely) have done more to keep us out of theaters in January than Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, whose slapdash comedies have, for the past several years, confused quotation with parody and recognition with humor — they operate on the principle that the appearance of a pop culture figure or reference is enough to generate a laugh, rather than the appearance of a joke related to it. Their January 2008 effort, Meet the Spartans, was primarily intended as a spoof of 300, with shots at American Idol, Ugly Betty, Donald Trump, and Paris Hilton thrown in for good measure. Unsurprisingly, it was painfully, tortuously unfunny.
THE CRITICS RAVE: “It’s so bad even Carmen Electra should be embarrassed,” (Adam Graham, Detroit News); “What’s the point of making a parody that’s dumber than the stuff it parodies?” (Gene Seymour, Newsday); “I’m moving to Europe” (Aaron Hillis, Village Voice).
RELEASE DATE: January 26, 2007
IN BRIEF: Friedberg and Seltzer strike again! Their 2007 turkey was the first to dispense with targeted “satire” (as with Date Movie and Scary Movie) and just quote whatever the hell movies/music/YouTube videos they felt like. We could go on, but instead, we direct you to this brilliant summary of the Friedberg/Seltzer filmography, courtesy of the Austin Chronicle’s Josh Rosenblatt: “Writer/directors Friedberg and Seltzer are a scourge. They’re a plague on our cinematic landscape, a national shame, a danger to our culture, a typhoon-sized natural disaster disguised as a filmmaking team, a Hollywood monster wreaking havoc on the minds of America’s youth and setting civilization back thousands of years.” Hear, hear.
THE CRITICS RAVE: “The makers of Epic Movie have just discovered the existence of urine, vomit and pimples, and declared them hilarious” (Kyle Smith, New York Post); “You know a movie parody is in trouble when you can’t quite figure out the frame of reference for the parody” (Peter Howell, Toronto Star); “Bad taste and worse jokes abound. Epic Movie‘s humor isn’t tired; it’s comatose” (James Berardinelli, ReelViews).
Alone in the Dark
RELEASE DATE: January 28, 2005
IN BRIEF: Uwe Boll was just beginning to make his name as one of our worst (yet unaccountably prolific) filmmakers back in 2005, when he released this loose adaptation of the video game series — his specialty (see House of the Dead, In the Name of the King, and the aforementioned BloodRayne). Alone helped establish his bona fides as a true purveyor of dreck; it features not only laughable dialogue and incoherent action, but the uproarious belief that an audience will buy Tara Reid as a scientist.
THE CRITICS RAVE: “When the giant, intelligent bees of the future sift through the ashes of our civilization, they will find Alone in the Dark, and they will understand. It’s so bad it’s postmodern” (Scott Brown, Entertainment Weekly); “The garish editing and stilted, exposition-only dialogue induce the frisson of an America’s Most Wanted re-enactment that pays unexpected, sidesplitting returns” (Benjamin Strong, Village Voice); “Too stupid to watch, too loud to nap through, Alone in the Dark shows just how tenuous Plan Nine From Outer Space‘s hold on that ‘worst movie ever’ title really is” (Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel)
RELEASE DATE: January 1, 2003 (wide)
IN BRIEF: After the inexplicable box-office and critical success of Life is Beautiful, writer/director/star Roberto Benigni spent over 40 million euro on his follow-up, a long-gestating adaptation of the classic children’s tale. No one apparently thought to advise the newly-minted Oscar winner that perhaps he wasn’t the best actor to play the little wooden boy (what with the fact that he was pushing 50 and all); distributor Miramax didn’t help matters any by dubbing the film into English for American release, with such talents as Breckin Meyer, Regis Philbin, and James Belushi providing voice characterizations. The attempt to cater to American families didn’t work; critics blasted the picture, audiences stayed away, and Benigni’s career never recovered (even after his shameless attempt to recapture his Life is Beautiful mojo with the 2005 Iraq War romance, The Tiger and the Snow).
THE CRITICS RAVE: “The idea of 49-year-old Roberto Benigni playing the wooden boy Pinocchio is scary enough. The reality of the new live-action Pinocchio he directed, cowrote and starred in borders on the grotesque.” (John Monaghan, Detroit Free Press); “What can one say about a balding 50-year-old actor playing an innocent boy carved from a log?” (Edward Guthmann, San Francisco Chronicle); “A film substantially lacking in personality, energy, magic and humor” (David Rooney, Variety); “I can’t say this enough: This movie is about an adult male dressed in pink jammies” (Stephen Hunter, Washington Post).
One Missed Call
RELEASE DATE: January 4, 2008
IN BRIEF: The outbreak of American remakes of Japanese “J-horror” movies was one of the most unfortunate cinematic trends of the 2000s, giving us such forgettable efforts as The Grudge, Pulse, The Eye, and Dark Water. But none fared worse than Eric Valette’s 2008 remake of Takashi Miike’s 2003 film, in which Shannyn Sossamon is haunted by a killer cell phone, or something.
THE CRITICS RAVE: “The direction is uninspired, acting is lifeless, and the script borders on the inept. A PG-13 rating means that it’s short on shocks, too” (Richard James Harvis, Hollywood Reporter); “The deadliest call the cast and crew of One Missed Call ever received was the one from their agent telling them that this was the best work available.” (Colvin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune); “To redial applicable catchphrases, this garbled American remake of Takashi Miike’s already staticky 2004 exercise in J-horror is a wrong number” (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly).