Top 10 time, and we’re beginning with…
10 – PLAYMOBIL: THE MOVIE
The German toy line Playmobil was always seen as a lesser-version of LEGO, so it only made sense that Playmobil: The Movie would end up being a much less enjoyable outing than The LEGO Movie, but beyond even that the film falls flat in almost every other category.
It is a soulless and cynical attempt to ape that movie’s success, and steals so much from not just The LEGO Movie but also other films like Finding Nemo and Frozen that it fails to acquire an identity of its own, with jokes that only the youngest of audience members would find amusing at best. Even with very young children in mind, the movie does nothing to stimulate their senses or provide decent viewing that could help them grow; instead, it’s all a bunch of wild nonsense loosely strung together by bland characters, second-rate humour, and some very cringey musical numbers (because sometimes it’s a musical, just like sometimes it’s an action-adventure comedy or sometimes a spy thriller with Daniel Radcliffe’s secret agent character).
Naturally, the movie did not make enough money to even compete with The LEGO Movie, nor did it strike a similar chord with critics. However, that’s nothing compared to how it fared overseas; as of writing, the film has completely bombed on its opening weekend in the US, not even cracking the top 10 with an utterly dismal $660,000, making it one of the worst wide openings for a film in box office history. The movie was already bad when it opened over here back in August, but such a terrible opening – and keep in mind, Jem and the Holograms made more money on its opening weekend than this did – means that the people have spoken, and a film version of Playmobil was a complete waste of time.
It will even have you looking back fondly on The LEGO Ninjago Movie, which to date is still the weakest in the LEGO movie franchise but is still far more enjoyable than this…
9 – THE DEAD DON’T DIE
After making the best list three years ago with his calm and meditative piece Paterson, Jim Jarmusch returns with a movie that has also made our list – but not for the right reasons.
The Dead Don’t Die was supposedly Jarmusch’s deconstruction of the zombie movie, which he confessed in interviews he was not all that fond of, but instead of saying something profound or even provocative he instead went for a dry-as-hell comedy where the jokes, social commentary, and even the performances from a pretty outstanding ensemble cast were about as lifeless and brain-dead as the zombies themselves. It made for a sluggish and rather pretentious experience, with Jarmusch whacking us over the head with obvious messages about capitalism and consumerism (which zombie legend George A. Romero already did with Dawn of the Dead) all while, unlike 2019’s much more lively zombie flicks Little Monsters and Zombieland: Double Tap, playing it completely straight, making it even more frustrating to sit through.
The cast, from Jarmusch regulars like Adam Driver, Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton, to fresher faces like Selena Gomez, Caleb Landry Jones and Austin Butler, to industry vets like Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover and Tom Waits, are mostly just wasted in parts that require them to do next to nothing until the zombies finally show up halfway through, except deliver lines in monotonous speaking patterns, as awkwardly written and directed by Jarmusch himself. How a movie could take what is a very well assembled cast, and a filmmaker who’s proven to be far more provocative and lyrical with his craft, and just have them make such a lifeless, annoyingly self-referential (characters in the movie comment on Sturgill Simpson’s title track multiple times, and even seem to know they are characters in a movie) and completely testing zombie movie, is beyond a mystery.
It’s a must-skip for any lovers of zombie movies, or even any fans of Jarmusch’s work in the past, because it gives you neither of what you’re hoping for…
8 – HORRIBLE HISTORIES: THE MOVIE – ROTTEN ROMANS
Under the right creative team, a film version of Terry Deary’s long-running series of Horrible Histories books could genuinely have worked. Unfortunately, that creative team – specifically the one behind the much-beloved CBBC sketch show version of the books – wasn’t available for this film, based on Deary’s Rotten Romans entry, and it really, really shows.
It lacks the sharp wit and genuine sophistication that both Deary’s books and that TV show effortlessly conveyed, instead relying way too heavily on juvenile fart and bodily function jokes which instantly negate any attempts by the film to be genuinely educational. The moment that a cameoing Derek Jacobi shows up to vomit onto someone’s feet, or when the film stops dead for a full minute so that Sanjeev Bhaskar can urinate into a pot, any hopes of this movie actually bringing something worthwhile to children’s education about history goes flying out the window, and it’s a sorely missed opportunity to win over some budding young history fans.
Many of the surprisingly high-profile actors like Nick Frost, Craig Roberts and Kim Cattrall look like they’d rather be anywhere else than acting in this, while the flat and awkward direction ensures that many of the jokes fall flat before they can even touch the ground. Worse still, the film tries incorporating musical numbers in between scenes as the sketch show did, but they are not only awful but legitimately embarrassing; it’s easy to imagine Craig Roberts cringing in between takes while he raps as Emperor Nero, because these are such bottom-of-the-barrel lyrics he’s been given to sing. Again, you can tell that the original series’ writers had very little participation in this film, because anything that made the series work is entirely absent here.
If you want something from those people in the same vein as the Horrible Histories show, just watch Bill; it’s far funnier and well-crafted than this rotten movie…
7 – THE KITCHEN
In a year full of crushing disappointments, The Kitchen stands as one of the biggest wastes of potential. The set-up was intriguing – a group of women take over the mob – it had a strong 70s soundtrack, and the cast was solid, with great actors like Melissa McCarthy and Elisabeth Moss all on board, but writer-director Andrea Berloff took advantage of none of that arsenal and instead delivered something that was just, well, arse.
This was a film made up entirely of inconsistent plotting, thinly-defined characters, an inane script made up entirely of cynical statements of woman empowerment, and so many scenes of the lead women walking on pavements to a point where it should have been given its own acting credit. Berloff made her directorial debut on this film, and her limited expertise behind the camera is really apparent as she continuously struggles to hold her scenes together, all in vain because the script is so in need of at least an extra writer to spice up that it easily comes apart at the seams.
Despite the strong cast, all of them are either wasted entirely or given such banal lines of dialogue to utter in front of the camera. Great actors like McCarthy, Moss and Domhnall Gleeson are doing what they can to salvage their parts but are constantly let down by Berloff’s direction which doesn’t allow them any room to develop their characters. Not even some of the more out-there casting decisions, such as Tiffany Haddish in a rare non-comedic role, ended up working because, again, the character is so ill-defined that anyone could have been cast in the part and the outcome would have been the same.
Even when the ingredients for a good movie are right there, it’s still possible to screw it up beyond repair, and The Kitchen proves that beyond a doubt…
6 – STARDOG AND TURBOCAT
In a year of superhero team-ups and unique takes on origin stories, absolutely nobody was asking for a dog and cat team-up, but we got one anyway with this DOA, awkward and incredibly cheap animated flick.
It’s a movie designed for young children, but that doesn’t mean you can just throw anything at them and expect them to enjoy it. You have to have heart, a gripping story, some fun characters, cool action, funny jokes, something to keep them entertained, and this movie has none of that. It’s a lazy script where nothing in this world makes any kind of logical sense, the inhabitants – or what few there are, seeing as how there’s so few people in this rather large town that you’d think it takes place after Thanos snaps his fingers – are cardboard cutouts of cardboard cutouts, and the pacing is so off that it has absolutely no comedic timing whatsoever.
Even the animation, the one saving grace of most bad animated films, feels off, as it’s like watching an extended cut scene from a video game half the time, which would explain why there’s so few people living in this town or why there doesn’t seem to be anything beyond the horizon. You can just feel the corners being cut with this animation, which is so lazy that it defies description. So instead, I’ll just say that this was a rather testing experience, because nothing was grabbing my attention, I was more annoyed than invested, and I just wanted the thing to be over (which the overly-long climax made even harder to stomach).
Funnily enough, it’s not even the worst animated film of the year. You’ll see which one ended up with that distinction soon enough…