A vile scenario doesn't necessarily have to translate into a vile movie, providing there's some objective or empathy on the part of the filmmakers. Gaspar Noe's 2002 French release Irreversible, for example, centers around arguably the most brutal rape sequence ever committed to celluloid, but several factors, specifically Noe's decision to tell the story in reverse (thus delineating the heartbreaking -- and commonplace -- circumstances that could have prevented the tragedy), provide the picture with a purpose and keep it out of the exploitation zone.
Then there's the case of The Switch. Deciding that Jeffrey Eugenides' short story would be perfect for expanding into a wacky comedy, the film's creators -- the Blades of Glory directing team of Josh Gordon and Will Speck, writer Allan Loeb and Aniston herself (she serves as an executive producer) -- ran with the premise of Aniston as a single woman who badly wants a baby. Aniston's Kassie Larson opts to go the route of a sperm donor, despite the objections of her best friend Wally Mars (Jason Bateman). Wally, a whiny neurotic who's secretly smitten with Kassie, thinks it's an awful idea -- not so awful, though, that he doesn't volunteer his own sperm (Kassie politely declines). Kassie's sperm donor turns out to be a hunky athlete named Roland (Patrick Wilson), but through circumstances too mind-numbingly stupid to detail here, a drunken Wally accidentally spills the filled baby-batter cup and elects to replace the lost content with his own seed (produced while masturbating to a picture of Diane Sawyer).
The pregnant Kassie soon leaves town; cut to seven years later, when she returns with young Sebastian (Thomas Robinson) in tow. Wally immediately notices that Sebastian shares many of his characteristics and habits, and he slowly recalls the hazy details of seven years ago; Kassie, on the other hand, remains dumb as a brick and will need Wally to spell it out for her. But of course, he's too scared to tell her the truth, so much hilarity ensues. Or not.
Did none of the filmmakers -- or the (mostly women) audience members at my screening -- not realize that Wally's action of implanting his unwanted sperm into Kassie qualifies as a form of rape? If the movie ever seriously addressed this issue beyond some ever-so-modest poo-pooing by Wally's boss and confidant (a deadpan Jeff Goldblum, the film's lone bright spot), then it would warrant some modicum of respect, but everything is played at an inane sitcom level, and we're supposed to cheer Wally on as he incessantly tries to bag his woman (shouldn't he be going to jail instead?). Strip away the ramifications of the plot and The Switch is merely one more failed Aniston rom-com bomb. But add it back in and we're talking about a fairly revolting piece of work.
NANNY MCPHEE RETURNS
Considering that 2005's Nanny McPhee hasn't exactly established itself on this side of the Atlantic as a family classic, there's nothing about the title Nanny McPhee Returns to suggest that this sequel will fare any better. Perhaps Universal Pictures would have been wise to keep the film's original British moniker, Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang, in the hopes that a few ill-informed folks stateside would mistake it for a softcore romp and hand over their hard-earned dollars.
Certainly, this children's tale could use more bang for the filmgoer's buck, relating an occasionally clever but often daft yarn about the efforts of the title character (again played by Emma Thompson) to help a struggling mother (Maggie Gyllenhaal, affecting a fine English accent) with her brood while her husband's off fighting in World War II. The children are all well-cast, but this overdoses on the saccharine: Watching CGI critters do supposedly cute things (a bird constantly belching, pigs engaging in synchronized swimming) isn't exactly my cup of tea -- English Breakfast, English Afternoon, or otherwise.
The Truth In Advertising award for the summer of 2010 goes to The Expendables, which employs (however unintentionally) its own title to push the fact that this is a disposable action film that will dissipate from memory almost immediately. Its primary -- make that only -- selling point is its large cast of macho action stars.
But the truth only goes as far as the marquee. As the leader of a group of mercenaries hired to take down a South American dictator, Sylvester Stallone is almost always front and center, but those expecting him to share significant screen time with fellow Big Boys Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger will be disappointed that the other two are only in one scene. And really, is it that big a deal to have a cast that includes Steve Austin, Randy Couture and Terry Crews? These guys would line up for a straight-to-DVD American Pie sequel if asked.
Nobody goes to this type of movie for the acting, but given the lack of excitement in most of the action scenes (more mano-a-mano skirmishes would have better served the film rather than the ceaseless gunfire and explosions), there's little else to discuss. Faring best are Jason Statham as Stallone's right-hand man -- the actor's natural charisma counts for a lot in the midst of all these stone faces -- and Mickey Rourke in a nicely understated turn as a former member of Stallone's squad. Delivering the worst performance is Dolph Lundgren, who apparently hasn't learned a single thing after 25 years in the business.
Go to the Internet Movie Database (www.IMDb.com) and you'll find a section that lists the 100 worst movies ever made according to the site's visitors. The writer-director team of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer is noteworthy in that three of their first four pictures -- Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans and Disaster Movie -- have all managed to place on that list (only Date Movie missed the cut). Having never seen any of these spoofs -- none have been screened for critics, and other things in life held more interest than catching up with them -- I initially took the online film community's unshakable faith of awfulness with a grain of salt, since these folks are the same people who have voted The Shawshank Redemption the greatest movie of all time (in Internet vernacular, my response to that delusional claim is LOLOL! ROFL!). In regards to the Friedberg-Seltzer tag team, though, sitting through Vampires Suck makes me believe that these filmgoers may have a point, and I imagine this latest turkey will shortly be giving the pair four titles in that Bottom 100.
Despite that blanket title, don't expect any digs at Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee or Anne Rice, and True Blood and The Vampire Diaries are dismissed with one blink-and-you'll-miss-it sight gag apiece. No, this is strictly all-Twilight-all-the-time, with the focus squarely on Stephenie Meyer's franchise phenomenon. Thus, in the town of Sporks, we find Becca Crane (Jenn Proske, the best thing in the movie) falling for the sparkly vampire Edward Sullen (Matt Lanter), with wolfboy Jacob White (Chris Riggi) sniffing at her heels with a bad case of puppy love.
While I've already seen worse movies than Vampires Suck this year, it's doubtful I'll see another as lazily constructed as this one -- even a homemade YouTube video simply capturing a dog chasing its own tail displays more effort and imagination than what passes for entertainment here. Because this is an obvious ploy to con money out of all the Twilight haters out there, Friedberg and Seltzer don't even try to come up with clever ways to mock the material in the biting manner of, say, MAD magazine or early Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker. Instead, they merely plop down some sequence practically lifted wholesale from Twilight or The Twilight Saga: New Moon, add a gross-out gag, a piece of knockabout humor or a pop culture reference that will seem hopelessly dated in just a few years, and leave it at that.
A couple of lines manage to tickle the brain but don't quite reach the corners of the mouth (needless to say, nothing here will elicit an actual belly laugh), leaving us with desperate humor along the lines of Becca's father (Diedrich Bader) passing his blowup sex doll off as his daughter's new mom, or Jacob lifting his leg to urinate on a fire hydrant, or Lady Gaga/Kardashian/Jersey Shore shout-outs that add nothing but more embarrassment for all concerned.