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January 5, 2007 |

By Dustin Rowles | Guides | January 5, 2007 |

For the next week, we’ll be presenting those ubiquitous and oh-so-self-indulgent year-end lists we know you all love and cherish, beginning with today’s Biggest Hype-Busting Films of 2006, which should not be confused with Friday’s entry, The Worst Films of the Year. Next week, we’ll introduce Pajiba’s Best Movies of 2006 and follow it up with the TV Whore’s Year in Television. So stay tuned — you’ll have plenty of opportunities to take issue with our opinions and/or engage other commenters in flame wars.

In a year in which Internet hype both created and then unceremoniously took down Snakes on a Plane, I figured there was no better way to start off 2007 than with a look back at the films that failed most spectacularly to live up to their hype. The title should suggest all you need to know about the criteria for The Biggest Hype-Busting Films of 2006, but for the simpletons out there, these films are not necessarily the worst of the year but those 1) whose quality was most inversely proportional to the attendant hype or 2) fell farthest from audience expectations — “expectations” being a relative term here, as defined by my own eager anticipation leading up to the film’s release.

Got it? Cool. Here we go:

10. Nacho Libre: Granted, by the time Nacho Libre arrived in theaters, I’d long since become sick of anything associated with Jared Hess’ directorial debut, Napoleon Dynamite (cubicle monkeys and frat boys had ruined all that was quirky and fun about the film by exhausting each and every catchphrase ad fucking nauseum and basically Lindsay Lohaned a cute, somewhat endearing indie film), and School of Rock had already sapped what little entertainment value Jack Black had remaining from his arsenal of fat-boy witticisms. Still, I’d naïvely held out some hope that the combination of Black and Hess could somehow rekindle their respective magic. Unfortunately, Nacho Libre was the ultimate comedic disappointment: Not only had Hess’ whimsy been exorcised by the big budget, but the film didn’t even work as mainstream gross-out, dick-and-fart fare. It was lame sketch comedy run amok, based on the flimsy premise that Jack Black’s flabby torso was intrinsically hilarious, especially in combination with a bad accent. The entire film lacked enthusiasm — dull, flat, and lifeless. Indeed, for anyone wondering what comedic constipation after a three-month fast might look like, Nacho Libre is your answer.

9. Casino Royale: There’s more than a little bit of rabble-rousing in Casino Royale’s inclusion in the year’s biggest hype busters, particularly given Dan’s favorable review of the film. Chalk this up as my “I’m intentionally trying to piss some folks off” entry. Still, I’m a little aghast at the number of folks who thought this was the best Bond picture since the heyday of Connery or, in some people’s opinion, the “Best. Bond. Ever.” I like to think that Royale succeeded based largely on low expectations; when the first wave of attendees realized that the film (or Daniel Craig) didn’t outright suck, their estimation of the film overshot the mark. Sure, the first half-hour was exhilarating, though lacking in ingenuity, but the hour or so following the post-Hold ‘Em torture scene was wretchedly dull. It was obvious to damn near anyone with more than six brain cells that Vesper Lynd was totally playing Bond, but to drag it out interminably and compound that pain with the insufferable, gag-worthy love story manufactured by Paul Haggis was just outright cruel. Worse still, there was absolutely no payoff. None of the blame lay with Daniel Craig, of course, (he was phenomenal) but with the writing, the narrative arc, and the ultimately unsatisfying conclusion, all of which seriously spoiled an otherwise frenetically enjoyable opening few sequences.

8. Miami Vice: Never mind the fact that still, in 2006, no one has successfully translated a television show into a quality film, Miami Vice had Michael freakin’ Mann at the helm. The guy directed Heat, for God’s sake. He has four Oscar nominations. And he executive-produced the original Miami Vice series. If there was anyone who was going to finally manage the feat, it was Michael Mann. Unfortunately, as slick-looking as Miami Vice was at times, it lacked intensity. It was slow, plodding, and completely mindless. Worse still, other than the namesakes of the major characters, the location, and the title of the film, it barely even resembled the original TV series, which you’d expect to be a good thing. Not so much here: Mann’s film was empty, devoid of intrigue, and wholly unoriginal — it was basically a recycled Lethal Weapon plotline. Indeed, I can’t imagine any other film that actually could’ve used a healthy dose of Don Johnson, if only to break the tedium. And really, what the fuck was up with Colin Farrell’s hair?

7. A Scanner Darkly: Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly was another one of those films for which I had high expectations. It had a lot going for it, namely that it was based on a layered, intelligent part sci-fi, part semi-autobiographical Phillip K. Dick novel; it featured a throwback Gen-X cast (Keanu Reeves, Winona Ryder, and Robert Downey Jr.); and that Linklater used the cool rotoscoping technique he’d employed in the infinitely better Waking Life. Unfortunately, while the animation process suited the surreal, strung-out nature of a drug experience, it would’ve taken a number of hallucinogenics to find A Scanner Darkly the least bit engrossing. Indeed, A Scanner Darkly mostly amounted to the endless incoherent babbling one would expect of a real-life conversation with a tripped out Keanu: Aimless, empty, self-indulgent and, ultimately, kind of dull. I’ve had better times listening to Dogstar albums.

6. Basic Instinct 2: My disappointment in Basic Instinct 2 lay not only in the film itself, but in its reception. Seriously, this was a flick that was hyped for months, that featured leaked soft-porn scenes, and Sharon Stone in prime washed-up, over-the-top, spread-eagle, batshit-crazy mode. The writing was ham-fisted, the acting was overblown, and Sharon was a plain fucking embarrassment in a role that once and for all wrecked her and her vagina’s barely existent movie career. I mean, c’mon, there were enough badly delivered clichés in this film to choke William Strunk, Jr. to death. What’s not to love? Hell, we were giddy as hell about the Basic Instinct sequel around the offices — for a site that promises “Scathing Reviews for Bitchy People,” this film was tailor-made for us, and Jeremy delivered: “It’s as if Stone’s vagina stormed off the set in the first week of shooting and hid out in its trailer until the wrap party.” Unfortunately, Basic Instinct 2 didn’t quite provide the requisite sleazy camp, and audiences had clearly lost their appetite for so-bad-it’s-good flicks. Good thing, too, since BI2 couldn’t quite pull the good/bad/good full circle. Still, it doesn’t dampen our hopes for a Basic Instinct trilogy; we won’t be happy until that geriatric, Botoxed cooter does showtunes, damn it.

5. Running with Scissors: You couldn’t really expect a film to live up to the brilliance of Augusten Burroughs’ holy-shit-that-didn’t-just-happen memoir, Running with Scissors. Burroughs treated his fucked-up childhood with an sharp, twisted sense of humor that never had a chance of surviving the process of cinematic translation. But I never anticipated anything nearly as bad as Ryan Murphy’s adaptation, which sucked the soul out of the book and replaced it with set design and Gwyneth Fucking Paltrow. Certainly, Annette Bening turned in a beautifully layered, complicated performance, but everything else about the film was a complete and utter failure. Worst of all, Burroughs’ irreverence was replaced with unnecessary pathos, the result of which was to play on the viewers’ pity instead of their sense of humor. The entire thing was a goddamn travesty and, for a huge fan of Burroughs’ work, easily one of the biggest letdowns of the year.

4. Lady in the Water: Sure, sure. M. Night Shyamalan’s creative efforts have dwindled incrementally since The Sixth Sense, but I guess I tricked myself into believing that the presence of Paul Giamatti and Shyamalan’s break from Disney would result in a return to form, or at least a better effort than The Village, which was a dull, 120-minute setup for a lame, twist ending. Sadly, Lady in the Water felt like a dull 120-minute setup for a lame, twist ending that never even arrived. I convinced myself while watching Lady (at least when my eyes weren’t completely glazed over) that Shyamalan would somehow tie all this bullshit together and offer a satisfying conclusion to the mess of a story he’d created. And when Giamatti et al. stared up into the stars and the credits rolled, I felt cheated. I wouldn’t have cared how preposterous the lame twist was; anything else would’ve been better than Story’s (Bryce Dallas Howard) lame prediction that Vick’s (Shyamalan) work, The Cookbook, would one day inspire a boy to become the President of the United States. You mean, that’s it? I thought. The upside, of course, was that I understood why Shyamalan read Lady in the Water to his children at bedtime — I doubt anything short of a horse tranquilizer would’ve put them to sleep quicker.

3. The Last Kiss Undoubtedly, the fact that The Last Kiss was one of the worst films of the year came as a surprise to almost no one, except me and (perhaps) MollyGood and her (unnatural) affection for Rachel Bilson. What can I say? That goddamn trailer — featuring the Snow Patrol song and Casey Affleck holding a child — basically did me in. Still, The Last Kiss left me bitter, angry, and determined never again to let an opportunity to lay waste to Paul Haggis in print pass me by. As I wrote in my review: “Cloying sentimentality completely aside, Haggis is one terrible motherfucking writer, with an ear for dialogue like K-Fed has an ear for hip-hop lyrics. Seriously, I’m not being the least bit hyperbolic when I say that I’ve seen better and more believable writing on ‘The Young and the Restless.’ Why anyone ever decided to let this man have a pen is beyond me. … There is absolutely no reason anyone should’ve allowed this script to be filmed; short of a heavy dose of brainwashing Dianetics and a hostage situation at DreamWorks Studios, it is unfathomable to me that it would get the greenlight.” Indeed, other films this year may have been slightly worse, others a little more disappointing, but I hated The Last Kiss more than any other. I loathed it with the blinding intensity of a Pete Doherty hangover. I mean, Jesus, not even the fucking Braffian soundtrack was any damn good. Seriously, in what world does an attractive, pregnant woman take her fiancé back after he’s fucked a college girl on a whim, just because he sat out in the rain and risked a bad cold for a few days? A Paul Haggis world, that’s where. Fucking hack.

2. The Break-Up Coming off Dodgeball, Wedding Crashers, and a scene-stealing role in Mr. & Mrs. Smith, my man-crush on Vince Vaughn had reached its apex by the time The Break-Up appeared in theaters. But after two hours with what was mislabeled as a romantic comedy, I sadly concluded that Vince and I needed some space. It wasn’t so much the month-long, throat-jamming exposure to Jen and Vince, the tabloid/gossip blog obsession with their relationship, or the apathy I had for Jennifer Aniston; it was the movie itself, of which I wrote in June: “You just knew that the second you took Vince Vaughn out of the buddy comedy and put him in a romantic one, you’d kill ‘Fun Bobby,’ and The Break-Up is exactly what happens when your drunken wingman turns in his Bud Light for weekends with Mary Alice studying Pottery Barn catalogues.” The Break-Up never even pretended to be comedy; it was a badly done film about the melancholy unraveling of a relationship, which relied on lamely conventional sitcom tropes —had there been a joke that worked, I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear a laugh track. Worst of all, however, was that Vaughn’s one-trick talents went largely unused — it was like signing Peyton Manning to hand the ball off 50 times a game. What’s the point? It’s not like David Spade wasn’t available.

1. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest: It may have been the biggest box-office draw of the year, but the second Pirates of the Caribbean was also the most bloated, overdone, hype-busting chunk of cinematic excrement since Star Wars: Episode I. Indeed, PI:2 was basically 150 minutes of anesthetic for my ass. Sure, it had plenty of action, great special effects, and lots of Keira Knightley’s breastplate, if you’re into that sort of thing. But it had nothing approaching a plot, unless you get a kick out of watching Johnny Depp, inch-thick in mascara, running around in circles. And what the fuck was up with the ooga-booga cannibalistic natives? Never mind that they were offensive (it was as though the screenwriters were taking their cues from WWII-era Looney Tunes shorts) but they dragged on for so long, I wanted to climb up on the fucking spit and roast myself just to get the goddamn movie over with already. If Disney wanted to throw at us what was essentially a teaser for the third film, why bother with the behemoth running time? Half an hour or four hours, we were still going to pay the same $10. But if we’re asked to sit for two-and-a-half hours of meaningless silliness, the least Bruckheimer could’ve done was to tie up one or two loose ends, rather than ram our collective heads against a wall with hollow inanity until our brains swelled and bled out of our ears. Hell, the only thing that kept me from leaving was the row of people sleeping next to me — I didn’t want to slip on anybody’s drool.

Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.

The Biggest Hype-Busting Films of 2006

Pajiba's Year in Review / Dustin Rowles

Guides | January 5, 2007 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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