In a year of atrocities, these five movies made 2020 all the more unbearable…
5 – THE WRONG MISSY
Poor David Spade… and I really do mean that. Here was a comically gifted SNL veteran who, when he wanted to, could pull off a charming and funny turn every once in a while, but then got far too deep into his buddy Adam Sandler’s pocket that his career soon became defined by low-brow fare like Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, the Grown Ups movies, and his Razzie-winning turn in Jack & Jill as a man in drag getting beaten up by two on-screen Sandlers (yes, really). In 2020, though, even he seemed to finally have enough of Happy Madison’s juvenile sensibilities in a movie that makes the studio’s other 2020 release Hubie Halloween look like Pee-wee’s Big Adventure by comparison.
The Wrong Missy saw a visibly uninterested Spade partner up with the year’s most obnoxious character; a crazy and dangerously unhinged woman played by Lauren Lapkus, who joins Spade on a corporate trip to Hawaii (again, the Happy Madison tradition of using a movie as an excuse to go on luxurious holidays is in full swing here) after he accidentally mistakes her for another woman of the same name. Lapkus is such a grating presence that it’s impossible to see how anyone could ever stand to be around her for more than thirty seconds, and she constantly does terrible and insanely dumb things that would be so much more terrifying if she were of the opposite sex (she carries around a giant Crocodile Dundee knife, frequently gets drunk and causes multiple scenes, and effectively rapes him not once but twice, the first with a non-consensual handjob on a plane, and the second when she’s just riding him while he’s asleep).
This is a different kind of bad Happy Madison movie than Hubie Halloween was, because while that movie was also terrible, it was more like what you’d expect from an Adam Sandler movie by this point. This one, though, is much more in line with That’s My Boy where it’s allowed to be more gross and vulgar than usual because of its more adult rating, and what we get is never funny but kind of disturbing with what it attempts to pass off as humour. The movie goes so far out of its way to deliver the most crass, crude and unnecessarily creepy humour imaginable – did I mention that Missy also hypnotizes someone at one point to make them love everything David Spade does? – that its brainlessness is matched only by its rather sinister intentions, making it a particularly unbearable comedy that nobody in their right mind should find funny.
I sincerely hope that David Spade eventually gets his own Uncut Gems equivalent, because he is so done with this kind of material that a career alteration would be the best thing that ever happened to him…
4 – SONGBIRD
If there was one film that nobody was asking for in 2020, it was an exploitative dystopian thriller set in a future where the COVID virus is not only still around, but has mutated into such a deadly force that the whole world (or at least, we assume so since we never venture outside Los Angeles) is still stuck in lockdown. However, despite not a single soul claiming to be hungry for such tasteless entertainment, producer Michael Bay waved his explosive wand and made Songbird a reality – and how did it fare with everyone? Well, it’s in the top five of this list, so how do you think it went over?
While Bay didn’t direct this one, his obnoxious style is stained all over it, with actual director Adam Mason leaning heavily into a lot of Bay’s least attractive tropes – ugly colour schemes, over-the-top characters, lame frat-boy humour, needlessly sexualised women – but doing them in far worse and more soulless capacities, especially as it plays deeply on existing fears about the current COVID-19 virus that feel rather gross. This is the kind of movie that opens with right-wing YouTube commentators spouting vast conspiracy theories about the virus and the government’s response to it, which feels apt because this feels like the kind of fear-mongering propaganda that those sort of people would point to as a “reliable” source of information when it comes to the long-term dangers of the virus, and to have it readily accessible for nervous audiences either at home or on limited cinema screens, let alone making it in the first place during the year’s first major lockdown, seems deeply irresponsible on the filmmakers’ part.
Even if it wasn’t so dependent on the COVID climate it was cynically designed to cash in on, Songbird is still a pretty terrible movie in nearly every other department. The filmmaking is cheap, rushed and often headache-inducing (no thanks to some of the year’s worst editing), while the surprising plethora of recognisable actors – Bradley Whitford! Demi Moore! Alexandra Daddario! Peter Stormare! All and more showing up to embarrass themselves on-screen – give creaky turns that add nothing to their already paper-thin characters. It’s easy to see why they’d sign on to do this film – because if you were a Hollywood actor stuck at home in Beverly Hills, bored and without many options for work, you’d agree to appear in just about anything – but even for a quick and easy gig these actors appear to be treating this material with the same levels of contempt and unease that the viewing audience has. After all, nobody wanted to see a film like this be made in the middle on an ongoing pandemic, with most people already unnerved enough about the virus as it is, so it almost makes sense that almost no-one in this cast seems to really care that much for it either.
If you want a good laugh at some poorly-made COVID-sploitation from this year, watch Corona Zombies or Angry Asian Murder Hornets instead (and yes, those are real titles of real movies). Watch this, and you’ll come out more depressed than you were going in….
3 – THE LAST DAYS OF AMERICAN CRIME
As if this slog of a Netflix action vehicle wasn’t bad enough, it had to come out right around the same time as the Black Lives Matter protests began around the world in response to George Floyd’s death during an arrest. Needless to say, the world wasn’t exactly craving a film about a police state America on the verge of having its free will taken away, which might explain why the film still sits at a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
However, once you look past the bad timing, there’s plenty of good reasons why this is a solid 0%. Director Olivier Megaton, who by this point should just throw in the towel on his action movie career – for a guy whose very name sounds like it was meant for directing big explosions, he’s pretty bad at what he does – has made the year’s dullest, nastiest and most misguided action movie, full of over-complicated ideas and characters with absolutely zero personality. For two-and-a-half hours – which is the only reason why Songbird doesn’t rank higher than this; at least that one was around 90 minutes long – Megaton and writer Karl Gajdusek whack you over the head with mindless and barely coherent action scenes, so much that by the time it gets to its third or fourth car chase, shoot-out or fist-fight, you’re left feeling both numb and bored, particularly when none of the performances seem to inject any life whatsoever into these empty shells of characters (Édgar Ramírez has never been this bland, and he was in that awful Point Break remake).
Despite its criminally overlong running time, it has absolutely nothing to say about anything, not even with its blatant attempt at social commentary concerning authoritarian governments and the ultra-violent measures that criminals use to get what they want. It’s an exploitative, ugly and unnervingly trigger-happy mess, which the unfortunate timing only made so much more uncomfortable with its police-sympathising (and ultimately pointless) sub-plot with Sharlto Copley as a cop going about his business, even showing an officer restraining someone in a chokehold which, in the immediate aftermath of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and several other black civilians in the hands of police this year alone, feels especially sickening.
It was the wrong movie at the wrong time, but even if it were held back until things had calmed down, you’d still be left with a pretty despicable action flick…
2 – ARTEMIS FOWL
To call Kenneth Branagh’s disastrous adaptation of the popular Artemis Fowl book series by Eoin Colfer the 2020 equivalent of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender feels like an understatement, but there is no better way to describe the infinite levels of how much they screwed up bringing this story to the big screen (or the small screen, seeing how it was wisely plopped onto Disney+ in response to cinemas everywhere shutting down this year).
Even as someone who never read the books, this movie felt like a personal insult. In what is easily Branagh’s worst film to date as a filmmaker (he couldn’t even release his other 2020 film Death on the Nile this year just to offset this one’s awfulness), there is so much unnaturally-delivered exposition being dumped on us about how this world of fairies, dwarves and supposedly bright young criminal masterminds works, that it leaves no room left for vital ingredients such as characterisation, structure (it frequently jumps back and forth from a framing device blatantly added in reshoots so that Josh Gad could get more screen time) and anything to make us care. It’s handled so half-heartedly, with some pretty bad performances where almost nobody seems to actually care about what they’re talking about, and a slew of laughably bad visual effects which its shockingly high $125 million budget apparently could not afford to make the least bit impressive.
Much like Dolittle, this is one of those big-budget movies where you can just see the studio thumbprints all over the frame, but whereas Dolittle at least had some level of ambition going in, this is pure cynical garbage, made only to capitalise on the decreasing trend of YA movie adaptations that are wildly inferior to the actual source material (and again, this comes from someone who never read the books, and just assumes that they’re so much better than this movie suggests). Even if you aren’t familiar with the books, you can spot exactly where Disney stepped in to make their project more family-friendly, only to ruin everything that the original book was trying to accomplish in the first place. It’s honestly why I wasn’t so mad with the studio’s other big streaming release Mulan, because while it had its problems, at least it felt like an actual movie, made by people who had some drive behind it, and had as much creative support from the studio as it possibly could (probably because it was working with one of its own delicate properties). Artemis Fowl, on the other hand, feels through and through like an obligation movie, which Branagh only made because he had previously collaborated with Disney on Cinderella and they asked a pretty big favour of him, to take this long-gestating project that had been in development for a number of years and just get it out of their system. Unfortunately, not even a grandiose filmmaker like Branagh could save an adaptation that nobody could appreciate, regardless of whether they’ve read the books or not.
It will be interesting to see if, in another ten years’ time, we’ll get another major adaptation as bad as both The Last Airbender and Artemis Fowl – I am currently taking bets on it being a Fan4stic-style moody take on PAW Patrol…
1 – CATS & DOGS 3: PAWS UNITE!
Needless to say, 2020 has seen a lot of changes for the movie industry. As cinemas across the world temporarily closed down to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, many films once scheduled for a theatrical release found a new home on streaming services or on-demand, so that they may be seen by the masses from the comfort of their own home. As you will probably have seen by now, a lot of films on this list were indeed ones that came out via Netflix, Disney+, or available to digitally rent or buy, reflecting the vast changes made in light of this year’s unprecedented circumstances.
It should come as a slight surprise, then, that my pick for the Worst Film of 2020 was indeed a theatrical release – but the thing is, it never should have been. I don’t just say that because the movie is all kinds of awful, but also because it was literally meant to only be seen on the small screen. No joke, this was originally intended to be a direct-to-video release that the UK arm of Warner Bros decided, as a means to put someone out amidst the barren wastelands of cinema distribution, to put on the types of big screens meant for their far superior products Tenet and Bill & Ted Face The Music. Did it work? Unfortunately, yes, because until cinemas shut once again in November it frequently showed up on the higher end of UK box office charts. This all but guarantees that audiences are so desperate for new content that they’ll willingly go and see anything new, even if it means shelling out for tickets to Cats & Dogs 3: Paws Unite, a movie so bad that I’m not even going to give it the satisfaction of including its obnoxious exclamation mark in the title from here on out.
An in-name-only sequel to the hit 2001 family comedy Cats & Dogs (and, to a lesser extent, its little-seen 2010 sequel The Revenge of Kitty Galore), to say that this movie is devoid of any sense of intelligence or effort would be to undermine how dumb and incompetent it is, on far more insulting levels than even the likes of Artemis Fowl or The Wrong Missy. It really says something about the film’s lowest common denominator type of humour when the secret organisation that the two main cat and dog secret agents are working for is called Furry Animals Rivalry Termination (get it? And in case you don’t, they remind you of it every other scene), but amazingly it manages to get even worse than that with constant poop and pee jokes designed for only the under-five crowd to giggle at. Even they deserve better than this, with a plot that has fewer stakes than a hard-to-catch vampire, performances where you can tell the actors did not want to be on set or in the recording booth for this movie (New Girl’s Max Greenfield and The Big Bang Theory’s Melissa Rauch, as the voices of the two lead animals, have absolutely zero investment in this material), and some seriously horrifying effects that are so bad that they almost make Show Dogs look like Babe (key word: almost). We’re talking about CGI mouths that look wildly tacky, blatantly fake paws being operated by unseen crew members off-camera, and at one point for no good reason there is a cat’s head which is entirely computer-generated while the rest of its body is normal; the kind of effects that you would expect to find in a direct-to-video movie, but not something that’s being shown on the big screen.
That’s really where the line is drawn with this movie, the simple fact that somebody thought it was a good idea to show this lazy, unambitious and painfully juvenile film on a big screen. Yes, 2020 has seen a scramble for big-screen content, but THIS was their best option? A sequel that I’m not entirely sure was even intended to be a Cats & Dogs movie to begin with, with only lines clearly added during post-production attempting to fill those gaps? I refuse to believe that someone at Warner Bros actually saw the film before okaying it for big-screen distribution, because I can guarantee that if someone actually watched it, they’d recognise almost right away that this has no business belonging on the big screen, even in a situation where there aren’t many other options to choose from.
Even if it was simply direct-to-video, like it always should have been, the movie would still have been an absolute pile of mixed-up cat and dog faecal matter, but it’s the sheer arrogance or raging ignorance (pick one) of those in power who should have known better than to release a DOA film like this into a cinema, during a time when the exhibition industry is struggling to survive, that makes it the most detestable film in a year that in and of itself has been detestable…