Among the wretched films I’ve seen in the last six months, A Good Day to Die Hard (2013; dir. John Moore) is astounding in its cartoon exploitation of a worn out formula that was exhausted in the first three installments of the Die Hard series. Here Bruce Willis seems to go through the motions. We hear jokes about his age and about his bad relationship with his son. Throughout the film, even at times of greatest peril, father and son argue with one another, hurling insults and jabs left and right.
Pay no attention to laws of physics in this film. What is good about it? Loud explosions, helicopter crashes, fire, and cars hurling through the air. And, oh yes, the shooting. This is an NRA joyride.
Let us now consider Jack Reacher (2012; dir. Christopher McQuarrie. Its hero (played by Tom Cruise) is interesting, but there is really not much of a plot.
Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters (2013; dir. Tommy Wirkola)—instead of guns, there are flaming swords, or spells, or something. The fact that Hansel and Gretel are siblings removes most of the sexual tension from the film, except for those viewers who are truly perverse. Given the premise, which involves how Hansel and Gretel take revenge on witches because some old witch in the past tried to have them both for lunch, there’s not much of a place for this film to go. As a child I was always bothered by how the parents in the fairy tale abandoned their children in the woods. How cruel! I could empathize with the abandonment the children must have felt. My parents were good parents, they never abandoned me in the woods, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t worry about abandonment. This film ends up explaining too much about that abandonment in the fairy tale. In the film, it turns out that the children’s mother was a white witch, which means a good one, and that as a result all the other witches wanted to kill her. So she gets burned at the stake, and her husband dies, but not before they take their children deep into the woods to ensure the bad witches don’t find them. There’s not much imagination here. It’s predictable and prosaic and pretty dumb. Why would Jeremy Renner, the main actor in The Hurt Locker (2008; dir. Kathryn Bigelow), agree to appear in this one? Maybe he was desperate.
If we don’t praise Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry, who played a racist African American stereotype in the figure of Stepin Fetchit through many films of the 1930s and 40s, or James Baskett, who played a lovable if stereotyped Uncle Remus in Song of the South (1946), why do we praise Melissa McCarthy for her comic portrayal of a bumbling, dysfunctional, sociopathic overweight woman in Identity Theif (2013; dir. Seth Gordon)?
Oz the Great and Powerful (2013; dir. Sam Raimi) features several well-known and even respected actors, including James Franco as the Oz character. It’s produced by Disney Studios, renowned for achievements in animation and for a string of creative animated films running from Fantasia (1940) and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937) to Beauty and the Beast (1991) and Finding Nemo (2003). Why, then, is this film such a travesty? The story is lame, the acting is embarrassing, the special effects and animation are impressive, but they have no story to carry, and after a while they grow tiresome. Were Baum’s novels as wretched as this film?
Jack the Giant Killer (2013; dir. Mark Atkins) was actually entertaining. Its wit and inventiveness raised it well above the level of the films mentioned above. It had action, interesting characters, wit, and, most of all, big, dumb giants.