Welcome to the next CHUD List.

We’ve tackled our essentials list and the continued revelation of our Kills List from 2003, and now that we’ve begun the beguine, we must continue. Behold:

The CHUD.com Top 50 Disappointments.

A quick word on the criteria. We could very easily have spent this whole article discussing sequels and prequels and adaptations of television shows and called it a day. Instead, we tried to go a different route. Also, from a master list of over 100, the involved parties (Devin, Jeremy, Micah, Russ, and myself) all killed off a choice for each one we claimed. As a result, we’ll run a big list at the end of this of the ‘ones that got away’. So, here is day one of many where we chronicle the 50 Biggest Disappointments. Two a day, every week day for five weeks. In no particular order:

http://chud.com/nextraimages/dogma_ver1.jpg#30 – Dogma (1999, dir. Kevin Smith)

Dogma was supposed to be the real arrival of Kevin Smith as a major filmmaker. It was what many considered to be his masterpiece screenplay, it had more stars than a bowl of pastina, and it was to be the devoutly Catholic Smith’s big statement on religion. Whatever your personal taste is for Clerks, Chasing Amy, and Mallrats, there’s no denying the fact that Smith was poised for a coming out party that extended beyond the slackers and dorm room militants. The resulting film is a mess and a car crash of a film, though unlike the latter I find it hard to watch even with a wincing repulsion.

This is still the film that really sets off a debate when brought up with a die-hard Smith fan. There are Big Ideas at play and there’s no denying the man’s voice and confidence in his beliefs. Also, the script does read considerably better than it sounds onscreen but a combination of really bad performances and the fact that Smith dialogue sometimes lacks the smoothness and realism when spoken scuttles what could have been great. In the same way that Tarantino’s words [Death Proof had some real glaring examples of such] and David Mamet’s words need the RIGHT people to deliver them to sell them onscreen, so do Smith’s. It’s why Jason Lee has a career and why Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are time and time again strong points in his films.

Without a convincing avatar, Smith’s films can sound like first draft high school plays. Chris Rock’s work here feels like a cold table read and Linda Fiorentino, so good in The Last Seduction, feels like she crawled out of the womb directly to set without an ounce of training along the way. There’s a conversation between her and Alan Rickman where the back and forth cutting and the timing of the edits do the actors no favors and it ranks amongst my all-time most amateuristic moments in mainstream film. It’s a painful scene to watch and Fiorentino’s reaction shots may be the worst I’ve ever seen. Was it in the editing? Was Smith given so little to work from? No matter what the culprit, that scene is horrendous and indicative of how this film could have been great with more graceful execution and performers more suited to the material.

What matters is that despite really fun work from Affleck and Damon, the best of intentions by Smith, and the presence of George Carlin, Dogma never develops into a rewarding film. It’s messy. It doesn’t feel totally fleshed out in structure and it isn’t a great look at religion nor deserving of the controversy that initially surrounded it. What is most disappointing about this film though, is that ever since Kevin Smith has been unwilling to really put his neck out there and take a chance with a film, instead going back to familiar turf with Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Clerks 2, and the mainstream Jersey Girl. - Nick

Travesty Scale (1-10): 5 out of 10

http://chud.com/nextraimages/reigames.jpg#29 – Reindeer Games (2000. dir. John Frankenheimer)

Coming straight off the heels of the outstanding Ronin, John Frankenheimer seemed to be really cooking with gas once again. Although he was a masterful director of thrillers with a brilliant CV studded with gems like Seven Days in May, The French Connection II, and The Manchurian Candidate, Frankenheimer seemed to bottom out in the late 80s/early 90s with a series of missteps that peaked with his troubled remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau. Ronin was a bold declaration that the master of the thriller still had his good form and could deliver the goods.

But seemingly from the conceptual stage, his follow-up, Reindeer Games, would throw much of that into doubt. Frankenheimer eagerly sought out Ben Affleck, here at the height of his leading man marketability, for the lead role of weasel-ly ex-con Rudy Duncan – a mistake that almost sinks the film by itself. While Frankenheimer somehow saw an everyman quality to the guy, he’s obviously out of his depth here bereft of the oily charm such a character requires. The script, provided by up-and-comer (at the time) Ehren Kruger, was a TV-sized tale laden with pointless twist after pointless twist in a vain effort to up the doublecross ante. The supporting cast wasn’t much better, as Affleck’s foil in the film was (barely) played by an acting-with-his-wig Gary Sinise, who is constantly accompanied by a silly band of criminals consisting of the likes of Clarence Williams III and Donal Logue. Topping the miscasting off was similarly out-of-her-depth Charlize Theron as the femme fatale whose turn on Affleck halfway through the movie was about as surprising as the next breath you take.

But all of that made for a merely mediocre film. It’s Frankenheimer’s direction that pushes it firmly into horrific territory, and his oddly-stylized shooting style – consisting of way too many askew angles and close-ups – remains the most surprising and disappointing aspect of a movie with a not meager amount of flaws already. When he’s not stopping the movie dead for holiday-themed visual gags, Frankenheimer displays all of the skill of a first year student in handicapping talky scenes with bizarre framing that occasionally makes one wonder if their TV is working properly.

Reindeer Games is certainly a bad film, but even for a man who’s been reduced to schlock in the past, it seems so very beneath Frankenheimer to have his name associated with such a poorly-directed effort. He’d later go on to redeem himself with Path To War before shuffling off his mortal coil, but this remains one of the more puzzling and frustrating efforts of his canon.

- Micah

Travesty Scale (1-10): 6 out of 10

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