Flippin' the bird with SN&R's guide to 2013's cinematic turkeys

Film critics Daniel Barnes and Jim Lane roast the worst of the worst in SN&R's Turkey Day shoot

Hey, Superman, do that thing where you make the world spin backward—anything to turn back time and save the universe from the bad superhero movie trend.

Hey, Superman, do that thing where you make the world spin backward—anything to turn back time and save the universe from the bad superhero movie trend.

It's beginning to look a lot like—the end of the year. You know, the season when critics of all stripes share their most profound thoughts on the year’s best, most prestigious fare worthy of awards.

But what of all the dreck? Each year, SN&R film critics Daniel Barnes and Jim Lane are forced to sit through a lot of bad movies. Really bad ones. That said, in the spirit of the holidays, it’s the least we can do to let them vent and roast the worst of the worst.

We don’t need another superhero

The family gatherings, food orgies, football marathons and four-day weekends have long made Thanksgiving my favorite holiday.

Three cinematic bad birds from the past year (top to bottom): The Counselor, The Lone Ranger and This Is 40.

An added bonus for a movie-mad child in the 1980s was reading Sacramento Bee critic Joe Baltake’s annual Thanksgiving roundup of cinematic turkeys.

That was my first exposure to that most petty and delightful critical task—the negative review. As food critic Anton Ego said in Ratatouille, “We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”

You know something? He’s right. Negative criticism is fun (the rest of the speech is pure drivel). In that spirit, here are my picks for the year’s most overstuffed turkeys and the trends for which I’m least thankful.

This Is 40: For a filmmaker with a previously impersonal output, Judd Apatow’s This Is 40 revealed a lot about its creator, all of it quite troubling and sad. Apatow cast his wife Leslie Mann and their own nonprofessional kids as the wife and children to Paul Rudd’s Apatow-esque industry schmoozer, then wrote all of them as neurotic, shrieking idiots. Perhaps the film makes more sense if you have children—or a prescription-drug problem—of your own. The entire point seems to be that Apatow’s marriage is some kind of painfully unfunny waking nightmare of a hell on Earth, and if This Is 40 is any indication, it’s a point well taken.

Baggage Claim: In all the time I’ve been writing film reviews, Baggage Claim is the movie I’m most annoyed that I watched and didn’t get paid to write about. Desperate for a date to her sister’s wedding, Paula Patton and her pals launch a wacky romantic scheme that would be the envy of every terrorist organization, celebrity stalker and serial killer in the world. Did I mention that the scheme was wacky? Patton also uses a rehearsal-dinner toast to goad her sister into calling off the wedding, and true to the film’s cuckoo-bird moral compass, it’s portrayed as a sane and selfless act. Playing a stereotypically mincing gay flight attendant, Adam Brody gives by far the best performance. That’s a problem.

World War Z: This is neither the worst film of the year (I still vote for The Fifth Estate), nor the worst blockbuster (Oz the Great and Powerful or anything starring Melissa McCarthy, take your pick). However, World War Z is the most successful movie that is the most overrated by the largest number of seemingly sensible people possible. A zombie plague sweeps the planet for unknown reasons. Brad Pitt pouts and broods like he’s in a United Zombies of Benetton ad for unknown reasons. There are some awful special effects, some disconnected action scenes, a distinct lack of horror, I think Pitt had a family at some point and then boom! Zombie apocalypse solved for unknown reasons—or is it? I guess we will continue to not know until the sequel.

Superhero movie fatigue: This is an ongoing bad trend (see Thor: The Dark World). Marvel’s The Avengers in 2012 took four terrible superhero franchises and merged them into one insanely terrible superhero supergroup film. Those characters have all spawned sequels whose storylines will eventually join into a The Avengers sequel. In the next Batman film, the plan is for Ben Affleck’s crime fighter to meet Henry Cavill’s Man of Steel. The last Wolverine movie previewed the upcoming X-Men movie, in which old Xavier and Magneto (Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, respectively) send Wolverine back in time to meet young Xavier and Magneto (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender), and every character from every other timeline meets every other version of everyone else. How long before they all meet the Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island? Entire world, I command you stop liking this crap immediately! D.B.

Hey, don’t blame Johnny Depp

Any time an annual worst-movies list is made, if Adam Sandler or director Michael Bay released anything that year, it’s a good bet it will belong on that list. But that’s too easy. Making lousy movies is their calling in life, the way Mother Teresa was called to serve the poor in India. I’ll just mention that in 2013 Michael Bay made Pain & Gain, while Sandler made Grown Ups 2, and leave it at that.

More disheartening, however, is the unexpectedly bad movie, one that you might have reasonably thought (or hoped) would be much better. And there were certainly those in 2013.

Man of Steel: This ugly, joyless mess did absolutely everything wrong. Writers David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan adopted the same kill-the-fun style that served them so well in the wildly overrated The Dark Knight trilogy, with the result that their movie made a quick $400 million, then sank like a rock once word of mouth got around. The same crew, plus director Zack Snyder, are hard at work now on Batman vs. Superman, laying an early claim to the worst movie of 2015.

Romeo & Juliet: We needn’t waste too much space on this amateurish botch of a surefire property. Almost nobody liked it—after a month in release, the film had only netted a $1.1 million gross.

The Lone Ranger: Nobody liked this one, either. Johnny Depp tried to blame the critics for the $200 million Walt Disney Pictures lost, but he need only have looked into the nearest mirror, and taken a gander at that stupid bird hat. Looking on the bright side, at least this turkey’s box-office nosedive had one good outcome: Disney has decided to “postpone” the next Pirates of the Caribbean sequel.

Planes: After revolutionizing the field of feature animation with Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2 and others, John Lasseter’s place in movie history is secure, and there’s every reason to believe his best years are still ahead of him. Now that he’s cranked out this dreary paint-by-numbers, follow-your-dream fable, we can only hope that his worst work is behind him. Word was that Planes was originally slated to go straight to video, but Lasseter insisted on a full-blown theatrical release, with all the prestige of Pixar Animation Studios (which didn’t produce it) and Walt Disney Animation Studios (which did) behind it. It was a mistake. What might have passed (and may yet pass) for a harmless baby sitter on DVD looked tired and empty on the big screen.

The Counselor: Cormac McCarthy is a revered novelist (The Road, All the Pretty Horses, No Country for Old Men) and no stranger to screenwriting (The Sunset Limited), but what the hell was he thinking when he concocted this pretentious gobbledygook of a script? An incoherent plot crammed with unplayable scenes and indigestible dialogue; not even director Ridley Scott and an all-star cast could salvage it. J.L.