Last year, the hardest part of putting this list together was that there were too many obvious contenders and narrowing them down proved to be quite difficult. This year, the opposite was true. It was still hard to do, but only because so few movies were so outrageously bad that they deserved a spot here. That’s a pretty great problem to have. This year was, I’m happy to say, a very good year for movies. Of course, there are always some stinkers—in particular, the top three on this list—that you should do your best to avoid. So without further ado, here are my picks for the Worst Films of 2013.
10) The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones—With the “Twilight” franchise having finally and mercifully come to an end, it’s no surprise that Hollywood is eager to find something to take its place. The latest tween movie based on an existing novel with multiple entries in its canon is this year’s “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones.” “Harry Potter” and “The Hunger Games” notwithstanding, most tween novel adaptations are poorly made and fail at the box office, rarely resulting in a sequel. If we’re lucky, this one’s middling grosses will do the same thing and save us from further ridiculous, overemotional melodramas. The story follows Clary (Lily Collins), a pretty young girl whose best friend in the world, Simon (Robert Sheehan), is secretly crushing on her. One night, while out at a club, she witnesses a murder. However, the murderer soon catches up with her and explains that it was hardly a murder at all. His name is Jace (Jamie Campbell Bower) and he’s actually a Shadow Hunter, a person who hunts and kills demons of all kinds. Naturally, a love triangle ensues, as is seemingly common with these types of things. This is, quite literally, “Twilight” all over again, though the movie doesn’t seem to want to admit it. At one point, after Clary hurts herself and is bleeding slightly, she even mocks the franchise by commenting, “Is this the part where you start tearing off pieces of clothing to bind my wounds?” This is no doubt a reference to “New Moon” when Jacob hilariously and egregiously rips off his entire shirt to tend to Bella’s minor scrape. While these moments are admittedly amusing, they’re offset by lines of dialogue mere minutes later, lines that read like one of those idiotic words-of-wisdom memes so many wannabe prophets post on Facebook day after day, things along the lines of “The rune to fix a broken heart is the most painful one.” So while it creates some initial goodwill with some self-aware quips, it quickly becomes ignorant of just how closely it resembles the very things it mocks. “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones” may hope to become a franchise, but it’s going to have to try much harder than this to justify it.
9) The Hangover Part III—Years from now, when people discuss the best comedies of this generation, I fully expect 2009’s “The Hangover” to feature prominently in their conversation. Although it certainly had its detractors, it was widely found to be quite funny, a consensus made by both the movie going public and the critic community. Its sequel, which can more appropriately be called a remake, was less successful in terms of quality because comedy requires the element of surprise to work and surprises were few and far between due to recycled jokes and plot lines. “The Hangover Part III” abandons the narrative structure of the previous films and successfully sets itself apart. Unfortunately, it’s one of the only things it’s successful at doing, unless you count lazily coasting by on the franchise name and star power of its leads as a success. It has no material to sustain a full length movie, only the thinnest of paper thin plots to move it along and jokes that oftentimes can hardly be considered such. Franchise favorite Zach Galifianakis is the only one even trying—the others merely there for the paycheck, clearly uninterested in what’s going on—but it’s a futile attempt because the harshness of his character is ramped up tenfold. Few would argue that the characters were walking examples of morality in the first two movies, but much of their meanness came from name calling and harsh jokes among themselves, a normal occurrence between male friends. Here, the characters spill glasses on purpose for the house maid to clean up, verbally abuse old ladies in motorized wheelchairs and talk poorly to their mothers, to the point where Alan even wishes his mother dead. “The Hangover Part III” is a comedic abomination and, as a third entry to one of the funniest movies in recent memory, a colossal disappointment.
8) G.I. Joe: Retaliation—One mustn’t expect much when sitting down to watch “G.I. Joe: Retaliation.” It’s based on a silly Hasbro toy meant to portray the fighting spirit of the American soldier and as such, one should expect nothing more than mindless entertainment. In this case, the film nailed the “mindless” part, but forgot about the “entertainment.” Having seen the first movie only once, it’s hard to say which is worse—they appear to be equal in terms of quality—but this is action at its most basic. Only junkies of the genre will find anything to enjoy and even they might be put off by the lousy script, horrible puns and desperation seeping through this thing. “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” has the most hackneyed screenplay of the year so far and it’s filled with so much expositional dialogue that you would have been playing the odds if you bet that the rest of this year’s movies combined wouldn’t equal its amount. It’s insulting, quite frankly. Characters, motivations, schemes, places, all are explained almost entirely through exposition, as if the audience is too dumb to figure it out for themselves. When so much of that exposition is interrupted with some of the lamest jokes this side of any number of terrible Adam Sandler comedies, it becomes difficult to handle. For example, one attractive woman introduces herself as a reporter for Fox News. “That must be why you look so fair and balanced,” the man says in reply, as if that makes any sense. In another scene, one Joe tells another to prepare for extraction and he replies, “Extraction? What are we, teeth?” These moments will make you roll your eyes so far into the back of your head, you may put yourself into a catatonic state. The most asinine moments, however, come fairly early on when the Joes figure out that the President isn’t actually the President. “Last week, he said soda. Now, he says pop!” one Joe proclaims. “When he crossed his fingers together, the right thumb rested on top, but now it’s the left!” another follows. If this is all the deduction it takes to uncover a terrorist plot, we would all be super soldier sleuths. “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” is awful in every nearly every conceivable way.
7) 21 and Over—You should know exactly what you’re getting when you walk into “21 and Over” because the title explains it all. It’s another teen comedy that romanticizes the 21st birthday threshold and treats alcohol like it’s an all healing elixir. This isn’t a movie for those old enough to have actually experienced the night, though. This is for those who dream about the day they can pop out their driver’s license and strut into a bar legally for the first time ever. Those people will find “21 and Over” amusing, but the older crowd will walk out of this unimpressed, finding the shenanigans the characters get themselves into to be outlandish, despite some inevitable reminiscing on some of their own crazy nights. But what kills this movie from the same writers of “The Hangover” isn’t that it’s absurd (so was “The Hangover”); it’s that it’s not funny. At all. As with “The Hangover” movies, the story here revolves around a mystery: where exactly does Jeff (Justin Chon), the newly turned 21 year old, live? There are clues, of course, but they're so blatantly obvious, it's insulting. When the characters finally figure it out 45 minutes to an hour after you already have, it means nothing. The story exists solely as a means for the characters to get in wacky situations and force as much alcohol down their throats as possible. This gives way to slow motion puking and the eating of a tampon, which, I suppose if you're really that drunk, could look like a candy bar. This type of humor is of the lowest form. It grosses out to gain laughs, it tries to convince that the mere sight of a naked man is somehow funny and it overvalues the otherwise normal day that is someone's 21st birthday by devaluing things that actually matter like friendship and happiness. “21 and Over” is the most wrongheaded party movie since last year’s “Project X,” which shared a similar skewed view of the world, one that would be easy to dismiss were it not so sad. I don't want to over exaggerate; this is not a cinematic travesty—it contains at least a few legitimate laughs—but it's repulsive, immature and poorly written. It's a sloppy and lesser retread of the writers’ previous work, so why waste your time with it when the same, but superior film exists elsewhere?
6) Kiss of the Damned—At the end of each year, those who nominate and vote in an awards program (such as myself in the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association awards), are sent dozens of movies in the mail to view. For one reason or another, the studios sending them out think they have some type of merit that is worthy of our consideration. For example, The Weinstein Company, out of all the movies it distributes, carefully chose “The Artist” in 2011 to send to me, knowing full well that it was something we critics would adore. But Magnolia Pictures, has a different approach. They just toss nearly everything they released throughout the year in their movie package, hoping that we’ll watch enough to find at least one of merit. Sometimes, however, this approach has the opposite effect and provides me the service of having to find one less movie for my “worst of the year” list. Last year, they were gracious enough to give me three in “The Magic of Belle Isle,” “Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie” and “Jack & Diane.” This year, they’ve given me “Kiss of the Damned.” Perplexingly resting at a 63% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, “Kiss of the Damned” is an outright disaster with wooden acting, all too obvious dubbed voiceovers, a “classy” style that unsuccessfully tries to replicate similar vampire themed romances like “Interview with the Vampire” and dialogue so simplistic, it comes as a shock when a spoken word is longer than three syllables. The best way to describe it is as a soap opera version of “Twilight,” which is quite a feat given how overemotional and overdramatic those silly movies already are. “Kiss of the Damned” is about as obnoxious of a movie that I had to sit through this year. But given how difficult it was to find movies this year that were truly worthy of a “worst of the year” spot, I suppose I should be grateful. So thanks, Magnolia. I guess.
5) Getaway—Despite a filmography that consists of a few stinkers, Ethan Hawke is a daring actor, mainly because he isn’t afraid to plant himself in all kinds of different films. In the last three alone, he has starred in a home invasion thriller (“The Purge”), an intensely frightening supernatural horror movie (“Sinister”) and a wonderful romantic drama (“Before Midnight”). He’s drawn to ideas, even if the final product encompassing those ideas isn’t always successful, like the aforementioned “The Purge” or 2009’s alternate take on vampire mythology, “Daybreakers.” This leads me to wonder why he would ever agree to star in something like “Getaway,” a derivative, brainless action film with zero ideas and only the thinnest of stories. To be fair to the film, it’s not like it has high aspirations. It knows it’s a big, stupid action picture and it plays it up for all it’s worth, creating high octane chases through narrow alleyways, cluttered highways and crowded parks at seemingly every turn. However, it never takes the time to make these scenes work in conjunction with what little story it has, instead opting to make The Kid (a character played so blandly by Selena Gomez that she wasn’t even given a proper name) a genius tech geek, able to hack into security networks with nary a plausible explanation. It’s no doubt a quick and accessible way to bypass all that pesky talking. But none of these scenes work because it never truly feels like the characters are in any real danger, given the incompetent police force chasing them. At one point, after Hawke’s character slams into a cop car, The Kid remarks that he just committed assault with a deadly weapon, which gives the police the authority to shoot at them, yet they never do. Never does it come to mind that perhaps they could take out a tire or two, effectively ending his rampage. The most hilarious aspect of the film is that questions are left unanswered, which is tough to do in a movie with such little plot to speak of, though you likely won’t care enough to have them answered anyway. When the movie ends, the title card flashes onscreen once more, almost as if it’s telling you to get away as fast as you can. You likely won’t need to be told twice.
4) Bullet to the Head—You know exactly what you’re getting when you walk into a Sylvester Stallone movie: lots of punches, gunfire, explosions and barely audible dialogue. At this point, even his movie titles are cutting to the chase, as evidenced by “Bullet to the Head.” The only thing that could make that title more apt would be to add an “s” to “Bullet,” because plenty more than one make their way to their titular target. “Bullet to the Head” feels like I imagine ol’ Sly himself must feel at age 67: tired. It’s every action cliché you’ve ever seen rolled into one forgettable package. Even with its short 91 minute runtime, it manages to retread every revenge fantasy, buddy cop comedy and gangster flick trope you can imagine. The problem is that the film doesn’t realize it’s falling back on these. It never shows signs of self-awareness like Stallone’s “Expendables” films, instead opting to take itself almost completely serious, as if what’s happening onscreen is a story that needs to be told. It’s also chock full of poorly written exposition and laughable moments, like when one character vows to not spill the beans to Sly, daring him to try something, and then after only one punch he goes on a five minute tirade divulging every single piece of information anybody could ever possibly want. But even with all that, it’s the tepid action that kills this thing. If one was forced to provide an example of generic filmmaking from a pool of recent films, none would be more appropriate than an action scene in this. Macho posturing, lots of gunfire that just so happens to hit only the nameless moving targets, shaky cam fisticuffs and more make up the entirety of the action. Perhaps unsurprisingly, much of it is rather hard to follow, mostly due to the horrendous framing that keeps things far too tight. Then when a brief moment rolls around where you can actually make out what’s happening, the camera abruptly and unnecessarily zooms in, no doubt a desperate attempt through artificial means to ramp up the film’s non-existent excitement. It’s tough to place blame on one single person for “Bullet to the Head” because it’s such a gigantic all-around mess that only a collaboration between a number of people who didn’t know what they were doing could have resulted in it. There’s no flow, no structure, no meaning and barely a story. “Bullet to the Head” is a disaster.
3) After Earth—Director M. Night Shyamalan has had a rough run. After knocking it out of the park with 1999’s “The Sixth Sense” and following that up with the critically well received “Unbreakable” and “Signs,” he fell off the wagon. His talents as a storyteller seemed to vanish and his scripts became more and more hackneyed with each successive film. He hasn’t directed a movie that one could reasonably argue as good in over a decade. Despite a rare marketing move that doesn’t highlight his involvement, “After Earth” is not his return to form. In fact, it may be his absolute worst, right down at the bottom of the barrel with 2010’s “The Last Airbender.” It’s a movie without ideas, adequate pacing, competent editing or a story worth caring about. It’s also one of those movies that sets its own rules, but then fails to abide by them. Set on an abandoned Earth at some point in the future, young Kitai (Jaden Smith) is told that all things on Earth since mankind’s evacuation have evolved to exterminate humans. Every living thing he’s going to encounter out there is going to try to kill him. That is except for spiders. And birds. And buffalo. And hogs. And fish. Even the giant hawk that swoops down and grabs him only does so to protect him, going so far as to save his life later on. The only creature that poses any threat to him is, hilariously enough, a venomous leech, which latches onto his hand and nearly kills him before he’s able to stab the antidote into his heart. However, this isn’t the film’s biggest flaw, nor is its meaningless narrative or thematically empty core, but rather a statement that being emotionless can be our greatest strength as human beings. Compare this to this summer’s “Star Trek Into Darkness” (or the entire “Star Trek” series as a whole), which stresses the importance and uniqueness of emotions to our species—besides, it’s what makes us who and what we are—and you have something so empty-headed it’s nearly unfathomable. This idea may be opposite of that blockbuster franchise, but it’s also counterintuitive to the very idea of existence and humanity. Somehow, “After Earth” even gets its ideas wrong.
2) World War Z—Those who know me know that I love zombies. In fact, I consider myself somewhat of a zombie aficionado, well versed in the lore of the walking dead. But my love for them is on a more intellectual level than visceral. I love what zombies can signify, the themes they can represent and the stories they can tell. The best zombie movies and television shows understand that those stories come from people, so they tend to focus on the characters rather than the zombies. They even realize that zombies can be used as a metaphor for real world issues, particularly the classic George Romero pictures. Comparatively, “World War Z” is fluff, a brainless action picture that defecates on the zombie subgenre to an insulting degree. Zombie movies like “Night of the Living Dead” and “Dawn of the Dead” explored themes of racism and bourgeois culture. “World War Z” explores nothing. Television shows like “The Walking Dead” (and its video game equivalent from Telltale Games) craft wonderful, human stories about people trying to hold onto their humanity even as the world falls apart around them. “World War Z” has zombies crawling on each other to jump over a giant wall. Even the film’s source material, a book written by Max Brooks, was smart enough to tell its story through firsthand recounts from survivors of the event, allowing them to describe their own experiences and giving the zombie nightmare a human angle. The movie, on the other hand, doesn’t get it. While other zombie media understands the possibilities the subgenre can offer, “World War Z” spits on it. The film has many, many problems, some of which surely stem from the much reported on troubled production and reshoots, but its biggest problem boils down to one observation: it has a fundamental misunderstanding of what the zombie subgenre is and can be. Majority opinion be damned. “World War Z” is about as bad a zombie product as has ever been created.
1) Grown Ups 2—Critics of waterboarding say that its results are inconclusive and don’t prove guilt. This is due to an eventual degradation of the recipient’s willpower, to the point where they’re willing to say whatever the torturer wants to hear so they can gain a reprieve from their endless onslaught. It’s a criticism that can be levied at many torture tactics, but if that’s the desired effect, none are as potent as watching “Grown Ups 2.” Halfway through this thing, I was ready to admit guilt to any number of horrible atrocities, just so long as it meant the movie would end. Continuing in the tradition of such lowbrow comedies as pretty much any Adam Sandler movie in the last five or six years, “Grown Ups 2” is riddled with potty humor so misguided and poorly delivered that it does a disservice to the values of actual excrement. Simulated defecation while standing on a chocolate ice cream machine, actual defecation in a retail store toilet and “burp snarts” (when you start with a burp as a sneeze is coming out, which pushes out a subsequent fart) become the order of the day. And if you don’t find burp snarts funny the first time, you won’t the second time either. Or the third. Or fourth. Or fifth. Or when the film wraps itself up with one, the final joke in a movie so full of scatological humor that I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the pages of the completed script were accidentally used as toilet paper and the filmmakers couldn’t tell the difference. When the film can’t find an organic (used in every sense of the word) way to include a pee or poo joke, “Grown Ups 2” reverts to slapstick humor. If your idea of a good time comes from watching people fall over, get hit with any number of odd assortments, accidentally spray pepper spray in their faces and have their crotches eaten by a deer, then this is the movie for you. In particular, Nick Swardson, playing a character imaginatively named Nick, exists solely to inflict harm upon. He takes so much abuse in this movie, I actually felt bad for him. His career has plummeted so far (if you can actually find a peak somewhere, that is), that he is relegated to a literal punching bag, the lowest point of a movie that already sinks so low it passes by the bottom of the barrel and digs a trench under it. I try not to exaggerate when reviewing movies, seeing as how plenty of critics do enough of that already, but I can honestly say that “Grown Ups 2” isn’t just the most unfunny comedy of the year. It’s one of the most unfunny comedies of all time.