Doubled Barrelled Shotgun – Bad Movies & ‘Bad Movies’

by TheLitCritGuy

So after the disappointment that was last week’s review I started thinking about bad movies and  what makes some movies worse than others, and to be honest that didn’t really seem like enough to get a whole column out of. Then I had a little epiphany – there are bad movies, and then there are there are “bad” movies.

Let me explain – “bad movies” appear in a vast array of different forms and the best ones, (in my opinion, as I do accept that tastes vary) come from the late 1980s and usually featured a muscle bound man blowing stuff up. Think ‘Commando’ (1985) or ‘Predator’ (1987). Big, dumb, loud films that had people blowing stuff up, caricatures of bad guys with evil beards and heroes who were unquestionably good and usually packing more muscle than a small bull. They were awesome. But they weren’t and most certainly aren’t even now, critically, objectively or artistically good films. Because films are not art – or rather, films are not just art. Films are fun. Films are entertainment and these films entertain a huge amount. They are ‘bad’ movies – some people use the term guilty pleasure as a way of justifying watching them. It’s strange and guilty language to use about something you enjoy, and it sort of suggests a distancing, a way of saying ‘yes I like it…..BUT I KNOW I SHOULDN’T’

When I stop and think about it, this strikes me as strange but really when you like at most forms of popular art, you’ll find similar language being used. People who enjoy certain pop music, or TV shows, or really popular books (50 Shades of Grey anyone?) You don’t tend to find this kind of thing in art forms that aren’t as populist as film and TV. After all, I’ve never heard about someone saying they’re going to see Edward II because plays by Marlowe are a guilty pleasure. There isn’t such a thing as a trashy opera. In short this might be part of the historical hierarchy of the art world coupled with maybe a pinch of guilt about the level of culture we engage in, but I really hope we can reclaim ‘bad movies’ as something to celebrate. This year the Edinburgh Fringe Festival had another midnight screening of the wonderful bad movie ‘The Room’ which serious cultural reviewers were calling one of the best things at the fringe. When the frankly hilariously bad ‘Showgirls’  came out it bombed and then people started throwing Showgirls parties to come together and watch the film with friends. In a way these ‘bad movies’ are a great cultural education ( OK maybe I’m pushing this argument a little far) but at the very least they bring people together and enable them to have fun in a way that Fellini marathon probably couldn’t.

Another thing I noticed about ‘bad movies’ is that they don’t appear overnight. It takes time for something to be recognised as a bad movie – ‘The Room’ was released in 2004, but it wasn’t until the last few years that it started to get wider recognition. The action movies of the 1980s that I love so much were treated very straight faced when they were released but in the ironic hipster nostalgia boom of my generation they’ve been re-discovered anew. But something has been happening recently – as always – that threatens to ruin everything I like about these films. I’m being given new ones, or even more annoying, new ones that are pretending to be old ones.

Total Recall. The Expendables II.  YOU GUYS ARE RUINING MY FUN!

Let me put it like this – when I look at films like this that are coming out lately, it feels like I’m being forced to have new favorite ‘bad movies’ and as I’ve said, it should take time for these movies to become the kind of movie that you can enjoy on a night in with friends.  Now this can happen more quickly – the frankly bonkers ‘Crank’ from 2006 and ‘Shoot Em Up’ from 2007 being notable exceptions to the rule but lately it feels like I’m being forced into these films. The remake of Total Recall feels like someone sat the writer in a room and told them the plot of the original and left out the one liners and the self-awareness that made the original a great Arnie vehicle. As a film, its fine – I suppose – competent at the very least but it isn’t nearly as good as the original. Will it become one of the great ‘bad movies’ of the future? NO. Will it be found in the bargain bin of HMV in 5 years’ time? Yes. Well, if HMV is still in existence.

Compared with the Expendables II though, the Total Recall remake is a minor irritation. If there was any a film franchise that was aching to tap into the nostalgia of the 1980s it is this one. The Expendables is desperate to be one of the ‘bad movies’ that you watch with a fridge of cold beers and all of your best friends.  And it must be awesome – BECAUSE YOU RECOGNISE THE ACTORS IN IT! AND EXPLOSIONS!

You can sense the neediness – it’s there in the complete lack of original thought and the generic action sequences that ape the action sequences that were interesting to watch 20 years ago, all that’s changed is the effects. What’s most depressing about the film though is how crushingly serious it is and the trailer for the sequel doesn’t give me any hope that they’ve made it any more fun. It used to be that movies like this made the effort to demonstrate some self-awareness in what they were, and not be so Po-faced. I can hardly be expected to find something awesome if all I have to look forward to is Dolph Lundgren glowering at me! Is this what the ‘bad movie’ has been reduced to? These aren’t ‘bad movies.’ They’re just bad.

That being said I do have some hope for ‘Lockout’ – who ever managed to pitch Guy Pearce fighting his way into prison to rescue the president’s daughter IN SPACE, clearly knows exactly what makes a bad movie tick…