TAGGED AS: Best and Worst
Let’s get this out of the way right up front: We wish only the best for Ted 2, and hope it turns out to be one of the year’s funniest comedies while making plenty of money for everyone who worked on it. But we also know that the track record for comedy sequels isn’t terribly encouraging, and while waiting for Seth MacFarlane and Mark Wahlberg to return for another round of R-rated hijinks between a man-child and his talking stuffed bear, our thoughts turned inexorably to the many times when the sequels kept coming long after the laughs stopped. If comedy equals tragedy plus time, then perhaps the movies featured in this week’s list are still waiting for their moment — or maybe they’re just bad. Either way, it’s time for Total Recall!
How, pray tell, does one go about putting together a sequel to the 1987 hit Mannequin without the raw sexual magnetism between Kim Cattrall and Andrew McCarthy, or the wan unctuousness of James Spader? The sensible answer is “one does not,” but the folks behind Mannequin Two: On the Move had other ideas — mainly consisting of re-enlisting flamboyant Mannequin second banana Meshach Taylor to reprise his role as mincing window dresser Hollywood Montrose for a follow-up with different stars (William Ragsdale and Kristy Swanson, trying in vain to duplicate Cattrall and McCarthy’s unforgettable chemistry) but the same basic plot. Chiefly of interest for fans of prolific character actor Terry Kiser, who used his downtime between Weekend at Bernie’s movies to work in his appearance as Mannequin Two villain Count Gunther Spretzle, this is a sequel so bereft of ideas that it even recycles the original’s theme song, the Starship hit “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” As Variety wearily observed, “It took four writers to struggle with another idea of why a mannequin would come to life in a department store and what would happen if she did.”
Is the original Weekend at Bernie’s a comedy classic? Assuredly not, but there are still plenty of chortles to be wrung from the sight of a couple of corporate drones panicking their way through a scheme that involves using the body of their recently deceased boss as a comically ineffective prop, and we would be lying if we said we’d turn it off if we happened upon that first Weekend while scrolling through channels. It most certainly did not, however, need a sequel — and yet theatrical grosses dictated that stars Jonathan Silverman, Andrew McCarthy, and Terry Kiser (as Bernie) reunite for a humiliatingly absurd caper involving a voodoo ritual gone awry and millions in stolen cash. “Frankly,” opined Scott Weinberg for eFilmCritic, “I’m stunned that every American who paid to see it didn’t file a class action suit against Tri-Star Pictures for their blatant misrepresentation of the word ‘comedy.'”
It would take a profoundly silly person to argue that Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo was at all deserving of a sequel on qualitative grounds, but Rob Schneider’s comedy pulled in nearly $100 million at the box office, so a sequel was bound to happen — and it did in 2005, when fans of putative comedies about male sex escorts were treated to Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, which sent Schneider to… oh, we don’t need to talk about the storyline, do we? The only thing that really matters about this movie is what it triggered offscreen: the infamous dustup between Schneider and Roger Ebert, who lambasted it in his review (“Aggressively bad, as if it wants to cause suffering to the audience”) and later distilled his thoughts regarding European Gigolo to a simple message he relayed directly to Schneider: “Your movie sucks.” The two later had a moving reconciliation during Ebert’s last days, setting an example that almost (but not quite) justifies spending an hour and 28 minutes of one’s life to watch the film.
It’s difficult to watch the original Revenge of the Nerds today without cringing at some of the embarrassing stereotypes and rampant misogyny that passed for comedy at the time, but there were a few kernels of legitimately forward-thinking ideas embedded in all the lewd gags, and in some respects, it can be argued that the first Nerds was a movie slightly ahead of its time. No such arguments have ever been made on behalf of Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise, in which our gentle-hearted (and yet oh so horny) heroes descend upon Fort Lauderdale for some old-fashioned spring break debauchery — and once again find themselves forced to contend with persecution from their beefy jock nemeses. With twice the jiggle and half the reason for actually existing, Nerds in Paradise needed to worry less about musclebound frat boys than it did about critics: Carrie Rickey of the Philadelphia Inquirer summed up the nigh-universal scorn of her colleagues when she sneered, “By all evidence, to make Nerds II, it took over 1,000 people with an aggregate IQ of under 1.”
Jason Bateman is an immensely likable performer with sharp comedic timing and a gift for playing the straight man, but he’s also had some pretty rough luck when it comes to picking film scripts, and that snakebitten streak extends all the way back to his big-screen debut. The original Teen Wolf barely got by on Michael J. Fox’s fresh-faced charm and an eager enthusiasm for low-budget B-movie tropes (not to mention Mark Safan’s “Win in the End,” an unsung ’80s teen movie sports montage soundtrack classic), but not even Fox’s refusal to return for more kept the studio from commissioning a sequel in which his character’s cousin (played by Bateman) heads off to college and discovers that he too is burdened with the family curse. While producers may have thought they were recapturing lightning in a bottle by tapping another young TV sitcom star — and Bateman may have made for a more imposing teen werewolf than the diminutive Fox — none of it mattered in the face of a screenplay that barely bothered pretending to go through the motions. “The pacing is near-cataleptic and the movie’s intended comic highlight is a frog-fight in the biology lab,” fumed Michael Wilmington for the Los Angeles Times. “Isn’t that just what you’re dying to see and hear? Bad dialogue, lugubriously paced; awful jokes about werewolves, and guffawing actors churlishly hurling around a lot of little frogs?”
If you’re somehow able to finance and film one movie about a Segway-riding mall cop with a main gag that revolves around the fact that his last name rhymes with “fart,” you might as well make another one, right? Hence Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, in which Kevin James returns to ride his motorized scooter of justice — and in the time-honored sequel tradition, finds himself in a new location (Las Vegas) and in the middle of even more high-stakes action (a hotel heist involving the theft of some priceless art). It all added up to another $100 million-plus outing for the increasingly pratfall-dependent James, whose brightest moments in Mall Cop 2 included fighting an ostrich and punching an elderly woman in the stomach — none of which were enough to distract critics from delivering a swift and vicious pummeling for the film that Joe Neumaier of the New York Daily News referred to as “the cinematic equivalent of biting into an old brown banana.”
In theory, a sequel to 1989’s Major League wasn’t necessarily such a bad idea. The first movie made a pile of money, it had a solid cast (most of whom were willing to return for a follow-up), and the seasonal nature of baseball meant it would be relatively easy — and narratively feasible — to bring the gang back together for another round of yuks. Add in the fact that director/co-writer David S. Ward (who doggedly pitched the original for years before it was released) was returning, and Major League II should have been (ahem) a home run. But even with all that going for it, this belated sequel — which opened five years later but picked up the season after Major League — just didn’t have the same zip as the original, and based on the box office, audiences no longer really cared whether Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn (Charlie Sheen) and his motley crew of teammates had what it took to send the Cleveland Indians to the World Series. Sighed Caryn James for the New York Times, “There has rarely been such a steep and strange decline between a movie and its sequel as the one between the fast, silly original and the dismal, boring Major League II.”
Caddyshack is a comedy classic that virtually hums with the madcap energy thrown off by director Harold Ramis and his incredible cast, a marvelously motley bunch that included Rodney Dangerfield, Ted Knight, Bill Murray, and Chevy Chase. Naturally, the sequel brought back virtually no one who’d been involved the first time around, limiting the classic Caddyshack vibes to a supporting appearance from Chase and a new song from Kenny Loggins on the soundtrack. This might not have been such a bad thing if these crucial absences had been filled by the right people or a suitably funny storyline, but director Allan Arkush was presented with a cobbled-together script that virtually reprised the original and asked Harvey Mason to serve as a Dangerfield facsimile with Robert Stack as Knight’s proxy. Audiences saw through the flimsy carbon copy and so did critics; the result was, as Steven Rea wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer, “a sight not to behold.”
Just because a movie makes a bunch of money doesn’t mean it needs a sequel. Case in point: The Whole Ten Yards, the 2004 travesty that reunited the cast of the 2000 hit The Whole Nine Yards simply because the studio seemed to take the first film’s box office receipts as some sort of mandate. Once again, Matthew Perry (as nebbishy dentist Nicholas “Oz” Ozeransky) and Bruce Willis (as retired hitman Jimmy “The Tulip” Tudeski) find themselves in hot water with vengeful mob boss Laszlo Gogolak (Kevin Pollak), and the sequel’s retreaded plot — as well as a marked decrease in the original’s laughs-per-minute quotient — left critics openly questioning why anyone would bother. “So mirthless is this misbegotten enterprise,” grumbled Peter Howell for the Toronto Star, “the sound of fake chucklers busting a gut would at least have given us valuable clues as to when we’re supposed to laugh.”
If film franchises were professional sports teams, the Police Academy movies would hover somewhere near the 2011-’12 Charlotte Bobcats in the standings, with Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol representing the most painfully lopsided defeat in a long stretch of stunning futility. All of which is to say that critics loathed each of the Academy films in their own special way, and no fewer than four of the seven installments in the series boast a 0 percent Tomatometer rating, but with 20 uniformly negative reviews, it’s 1987’s Citizens on Patrol that represents the jewel in the franchise’s crown of failure. We could go into plot, but it’s a Police Academy movie, and the plot’s all laid out in the title; really, all you need to know is that there’s definitely something better to watch. As Dave Kehr pointed out in his review for the Chicago Reader, “Jim Drake is credited with the direction and Gene Quintano with the script, though they’d probably appreciate it if you kept it to yourself.”
Look Who’s Talking was a pleasantly undemanding comedy that reminded audiences they still liked John Travolta and featured some funny voicework from Bruce Willis as the inner monologue of a baby. Three years later, Look Who’s Talking Too tried to double down on the toddler-driven laughs by adding Roseanne Barr as the voice of Willis’ sister, but that gambit proved woefully unsuccessful — so three years after that, we got Look Who’s Talking Now, in which the kids are old enough to speak with their own voices… and old enough to have pets who, you guessed it, the audience can hear speak. As concepts go, it’s pretty thin, but Now still might have benefited from the talents of its new voice cast if someone had written a worthy script; alas, Danny DeVito (as a streetwise mutt named Rocks) and Diane Keaton (as Daphne the purebred poodle) were left to try and wring a few laughs out of a premise long past its prime while the human stars of the series, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley, bore the onscreen brunt of a series of humiliations that included Alley dressing up as an elf. “The first film had maybe a shred of realism to flavor its romantic comedy,” lamented Roger Ebert. “This one looks like it was chucked up by an automatic screenwriting machine.”
Jon Voight is a very famous, highly respected actor, but he also has bills to pay, which may explain how he ended up alongside Scott Baio and Vanessa Angel playing second fiddle to a diaper-clad quartet in Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2. Then again, if you take Voight at his word, he chose the project because “When you look around the world, everybody’s really in a fearful state in some way, and kids are getting that, they’re getting that fear, and they need to be given a kind of empowerment in some sense” — but no, you know what? We prefer the “bills to pay” explanation. Either way, this alleged action comedy about an evil media mogul who’s out to kidnap four freakishly smart toddlers has gone down as one of the more shockingly awful stinkers to seep out of Hollywood in recent memory — as well as, sadly, the final effort from Porky’s director Bob Clark. “The first Baby Geniuses, released in 1999, was one of the most inane, humorless, ill-conceived, poorly acted comedies of the year,” wrote Jean Oppenheimer for the New Times. “As difficult as it is to imagine, the sequel is even worse.”