7. Sam Peckinpah – Convoy (1978)
There’s no denying that due to Sam Peckinpah’s nitrous-fueled spiral toward irreparable self-destruction, his handful of final movies were a far cry from his peak period. That said, at least “The Killer Elite” (1975) and “The Osterman Weekend” (1982) had a handful of moments where the old magic shone through a mostly stale product. However, that’s not the case with this late 70s attempt to cash in on “Smokey and the Bandit” (1977).
Kris Kristofferson plays a no-nonsense, panty-dropping trucker who’s had all he can take from ‘the man’, and creates a convoy on his road to freedom as the law gives chase. It’s all ho-hum and filled with the era’s overused conventions of the roguish rebel throwing the authority figures the middle finger by hitting the highway (check out 1971’s “Vanishing Point” if you want to see this done right).
The only problem is that we’re given very little reason to care about Kristofferson’s character or his plight, and the band of misfits (whilst all being authentically macho) are as one-dimensional as it gets. This would all be forgivable if proceedings were just silly fun rather than of shallow and self-important.
Peckinpah was too caught up in a whirlwind of cocaine and whiskey to give the film his proper attention (supposedly close friend and frequent collaborator James Coburn ended up directing most of it), which is a shame because the story would’ve gelled perfectly with his macho poetics.
Yet as is, it feels like an impersonal and shallow job-for-hire, resulting in a dated and boring experience that you could easily skip watching. Ironically, this ended up being Peckinpah’s biggest hit at the box-office, yet because of his on-set dramatics, he ended getting booted out of film work for several years.
8. Woody Allen – Hollywood Ending (2002)
Allen’s strict mandate since 1982 about directing a picture a year is admirable, even though it’s led to some uninspired work over the years. Yet even his lesser efforts can coast on being mildly amusing or hold a hint of an interesting concept that make them acceptable for existing – all asides from this epic low point in his career.
With its tired high-concept pitch (a director has to finishing making his movie whilst going blind), and Allen’s over-reliance on his alter-ego persona, never has the filmmaker come across as so blatantly lazy.
It doesn’t help that his turn as the lead has none of his usual witty likeability; he comes across as a self-centred, whiny protagonist that’s never made the actors seem less punchable. On top of that, all of the cons of Allen’s repertoire and none of the positives are on display – a bland style, dated punchlines, and creepy penchant for having intimate scenes with younger, attractive actresses (occurring three separate times here).
It’s a flat, boring experience that attempts to mask itself as a clever Hollywood satire but is really just an excuse for Allen to fill out his 2002 slate before moving onto a better movie.
9. James Cameron – Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (1981)
The king of the modern blockbuster started off his directorial career with this bland and beyond silly sequel to Joe Dante’s surprisingly good “Jaws” rip-off “Piranha” (1978). It was a baptism of fire type of experience as he worked with an all-Italian crew and butted heads with producer Ovidio G. Assonitis constantly, who eventually locked him out the editing suite.
Cameron ended up breaking in and stealing the film reels to create his ultimate flying killer fish movie (if there is such a thing); later he was caught and his version scrapped. Still, you can’t fault Cameron for his passion – even for a shameful paycheck he’s willing to go to war for his movie.
So what about the resulting film? Well, it’s a lacklustre experience, even as a subpar horror sequel with a by-the-numbers formulaic approach to the process, managing to make a movie sprinkled with a bunch of random boobs and rubber fish attacks seem strangely dull. In all fairness, it’s not entirely Cameron’s fault; it’s obviously more the producer ‘s movie then anybody else’s.
Still, for those curious, this film features the ever-so-subtle early trademarks of the future filmmaking god; frequent collaborator Lance Hendrickson appears as the no-nonsense sheriff, there’s decent underwater photography, and the female lead is less damsel in distress and more a strong mother figure.
However, finding those more interesting aspects is like searching for peanuts in poop – ugly, unnecessary work. Cameron doesn’t even consider it his proper debut, and after watching the final cut, you’ll completely understand why.
10. Luc Besson – The Family (2013)
It’s easy to forget nowadays, but if you rewind back 20 years, Luc Besson was kind of a big deal, directing a vibrant series of unique genre pictures that provided the era’s most cutting edge action set-pieces whilst displaying an exceptional amount of emotional depth. Some high points were the quintessential hitman thriller “The Professional” (1994), the wacky sci-fi epic “The Fifth Element” (1997), and lush aquatic character piece “The Big Blue” (1988).
Then out of nowhere, he decided to hang it all up and focus instead on being Europe’s one-man blockbuster production house with the “Taken”, “The Transporter” and “District 13” franchises under his belt. He only pops back to direct the odd kid’s movie or art project here and there. Which made the prospect of him making a mob action flick with Robert De Niro all the more exciting.
Unfortunately, instead of being a throwback piece to Besson’s former glory, it’s perfectly content with playing like a juvenile mob pastiche; honestly, if it wasn’t for the R-rated nature of some scenes, it would be a fart joke away from a Kevin James vehicle. The plot revolves around ex-mobster De Niro (slumming it for a paycheck) and his delinquent family moving to a small town in France. This is all an excuse for a series of painfully unfunny scenes involving the culture clashes between them.
Literally the first 85 percent of the movie is made up of the exact same scene – family member attempts to do a chore, arrogant French person insults them, said family member beats the crap out of the French person in surprisingly brutal fashion. The only way we’re made aware that these scenes are actually meant to be funny is from the slapstick score shoehorned over it.
Then in the last 20 minutes, there’s a jarring tonal shift and we’re actually meant to care if these cardboard cutout characters either live or die. It’s a baffling turn that isn’t earned or built up, and its conclusion will easily perplex the viewer.
Overall, it’s a grand shame; if these names had collaborated together for a mob movie back in the mid-90s (Besson, De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones), it could’ve turned into something special. Instead, it’s a sad reminder that although Besson used to set a cinematic precedent, now he’s simply content at goofing off in the shadows of much better ones.
11. Wes Craven – The Hills Have Eyes Part 2 (1984)
This is a woefully bad film, but all the credit can’t be given to horror maestro Craven – he was painfully broke at the time, so when producers offered him a chance to direct a completely unnecessary sequel to his 1977 classic, the man had no choice but to accept.
Adding insult to injury, the production ran out of money halfway through filming and Craven was contractually forced to complete it. How in God’s name did he do this? Well, he did so by reusing about 85 percent of the original film spliced in as flashbacks.
The result is a feature-length film equivalent to a lame clip-show episode of “Friends”, and just as terrible; the first half of the film is nearly unwatchable (it doesn’t help that the cast is filled with some of the most obnoxious teen characters this side of the 80s), and by the moment where even the family dog (yes, you heard THAT correctly) has a flashback, you’ll want to throw your hands in the air and question your will to live.
With that said, the final act has some decent slasher action, hinting at what the rest of the film would’ve felt like it if had been properly made; it could’ve easily sat next to “Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3” (1990) as a decent if unnecessary sequel to an iconic 70’s horror masterpiece that’s nothing special, but still entreating. Sadly, that’s not the hand it was dealt, and the result feels like a proper chore to sit through.
12. Steven Spielberg – Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull (2008)
Whilst Spielberg is hardly as infallible as he was two decades ago, there’s no denying that even his often-mentioned lesser films – the over-caffeinated mess of “1941” (1979) , the empty schmaltz of “Always” (1989), or the utter disposability of “The Terminal” (2004) – all hold up with some merits.
However, the same can’t be said about Indiana Jones’s hellfire-inducing fourth outing, since those lesser films were uneven but at least they didn’t take a bucket of rotting garbage and dump it all over one cinema’s most beloved and iconic characters.
Breaking down what is wrong with said film becomes less a clear cut argument and more about – where to begin? The misguided over-reliance on shoddy computer effects? The lame opening frame featuring a cartoon gopher? Shia LaBeouf swinging from bloody vines with a group of monkeys? Still, once you get past the obvious fanboy scorning elements and just focus on it in structural terms, it’s through and through an awful film.
There’s no investment for Indy with the main McGuffin, the script is a awkward bore, and the action is barraged with a torrent of over-flamboyant set pieces that nuke the franchise beyond any respectability.
It all adds up to a dismal and depressing experience that signified that Spielberg might’ve grown too old to make these kinds of crowd-pleasers, or he just plain didn’t care. It was directed with about as much passion as him and George Lucas going through a formulaic checklist of the Indiana Jones formula, completely ignorant of what a modern audience would find exciting in an adventure movie.