Total Recoil: These are the worst movies of 2012

'Come Out and Play'

From ‘Battleship’ to ‘This Means War,’ the year’s biggest cinematic stinkers

With all the fawning end-of-the-year kudos currently circulating, it’s easy to forget that a sizable number of actual bad movies came out in 2012. Well, consider this a refresher.

From failed blockbuster tentpoles (“Battleship”) to would-be hilarious comedies (“The Watch”) to lame scare-challenged horror flicks (“The Apparition”) to…uh, well, pretty much anything involving Tyler Perry, there’s no doubt that the last 366 days have come with a heaping helping of truly heinous cinematic stinkers.

So what better time for an accounting of the year’s most outrageous big-screen abominations than on the eve of the coming apocalypse? You’re gonna have to make peace with the end of the world somehow – might as well do it by reminding yourself of just how bad things can get at the local multiplex.

Check out our selections for the 20 worst movies of 2012 in the gallery below, then share some of your own picks in the comments.

20. ‘People Like Us’
There was a huge, cavernous hole in Alex Kurtzman’s directorial debut. The story centers on Sam (Chris Pine) a scheming New York businessman who returns to LA after the death of his father. He soon discovers that he has a down on her luck sister, Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), and an 11-year-old nephew Josh (Michael Hall D’Addario) that he never knew about. His father left him nothing in the will. Instead, he left instructions that Sam give $150,000 to his grandson Josh (instructions only Sam knows about). (Confused? Trust us, it gets worse…) Sam’s conflict is that this is money he could desperately use for himself. It would be one thing for Sam to keep the money after meeting both Frankie and Sam (after basically stalking them), but he doesn’t tell him who he is – for no apparent reason. In fact, he keeps it a secret for days and weeks in the movie’s timeline. If he wasn’t sure whether to give the money that’s one thing, but that shouldn’t stop him from revealing he’s related to this people he’s becoming “friends” with. It’s such a false suspension of disbelief that the entire film falters on its already flimsy premise.
– Gregory Ellwood

19. ‘This Must Be the Place’
Sure, if I told you that there was a movie where Sean Penn plays Robert Smith from The Cure after a head injury rendered him unable to care for himself, and he decides to team up with Judd Hirsch to go Nazi hunting in a surreal road trip across the American West, you might say, “Well, where can I see that and how soon can it happen?” and I wouldn’t blame you one bit. This is the bad version. And oh, boy, it’s that special kind of bad that comes from fearlessness, where someone confidently walks off the side of a building 90 stories up. There’s not even a hint that anyone involved ever had that 3:00 AM moment of doubt where they thought “Maybe this isn’t the best idea for a movie we’ve ever had.”
– Drew McWeeny

18. ‘The Oranges’
How do you cast Catherine Keener, Allison Janney, Hugh Laurie and Oliver Platt in one film and still have it turn out to be unwatchable? I don’t know, but “The Oranges” does. This witless New Jersey-set farce about warring families took over a year to reach theatres after tanking at Toronto in 2011, and it’s not hard to see why: there’s dark promise in the story of a middle-aged dad (Laurie) taking up with the college-age daughter (Leighton Meester) of his neighbours and best friends, but the facile, asexual treatment here resembles a particularly awkward episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond” more than the “American Beauty” clone it aspires to be.

– Guy Lodge

17. ‘Come Out and Play’
I can’t even be pithy about this one this week.  I saw it at Toronto, and it played again at Fantastic Fest and the AFI Fest, and I’m sure at some point, it’ll play a theater or a Netflix or a Redbox near you.  It’s a remake of a Spanish film called “Who Can Kill A Child?” and it hinges on the notion of an island where all the kids have been gripped by a collective madness, where they have killed everyone, and where anyone who arrives on the island is going to be hunted and killed by these kids.  And the reason they’re so effective is because no one who comes to the island would ever immediately want to harm the kids.  They’re just kids.  They don’t look like monsters.  They don’t suddenly get magic powers and they’re not possessed.  They’re just children, and they’re totally disarming until it’s too late.  The original isn’t a great movie, but it’s got some effective moments.  “Come Out And Play” is a note for note remake, except the few moments that it does not do again were actually some of the better moments in the original.  It’s stunningly slavish, except in a few notably bad ways.  That takes a special skill set, and the who-gives-a-crap-about-your-secret-identity-one-named Makinov, who wrote and directed the remake, seems to me to be an entirely mediocre mimic in a mask, and nothing more.

– Drew McWeeny

16. ‘Total Recall’
Many sci-fi fans were worried that Len Wiseman’s remake of “Total Recall” would spoil fond memories of Paul Verhoven’s 1990 genre favorite. In the end, they needn’t have been concerned. Yes, the new “Total Recall” is dreadful, but it’s so unexpectedly dull that nothing in the remake is likely to take up even an iota of memory space. Colin Farrell is pretty, but dull. Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale are pretty, but dull. And it’s all dull despite (and because of) Wiseman’s trademark chop-everything-to-bits directing style that relegates some truly fine production design to the poorly lit, poorly framed, poorly edited scrapheap. Futuristic action movies shouldn’t double as sedatives, but this one does.

– Dan Fienberg

15. ‘This Means War’
If nothing else, this cacophonous action-romcom – is there a genre with a lower strike rate of success? – proves that you can’t simply throw immensely talented, charismatic stars (and Chris Pine) into one shot and immediately expect sparks to fly. We may love Tom Hardy and Reese Witherspoon for different reasons, but they make as much sense together on screen as Miley Cyrus and Max von Sydow. Not that McG’s aggressively stupid contraption, about two CIA agents who apparently have nothing better to do with the US government’s time and resources than expensively compete for Witherspoon’s affections, gives anyone a chance. Further points subtracted for sexism, xenophobia and Chelsea Handler.

– Guy Lodge

14. ‘360’
British writer Peter Morgan (“The Queen,” “Frost/Nixon”) is generally on sure-footed, award-winning ground with biographical material, but he doesn’t appear to have cracked the art of fiction. On the heels of the laughable New Age gunk of “Hereafter” comes this abysmal update of “La Ronde,” and if he’s going down, he’s dragging the formerly dynamic Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles (“City of God”) down with him. Rachel Weisz, Jude Law and Anthony Hopkins are among the accomplished actors grimly trudging through this drab daisy-chain of tangentially related mini-narratives – supposedly all concerned with sexuality, but exuding all the carnal fire of a GlycoLax ad.

– Guy Lodge

13. ‘Nature Calls’
Sometimes, you try real hard, and it just doesn’t work. Johnny Knoxville and Patton Oswalt probably thought it would be cool to work with Todd Rohal, and why not? He’s an intriguing indie voice, a guy who has done some interesting things, and both Knoxville and Oswalt are funny people. Rob Riggle? Sure. Throw him in. He’s great. Patrice O’Neal? In one of his last roles? Of course I want to see that. And yet… nothing. It just lays there. And there’s no one single thing wrong with it. It’s just stillborn. Laugh free. Look away. Look away.
– Drew McWeeny

12. ‘The Apparition’
I’m not even sure this counts as a movie. There are some interesting ideas, a few cool visuals, Ashley Greene is so pretty she looks like a special effect, and then it’s like they ran out of space on the Blu-ray, like they just left off all the stuff that would make it a movie. Like an ending. Or characters. It’s not bad in any active or aggressive way. It just feels like the sort of book report that would get handed back with “Incomplete” written in red across the top.
– Drew McWeeny

11. ‘Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds’
Two steps forward, three steps back? That’s the first though that went through this pundit’s mind after watching Tyler Perry’s messy melodrama last spring. Perry had come off the back to back successes of 2010’s underrated “For Colored Girls” (his best dramatic directing effort to date) and 2011’s hilarious comedy “Madea’s Big Happy Family” (his best comedic effort to date). “Good Deeds” was neither compelling or funny. Perry overreached with this snoozefest about a rich San Francisco businessman who falls for his building’s former cleaning woman played by Thandie Newton (perhaps the most gorgeous custodial work in cinematic history). Newton has her “Crash” tears running in full effect, but we’re guessing they started flowing once she realized nothing on set could make Perry’s by the numbers screenplay come alive on screen.
– Gregory Ellwood

10. ‘Resident Evil: Retribution’
Someone took offense to me giving this film an “F” in our comments section, saying it was unfair to ask me to watch it since I obviously am not the intended audience. But… why not? I love video games. I love horror films. Why am I not the intended audience for this? I don’t get the entire franchise. It doesn’t make any sense to me. I understand the events that happen from film to film, but the appeal, the allure, the execution… I don’t understand any of that. I cannot comprehend why anyone would want to see any more of these unless you are directly dependent on the Paul W.S. Anderson family for financial support.
– Drew McWeeny

9. ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’
You wouldn’t expect there to be a good story in a bestselling pregnancy manual, but after watching this all-star babymaking bonanza, you’d be proved… well, exactly right. Cameron Diaz, Elizabeth Banks and Brooklyn Decker are among the gorgeous moms-to-be (ugly people don’t reproduce in the movies) helpfully demonstrating the joyful, painful and mildly hair-mussing consequences of being with child, while a perma-svelte J.Lo drums her fingers on the sidelines, finally coming into her own during a candlelit Ethiopian adoption ceremony that represents the worst kind of Hollywood cultural tourism. With the film’s single, economically stretched joke being that they all progressively turn into shrieking harpies as the big day approaches, it’s as misogynistic a film as it’s possible to make about many a woman’s proudest moment.
– Guy Lodge

8. ‘Battleship’
You know a summer tentpole movie is really bad when the studio behind it purposely opens in every single market in the world before the United States. Peter Berg’s adaptation of the classic board game is based on such a contrived and forced concept that it makes almost no sense from the first scene. Aliens — who have craft that can only float on water and not fly (remember, they came from space) — come to earth to take our…oh, wait. Why are they here again? It doesn’t matter. The bad guys are just an excuse for a slew of “Transformers”-like battles that make Michael Bay’s more popular franchise seem prestige worthy. Of course, the idea old school battleships and conventional sea faring weapons could destroy alien spacecraft from a race that has sent them billions of miles across the galaxy is beyond ludicrous, but it’s all in the spirit of popcorn adventure right? Um, sure. When the plot hinges on our hero taking down a compromised massive satellite array that his girlfriend just happens to work at…oh, man. It’s all coming back to me. It might have been worse than I originally remembered it (shudder).
– Gregory Ellwood

7. ‘The Watch’
Look under “autopilot” in the dictionary and you’ll find a cast shot from “The Watch,” in which director Akiva Schaffer attempts to compensate for an inspiration-free, puerile script from Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Jared Stern by allowing the talented cast to stand around riffing endlessly in the hopes that hilarity might eventually ensue. It does not. Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill just coast, leaving it to lower-paid co-star Richard Ayodade to get the only chuckles. It’s not that “aliens in the suburbs” can’t be a funny plot, but between “The Watch” and the ABC sitcom “The Neighbors,” the premise was 0-2 in 2012.
– Dan Fienberg

6. ‘Alex Cross’
Imagine if someone decided to do a movie where they bought a pulpy, graphic, lurid crime novel and they adapted it like they were aiming for people who thought “CSI: Miami” was too intellectual, and they cast Dame Edna to star in it, but not in the Dame Edna outfit. Just dressed like a cop. That’s “Alex Cross,” and it is every bit as weird as that sounds. Midway through the film, I started daydreaming about other bizarre genre casting exercises that would be this weird, like Boy George starring as James Bond or Michael Jackson playing Rambo or Sean Penn playing Robert Smith, but hunting Nazis. Things that would NEVER happen, and for good reason.
– Drew McWeeny

5. ‘Gone’
The only thing shocking about this tepid, tired thriller is just how drearily predictable it turns out to be. Amanda Seyfried (“Les Miserables”) stars as an anxiety-plagued waitress who may or may not have freed herself from a would-be abductor a year prior, and now fears this real-or-imagined bad guy has snatched her sister. This means a great deal of running around soggy Oregon, borrowing cars, waving guns and hallucinating. It’s all much ado about nothing, as the film wraps up in an utterly predictable fashion that makes all the desperate movement that comes before it seem calculated to distract us from gaping holes in the plot. Seyfried isn’t interesting or charismatic enough to make us care whether her character is sane, crazy, or just asking for a local policeman to put a bullet through her out of sheer frustration. Wes Bentley, largely wasted, is so pointlessly spineless we half expect he’ll emerge as a far more twisted character — but no, he’s just pathetic. With a title like “Gone,” this project seems as if it was created for the simple pleasure of making punny headlines about how lousy it is. Still, that might be giving this mess more credit than it deserves.

– Liane Bonin Starr

4. ‘Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D’
Dario Argento is a master of horror cinema. He has made more great horror films than the average mainstream audience member has even seen. Argento’s influence is profound and ongoing, and there is nothing that could happen that would strike him from the history of fantastic film. Having said that, “Dracula 3D” is almost unbelievably bad. It’s like someone dared him to make a movie where not one scene is serious, where not one performance is sincere, and not one scare is actually scary. About the time Dracula turned into a giant CGI praying mantis, I realized this one is all-time bad, and only a true genius could whiff it this hard.
– Drew McWeeny

3. ‘Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance’
Neveldine and Taylor hate the audience. Speaking for the group, I think the feeling is mutual. In a world where Roger Corman’s “Fantastic Four” exists, you have to work overtime to make the worst Marvel comics adaptation of all time. “Howard The Duck” is “The Avengers” compared to this sequel/reboot/punishment, and more than anything, it makes me sad for Nic Cage, who genuinely digs the character and really does seem to want to get it right. This is not right. This is how you define and illustrate “not right” in the future. This is as “not right” as not right gets.
– Drew McWeeny


2. ‘Chernobyl Diaries’
In many ways, the “shaky-cam” sub-genre is like the reality TV of movies – despite limited replay value, the films are inexpensive to produce, easy to market and financially lucrative. Unfortunately, it’s a formula that results in bargain-basement fare like “Chernobyl Diaries,” a thoroughly lackluster horror effort that completely wastes an intriguing setting (the abandoned town of Prypiat, which sits in the shadow of the infamous Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine) and a reasonably suspenseful buildup with a ridiculous payoff that sees the film’s young, pretty cast being chased by mutant killers straight out of the “The Hills Have Eyes.” Of all the approaches the filmmakers could have taken this was by far the least imaginative option, and the gall required to take the setting of a horrendous real-life tragedy and use it as the backdrop for a dumb slasher flick is borderline offensive.
– Chris Eggertsen

1. ‘Piranha 3DD’
Thanks to some stylish direction by Alex Aja and a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, 2010’s “Piranha 3D” was a slice of mindless horror-comedy fun that was better than it had any right to be. Fast-forward two years to director John Gulager’s (“Feast I-III”) incomprehensibly bad follow-up, a stinker in every sense of the word that boasts all of the bad taste and none of the visual wit or overriding charm of its predecessor. Swapping out the first film’s lake setting for a puzzlingly bare-bones water park (uh…did they run out of location budget or something?), “Piranha 3DD” is so terrible it’s hard to believe even walking punchline David Hasselhoff would agree to appear in this dreck, much less the rest of the film’s barrel-scraping cast. Truly painful.
– Chris Eggertsen



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