In a way, every film that made it to theatres in 2021 was a success. But in another, more accurate way, a metric ton of cinematic garbage flooded screens big and small this year, forcing even the staunchest Hollywood defender to admit that the franchise-obsessed system is rotten. For audiences who avoided the disasters below, consider this a warning. For the filmmakers and studios responsible – especially Netflix, studio of the future, which has four titles here – let this serve as an act of public shaming.
In its own way, Red Notice is a must-see: The Netflix movie offers a prime example of all that is wrong with contemporary big-budget mainstream filmmaking. The heist story is bland, the action incoherent, the surprises detestably nonsensical, the humour never rising above the level of a quarter-smirk. And for a movie that features Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadot and Ryan Reynolds – the world’s most perfectly sculpted citizens, or so we’re told – everything is bafflingly sexless. We’re in the era of the neutered blockbuster.
It is hard to taint the memory of the greatest television series ever made, but somehow Sopranos mastermind David Chase and director Alan Taylor have soured the legacy of the HBO classic with this frustrating, pointless, sloppy prequel. Thinking about the film’s final seconds, which feature a musical cue so crass it would make Paulie Walnuts gag, makes me unconsolably upset.
Everyone would’ve saved a lot of time and money had director Jason Reitman simply written his father Ivan a nice note (“Congrats on making two great Ghostbusters movies! See you in the car!”) and then digitally nuked, proton-blast-style, all traces of Paul Feig’s actually quite good 2016 reboot. Instead, we have Afterlife, a giant Easter Egg of a film, cracked and rotten and sulphurous in its stink.
You’ll get sick of Gunpowder Milkshake’s faux-fun John Wick-ian aesthetic from its opening moments, in which retro-diners, oily Russian gangsters, cute-but-deadly teen girls and whipped cream act as springboards for violent but confusingly choreographed mayhem. The whole Netflix endeavour smacks of such disingenuous “feminist-forward” kitsch that, by the time the film’s hero kills a handful of thugs in a neon-lit bowling alley, you’ll think that you, too, are stuck in the gutter.
Ah, the ineffable essence of cinéma du Ben Falcone. As the husband and creative partner of Melissa McCarthy, Falcone has directed the three worst films of his wife’s career (Tammy, The Boss, Life of the Party) and now arrives to make it four. Netflix’s dreadful Thunder Force is a riff on superhero movies that only makes you wish you were collateral damage in a Batman v Superman melee. I suppose we should be happy that the Falcone-McCarthy household is a prosperous one. But I’d like to suggest a trial separation.
Condolences to the Russo filmmaking family, but Cherry is a bomb. Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo (better known as the brothers behind the past two Avengers movies) and co-written by their sister Angela Russo-Otstot, this adaptation of Nico Walker’s acclaimed novel about a soldier-turned-bank robber (Tom Holland) is nonsensically stylized, wildly overlong and constantly mistaking yelling for dramatic tension.
Arriving 33 long years after the first film, Coming 2 America could have been a welcome reminder of the comedic power of Eddie Murphy at his sharp, problematic best. But it turns out that the new film isn’t that interested in being funny. The result is a perverse, gut-punching thing: a comedy bereft of laughs.
8. Venom: Let There Be Carnage
Ugly, cheap, and dumb-but-not-good-dumb, this superhero sequel is a throwaway kind of trashy nothingness. As the symbiotes Venom (Tom Hardy, wacky voice and all) and Carnage (Woody Harrelson, whose psycho here is a long way from Natural Born Killers) flash their gnarly teeth at one another in truly incomprehensible action scenes, you get the sense that no one involved paid much attention to what they were making or why. Then again, it is, as of this writing, North America’s second-highest grossing film of 2021, a fact that’s more depressing than any variant of concern.
I guess that there are enough G.I. Joe devotees out there demanding that a third movie in the based-on-toys series be brought into this world – eight years after G.I. Joe: Retaliation was released and immediately forgotten. But not even that fanbase deserves this crass attempt at exploiting the teensy tiniest brain cell of intellectual property imaginable. This is a soul-deadening exercise that approximates satire, minus the self-awareness.
10. Locked Down and Malcolm & Marie (tie)
While we were all at home during the winter of 2021, a new kind of horrible disease emerged: a virus named “coronart,” in which infected filmmakers were compelled to make dreadful locked-down cinema. Two of the most egregious examples were Doug Liman’s Locked Down, in which Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor yell at each other for two hours, and Sam Levinson’s Malcolm & Marie, in which Zendaya and John David Washington yell at each other for two hours. Both films will be playing at hospices near you.
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