A decade under the influence of terrible movies

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I started reviewing movies for the Reader a little over ten years ago, and in that time I've published 3,664 capsules. So when our digital editor announced this would be "Turkey Week" on the Bleader, I decided to compile my old reviews for the ten biggest turkeys I've seen during that time. Brace yourself; as George Carlin once observed of his Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television, "They must be reeeeeeally bad to be separated from a group that large!"

I suppose I should have written something new about each movie, but just thinking about them again was depressing enough. If you divide the figure above over ten years, that means I've watched at least a movie a day, most of them mediocre if not downright bad. I'll have more to write about that later, after I swallow this bottle of Seconal, drain this bottle of red wine, and break for a little catnap.

Following in alphabetical order are the top ten—or bottom ten, I guess—plus links to some runners-up. You may think you've had more than enough turkey after reading the ten. But after loosening your belt and walking around a bit, you may decide you want a sandwich later.

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Doctor Benny (2003) Highland Park native Nolan H. Lebovitz wrote, produced, and directed this incredibly cheesy sex comedy as a thesis film at the University of Southern California. A handsome young gynecologist (Timothy Dowling) garners a reputation for bringing patients to orgasm during examinations. But get this: he's still a virgin. Hoping to learn the art of seduction, he enrolls in a course led by a sex guru (Josh Holloway, who provides most of the scarce laughs). There's a prolonged meet-cute between the doctor and his pretty young assistant (Jennifer Jostyn) but it's soiled by the misfiring sex gags—including a recurrent vagina's-eye view of the mugging doctor as he tends to his patients, backed by Mark Binder's horrendous pop-rock score.

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Eight Crazy Nights (2002) A holiday film for the whole family, provided the whole family is obsessed with human waste. Working overtime to dispel whatever respect he earned from Punch-Drunk Love, Adam Sandler wrote, produced, and provided the principal voices for this noxious animated cartoon about a small-town party animal who's sentenced to do community service as assistant referee for a junior basketball team. The film's humor is epitomized by a scene in which the main referee is doused with the contents of a portable toilet, his young charge sprays him with water, and the sewage freezes to his body; its heart is epitomized by a scene in a deserted shopping mall where the mascots for various national chain stores come to life and tell the hero that it's OK to cry. Sandler must have thought a cartoon would let him get away with gags even more scatological than the ones he writes for his live-action features. Instead it makes his narrative formula (bad-boy hero, beautiful love interest with lonely son, etc) even more transparent.

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The Hills Have Eyes (2006) Producer Wes Craven remakes his 1977 low-budget shocker about a family terrorized by cannibalistic mutants in the New Mexico desert, handing over the director’s chores to French gore hound Alexandre Aja (High Tension). The original premise, that the predators were irradiated during government H-bomb tests, is even more ridiculous now that the action takes place four decades after the nuclear test ban treaty, though a bigger makeup budget allows the filmmakers to create a clan in which even the little girls look like Rondo Hatton. Some may condemn this gruesome, heartless exercise, but I prefer to savor the irony: three years after the Francophobia that accompanied Operation Iraqi Freedom, every bonehead in America will be lining up to see a Frenchman’s movie about subhuman hillbillies.

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I Hate Valentine's Day (2009) A nauseating, stridently phony rom-com from writer-director-star Nia Vardalos, who hit the bigtime with My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) and labors to duplicate it here. She plays a Brooklyn flower merchant who's decided that no love relationship should last longer than five dates; John Corbett, who costarred in Greek Wedding, is the dreamy restaurateur who tests her resolve. Everything about the movie seems designed to gratify thumb-sucking single women: the heroine's gruff but lovable boss (Mike Starr), her quip-spewing gay assistants (Stephen Guarino, Amir Arison), her pointedly zany friends at a local deli (Rachel Dratch, Judah Friedlander, Jason Mantzoukas), and especially Corbett's elaborately staged PDA at the climax. But what really nudges this into pukeville is Vardalos's cutesy, self-adoring performance. This is a valentine, all right, but not for you or me.

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Land of the Lost (2009) When you’re reviewing a Will Ferrell comedy that involves a dinosaur’s giant turd, you know the capsule’s pretty much going to write itself. In this gigantic chunk of scat from Universal Pictures and director Brad Silberling, Ferrell plays a scorned scientist who hopes to revive his reputation with a time-travel machine; accompanied by cheeky Anna Friel and mangy Danny McBride, he journeys to an alternate reality populated by dinosaurs, apelike creatures with severe dental problems, and a master race of trudging, goggle-eyed lizard men. The 70s TV series Land of the Lost was the last hit for Saturday-morning moguls Sid and Marty Krofft, who were still around to produce this feature and are now threatening to revive H.R. Pufnstuff and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters for the big screen. They must be stopped. PG-13, 101 min.

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The Life of David Gale (2009) A new low for director Alan Parker, this trite mystery thriller does for capital punishment what his Mississippi Burning did for civil rights: with its muddled message, liberal piety, and slick Hollywood plot mechanics, the film trivializes the pain of real people who’ve seen loved ones murdered or executed. Kevin Spacey plays Gale, a Texas philosophy professor and ardent opponent of the death penalty who’s sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a fellow activist (Laura Linney). As in the old Jimmy Stewart picture Call Northside 777, a cynical reporter (Kate Winslet) does a story on Gale and begins to question his guilt as his final hour approaches. I’m tempted to give away the “shocker” ending out of spite; suffice it to say that Parker discredits both the death penalty and its critics, leaving death itself the only clear winner.

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Love Ranch (2010) Joe Pesci ended a 12-year retirement from the screen (excepting his brief turn in Robert De Niro’s The Good Shepherd) to star in this miserable drama, set in the 1970s, about a legal brothel in Nevada. He and Helen Mirren are the married couple who own the place, and the fissures in their relationship—caused mainly by his dalliances with the working girls—are exacerbated when he buys the contract of an Argentinean boxer and the young man takes a shine to Mirren. Director Taylor Hackford (Ray) seems to be aiming for a big Boogie Nights social canvas, though the movie’s risible prize-fight sequence is more reminiscent of the later Rocky sequels.

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Play the Game (2009) A cynical ladies' man (Paul Campbell) teaches his courtly but naive grandfather (Andy Griffith) how to score with women in his retirement community, but the younger man can't seem to get any traction himself when he meets the woman of his dreams (Marla Sokoloff). Written and directed by Northwestern University alumnus Marc Fienberg, this comedy is a bilge pump of tacky jokes, fake sentiment, and hollow performances, accompanied on the soundtrack by lite rock and hokey music cues. It should never have been made, though it's probably guaranteed a long life at bad-film festivals for its prolonged close-up of Griffith's face as he gets his first blowjob. Aunt Bee would certainly not approve.

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SuperBabies: Baby Geniuses 2 (2004) Director Bob Clark (Porky’s), who died in 2007, must have been the kind of guy who finished other people’s drinks at a party: his 1999 comedy Baby Geniuses appropriated the wisecracking-baby gimmick already exhausted by the Look Who's Talking series, and this excruciating sequel tries to squeeze a few more bucks from the Spy Kids espionage formula. The hero, a seven-year-old secret agent backed up by a quartet of snarky toddlers, battles a German media baron (Jon Voight) who wants to hypnotize the populace through his cable-TV channel. The original film played for six months but earned only $27 million, which suggests how starved suburban theaters must be for matinee product.

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Untraceable (2008) FBI cyber-crime specialist Diane Lane tracks a diabolical serial killer who offers streaming video of his kidnapped victims on his website; each of them is rigged up to some Rube Goldberg torture device, and every new hit on the site incrementally raises his pain level. By now the hypocrisy of simultaneously condemning and exploiting the audience’s sadism has become so commonplace in American movies it hardly seems noteworthy. Sure enough, when I typed the name of the site—KillWithMe.com—into my browser, Sony Pictures Entertainment had created a facsimile of it to promote the movie. Pardon me while I vomit: ):>O%%%%.

Runners-up: The Adventures of Pluto Nash, The Back-up Plan, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, Boat Trip, Broken Bridges, Darkness Falls, Detention, Feardotcom, How Much Do You Love Me?, Killer Elite, Mercy, Miss March, New Year's Eve, Paper Heart, Rambo, The Real Cancun, Spun, The Trip, Young @ Heart, Your Highness.

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