Total Recall

The 10 Worst Christmas Day Releases of the Past 30 Years

In this week's Total Recall, we look at biggest critical failures that opened on December 25.

by | December 23, 2014 | Comments

Heading to the cineplex has grown into a Christmas Day tradition over the years, encouraged by a rising tide of December 25 releases that includes some of the more critically acclaimed films of the last few decades — as well as some of the most infamous stinkers. In honor of the latter tradition, we’ve sorted through 30 years of Hollywood’s Christmas gifts to filmgoers, and arranged a list of the releases that were pelted with the biggest lumps of critical coal. Can’t make it to the theater this week? Here are 10 times when staying home for the holidays turned out to be a pretty good idea.


10. Cheaper by the Dozen (2003) 24%


Few would argue that Steve Martin is a dramatic and comedic actor without peer; unfortunately, by the mid-’90s, his gift for choosing scripts seemed to have abandoned him all but entirely, leading to a rather abysmal run of releases that stretched from 1992’s Housesitter into the 21st century, only periodically broken up by sporadic roles in rewarding reminders like The Spanish Prisoner and Bowfinger. Among the worst of Martin’s late-period offenders is 2003’s Cheaper by the Dozen, a slapstick-heavy comedy that takes its loose concept and title — and little else — from the bestselling nonfiction book (and hit 1950 film) inspired by the lives of a New Jersey family with a dozen offspring. Arriving on Christmas Day of 2003, the Martin-led Cheaper wrangled an unlikely-seeming cast (including Bonnie Hunt, Piper Perabo, Hilary Duff, and Ashton Kutcher) around a plot that seemed to exist for no other reason than to string together a series of thuddingly unfunny (and occasionally crude) pratfalls; not surprisingly, although enough ticket buyers showed up to generate a 2005 sequel (which, it should be noted, received even worse reviews), critics were almost uniformly unimpressed. “It’s not that Cheaper by the Dozen is awful,” bemoaned the Apollo Guide’s Brian Webster. “Worse than that, it’s just plain dull.”


9. Patch Adams (1998) 22%


Given the right script, Robin Williams was capable of melding humor and genuine pathos as well as anyone — and on its face, a movie based on the real-life story of Hunter “Patch” Adams, a doctor whose youthful struggles with suicidal depression helped inform a groundbreaking medical career highlighting the therapeutic value of humor, seemed like the perfect vehicle for Williams’ singular gifts. There’s a thin line between inspirational and mawkish, however, and it’s one that screenwriter Steve Oedekerk and director Tom Shadyac stomped all over while making the 1998 Christmas Day drama Patch Adams. Wholeheartedly indulging the heartstrings-tugging nature of Adams’ story without taking sufficient care to create three-dimensional characters or build genuine narrative stakes, Patch quickly soured critics and dimmed some of the buzz Williams had built with his Oscar-winning work in Good Will Hunting. “Williams pulls out all the stops in a lead role that gives him carte blanche to careen between extremes of silliness and sentimentality,” observed Variety’s Joe Leydon. “He tries too hard, too obviously, much like the pic itself.”


8. Gulliver’s Travels (2010) 20%


On paper, a Jack Black-led Gulliver’s Travels looks like a potentially great idea. The original story seems uniquely well-suited to a big-budget update fueled by slick modern special effects, and as we’ve seen in Tenacious D and School of Rock, Black’s very good at going from arrogant and oafish to eminently likable — sometimes within the same scene. Precious little of that promise, however, made it to the screen in the 2010 edition of Travels, directed by Rob Letterman and co-written by Nick Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Joe Stillman (Shrek); instead, viewers were bombarded with crude, unfunny slapstick, strung together with CG graphics and set to the strains of one of Black?s most grating performances. “I will tell you there’s a cast credit for a character described only as ‘Butt-crack man,'” grumbled the Washington Post’s Michael O’Sullivan. “Consider yourself warned.”


7. Black Christmas (2006) 15%


It’s never going to be mentioned in the same breath as, say, Citizen Kane, but the original Black Christmas, released in 1974 and starring Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder, is arguably the first slasher flick — and a pretty good one at that. Minus that groundbreaking spirit and talented cast, there wasn’t really any reason to remake it; unfortunately, that didn’t stop director Glen Morgan from taking a (cough) stab at it with his updated take on the story, released in 2006. The results were predictably brutal and lacking in transgressive wit — and were soundly thrashed by critics like Peter Howell of the Toronto Star, who didn’t mince words in a review reading in part, “Creativity is a stranger to this sick excuse for entertainment, which pounds a ridiculous back story into a butchered rehash that includes incest, cannibalism, eyeball gouging and impossibly dumb plot contrivances.”


6. 47 Ronin (2013) 16%


Keanu Reeves with a samurai sword — in 3D! What could go wrong? Pretty much everything, according to critics who screened 47 Ronin prior to its wide release on December 25, 2013. Helmed by debuting commercial director Carl Rinsch, Ronin attempted to make a blockbuster out of the real-life story of 18th-century Japanese samurai who avenged their dead master’s honor — knowingly condemning themselves to death in the process — but succeeded only in serving up yet another in the seemingly endless line of big-budget critical punching bags in Reeves’ post-Matrix filmography. Calling the result “Solemn as a funeral march, humorless as your junior high principal, as Japanese as a grocery-store California roll,” the Village Voice’s Alan Scherstuhl dismissed the picture as “Keanu Reeves’s let’s-mope-about-and-kill-ourselves samurai drama.”


5. The Spirit (2008) 14%


Will Eisner’s The Spirit is one of the more distinctive and beloved characters in comics history, a masked vigilante whose adventures served as a springboard for a series of stories — mostly published between 1940-’52 — that used an expansive noir-inspired backdrop incorporating a wide variety of elements, including horror and comedy. Sadly, little of what made the Spirit special translated to the big-screen adaptation helmed by Frank Miller in 2008; deliberately cartoonish and devoid of Eisner’s gift for narrative or ear for dialogue, it proved equally inept either as a tribute to the comic or as a bid for a modern-day continuation of the franchise. “Miller’s directing chops, er, chop, is non-existent, offering up a muck of amateurish posturing, weak storyline and tedious characters,” sighed Kimberly Gadette for Indie Movies Online. “As for the title? Ouch, that’s some irony.”


4. Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007) 11%


Pitting the slavering stars of the Alien and Predator franchises against one another for a sci-fi action thriller battle royale is a pretty cool idea — just ask the publishers behind the sprawling array of comics, novels, and video games that have run wild with the concept. Do not, however, ask anyone who’s seen either of the AVP movies; the first one, 2004’s Alien vs. Predator, whiffed with critics, but made enough money to justify a sequel, directed by FX specialists Greg and Colin Strause and written by Shane Salerno (Armageddon). Somewhat unbelievably, 2007’s Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem did even worse, taking an epic Christmas Day pounding from just about every critic who screened it. “The door is left open for another sequel,” warned Scott Tobias for the AV Club. “If someone would kindly shut it and board it up, that would be much appreciated.”


3. Revolution (1985) 10%


Take the director of Chariots of Fire, the screenwriter of The French Connection II, and the star of The Godfather II, and you should have yourself a pretty good picture, right? Not based on the evidence presented in Revolution, a thoroughly misbegotten attempt to portray a commoner’s-eye view of the events leading up to the War of Independence waged by American colonists against the British crown. One of the earliest in a series of shockingly misguided films that would eventually dot leading man Al Pacino’s filmography, it united a tremendous amount of talent (including a cast boasting Nastassja Kinski and Joan Plowright) in what appeared to be a war against a good time for filmgoers who traipsed out to see it on December 25, 1985. Saying that Pacino “often looks as if he were an 18th-century Rambo and sounds as if he were speaking 20th-century David Mamet,” the New York Times’ Vincent Canby opined, “Mr. Pacino has never been more intense to such little effect. It’s like watching someone walk around in a chicken costume.”


2. Mr. Magoo (1997) 7%


By the late ’90s, Leslie Nielsen had cornered the Hollywood market on bumbling, white-haired klutzes — and for very good reason, as anyone who’s seen his wonderful work as Lieutenant Frank Drebin in Police Squad!, Airplane!, and The Naked Gun will tell you. However, not all slapstick comedies are created equal, and over time, Nielsen was sadly called upon to test the limits of his gifts by straining to overcome the deficiencies of scripts that offered little more than the merest framework for one of the industry’s greatest physical comics to work his magic. Case in point: 1997’s Mr. Magoo, which started from a decent idea — Leslie Nielsen as a legendary cartoon dunderhead! — and never bothered to go any further. The Houston Chronicle’s Jeff Millar summed up the dispirited response expressed by many of his colleagues when he sighed, “Here’s where I’m supposed to suggest how the film might be better. But I can’t think of anything to say other than to make the film again, with different writers and a new director.”


1. Pinocchio (2002) 0%


Like plenty of other Oscar-winning actors, Roberto Benigni used the clout he earned with his awards (Best Actor and Best Foreign Film for Life Is Beautiful) to help get his passion project made. And it had plenty of potential, too — Carlo Callodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio is a classic book, but the character has become more closely identified with its somewhat bowdlerized Disney counterpart, and Benigni could have channeled his love for the book into a more faithful film. Alas, he chose instead to create one of the strangest (and vaguely creepiest) family movies of the 21st century, starring Benigni himself (who also directed and co-wrote the script) as the impish wooden boy. In fairness, it should be pointed out that the international version of Pinocchio did fairly well, but in the States, the English overdubs only compounded the overall weirdness of what unfolded on the screen. As an incredulous Edward Guthmann asked for the San Francisco Chronicle: “What can one say about a balding 50-year-old actor playing an innocent boy carved from a log?”

 


Finally, here’s a nice hot fire for you to warm yourself after reading those chilly reviews:


 

 

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