23 January 2015

The Worst Weekend Ever: Mortdecai, The Boy Next Door, and Strange Magic duke it out

I wanted to post some variant on our "Road to a Blockbuster" series that examines the critical, commercial, and cultural potential of every big movie coming out. Needless to say, there are many non-blockbuster films that create a lot of waves in these regards that are harder to predict. Then there are weekends like this which leave us in befuddlement. January is a typical dumping ground for the worst Hollywood has to offer, typically serving as no more than a "contractual obligatory release" month for a lot of properties. There are however, plenty of exceptions, especially this year, from small Oscar contenders getting larger releases to the Taken franchise doin' its thang.

This weekend isn't an exception to that rare, but growing more common, January upswing. This is what January is all about. Total, total shit. We have a legendary trio of films landing this weekend that seek to set a new standard in cinematic insanity. What's really nuts is that all three of these films look absolutely terrible, but they're all very different genres. One is a screwball comedy throwback (those never work, seriously), another is a psychosexual thriller, and the last is an animated fairy tale musical from George Lucas. That's something I thought I would never write.
Doing for moustaches what he once did for scissors.

So let's start at the top, which is probably the most high profile release this weekend, David Koepp's Mortdecai (2015), which is ostensibly an A-list ensemble comedy that has rubbed just about everyone the wrong way for its presumed franchise importance. There is this weird vibe from this flick that seems to want to be something that everyone already knows and is comfortable with, which is laudable, in a way. There's this "Hey it's your old buddy, Mortdecai!" kind of attitude, which is also totally off-putting because no one should be friends with Mortdecai. He's a bit of a cad. Or a #PartTimeRogue, as their Twitter handle puts it.

And what is up with that Twitter, by the way? Suddenly, this Mortdecai guy is co-opting every popular brand in an extremely overt vain attempt at self-promotion. Some of it is organic...in its own way. It's at least steeped in character. Even if that character is shallow, unfunny, and unwanted. It's this strange occurrence in social media where we're supposed to unironically follow and enjoy the jokes from this fictional character. It'd be a little more successful if every single tweet wasn't linked to self-promotion. Just let the handle freely make interesting comments on the world at large without ending everything with "See me in theaters January 23rd!" I mean, I guess it worked, I'm talking about it, but it's so obnoxious.

As far as screwball comedies go, it's always compelling to me that directors keep trying this genre. It hasn't really had mainstream popularity since the 30's. I think there is some sense that it ups the prestige of a picture and sometimes it works really well when it's modernized - look no further than The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), which  has shade of the genre coated in a modern minimalist style that mixes with its retro sensibilities and saved by gorgeous production design. Or take Intolerable Cruelty (2003), which is a fine enough film, just one that was completely ignored upon release. George Clooney in particular seems to dig this genre, bringing it back whenever possible despite it never gaining traction.

By all accounts Mortdecai, despite all its star appeal and 20,000 Twitter followers, will crash and burn this weekend. It's just so extremely stupid. A new Johnny Depp movie has inevitably brought up the fact that his career as of late has taken a bit of a turn for the shitty. He's devolved into a big budget cartoon character, choosing wonky over daring. It's not like he really does an awful job at these kinds of roles, but that extreme amount of goofiness in a short time span wears on you.
Did J.Lo write a song to go along with this movie?

Up next we have The Boy Next Door (2015), which looks awesomely, awesomely bad. The premise alone is insane, that J.Lo for some reason starts banging an impossible 19-year old High Schooler who lives next door and then is also in her class and then also starts going insane and stalking her and stuff. It's this ultimate twisted cougar fantasy. If early reviews are any indication, it's also totally terrible, which is thrilling.

How does this ever get made? It's kind of an interesting premise, and there's a lot of those kinds of thrillers out there, but who ever thought this combination of actors, plot, and direction would create a good product? The more likely answer, and I don't know why anyone ever places this concept as an explanation for the existence of bad movies, is that it's likely that no one involved in the production gave a shit. It's okay for people to phone it in once in a while. Not only that, but it's clear that everyone heard the idea coming down the pipe, stopped trying, and got paid anyway.

Lastly is probably the weirdest of the lot. Strange Magic (2015). This is somehow an animated fairy tale fantasy, which should be enough to sell a picture, right? But it's also full of pop songs, which gives it a Moulin Rouge (2001) feel, apparently. This is just an impossible creation in my mind. At to that the "from the mind of George Lucas" appeal and you get...I have no idea what you get. Evidently, Lucas has been working on this for some time, and really believes in it. This of course proves that George Lucas really is an insane person.
Oh no!

Seriously, was he editing Revenge of the Sith (2005) and just fantasizing about Strange Magic? Look at how this guy talks about this movie. This is a man who shaped the childhood of every nerdy kid in the country, and even some of the squares, too. And he throws his entire weight into Strange Magic? It's got the vaguest title in the history of animated musical fairy tales and looks completely bland and uninteresting. Oh yeah, Lucas. In forgot.

All three of these films have the potential to be the worst movie of the year or at least the weirdest. With that is of course also the ability for each to become notorious campy cult hits. It's all 2015's Winter's Tale (2014), which constantly and aggressively makes no sense at all. I for one, am looking forward for the sheer insanity Hollywood is unleashing upon our nation this weekend. In an age where everything seems to be franchised and there supposedly isn't an original idea to be found, isn't it nice to see that the studios can still produce wholly original crap as well?

Which of these disasters are you seeing this weekend?

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