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A baker's dozen from a "Battlefield" survivor

This year there were several movies we expected to be good, or at least interesting. They weren't.

By STEVE PERSALL

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 29, 2000


photo
[Photo: AP]
And the loser is . . . John Travolta stars in the ill-fated Battlefield Earth.
2000 was the year I got a bit pickier about which movies to see. You can smell some dogs coming from a mile away.

Thanks to an understanding boss, my time wasn't spent on predictable duds like Highlander: Endgame, Dungeons & Dragons and Autumn in New York. Condolences to those reviewers we used to confirm those impressions.

Studios often made the decision for me, hiding lousy films from critics so they could steal a weekend's box office receipts before the bad news traveled. Twentieth Century Fox even scheduled a free public screening of Dude, Where's My Car? a day before opening, then sent e-mails informing critics they would be refused admission.

Maybe I'll catch the sequel: Oh, It's Over There.

Being choosy makes listing the worst movies of 2000 even more gratifying. These are films we expected to be good, or at least interesting. Maybe just sporadically amusing. They weren't, making them even more frustrating to sit through.

It's impossible to settle for the traditional list of 10 turkeys in such a mediocre movie year. I'm going for a baker's dozen, half-baked as they may be. Thirteen unlucky reasons why my job isn't always as cool as some people believe.

Here they are, in descending order of quality, of course:

13. Drowning Mona -- No major star had a lousier year at the movies than Bette Midler. First, Isn't She Great? proved she wasn't by failing to debut in the top 10. Then, she shrieked through a mean-spirited "comedy" of family abuse that could make Jerry Springer blush. Midler was exiled to TV sitcom-land and got ridiculed there, too. More wind beneath those wings, please.

12. Little Nicky -- Adam Sandler committed the ultimate celebrity sin: taking his fans for granted, giving them garbage for the privilege of lining up to see him. He played Satan's son in an already bad year for Beezelbub at the movies.

11. The Crew -- Four mobsters retire to Miami's South Beach, then steal a corpse to fake a murder and lower real estate value. Richard Dreyfuss and Burt Reynolds were pathetically unfunny, but who can blame them, with this script? The Crew put the fishes to sleep.

10. Cecil B. Demented -- Either the world turned sane or John Waters lost his lunatic touch. The master of schlock shock was curiously tamed in this film industry spoof, only nibbling the hand feeding him now. Waters' maverick past damaged Hollywood more than this jokeless tale of guerrilla auteurs kidnapping a faded sexpot (Melanie Griffith, typecast). Divine wouldn't have eaten this movie.

9. Lost Souls -- Warner Bros.' re-release of The Exorcist beat the devil out of Winona Ryder's repossession of the idea. The story was stupid, and each exorcism took place behind closed doors. Sorry, but angry water sprinklers aren't my idea of terror. Worse than the pea-soup rip-offs that followed The Exorcist 27 years ago.

8. and 7. -- I Dreamed of Africa and Bless the Child, a Kim Basinger double feature, if you can handle that much placid vapidity. I dozed as Basinger dreamed of Africa, while everyone around her dropped dead as tsetse flies. Bless the Child was a dud of biblical contortions, with a young messiah-to-be chased by Satanists. Basinger maintained the same pinched expression in both, like someone struggling to think.

6. The Whole Nine Yards -- Mumbling hit man (Bruce Willis) moves next door to bumbling dentist (Matthew Perry), and hilarity was last seen heading in the other direction. Nothing but off-key Sopranos here. Perry is funny only around his sitcom Friends. Amanda Peet's gratuitous nudity as an eager apprentice to murder was 2000's most desperate lunge for attention.

5. The Next Best Thing -- No it wasn't. Madonna: You need better material, girl. She played a yoga instructor impregnated by her gay friend (Rupert Everett). Alternative family dynamics were overshadowed by a narcissistic love triangle with Benjamin Bratt without enough mirrors to go around. Features the year's dumbest musical interlude: Madonna butchering Don McLean's American Pie during a funeral. The music and the movie died.

4. Loser -- The title almost makes this too easy. College dork (Jason Biggs) has a crush on a classmate (Mena Suvari) who's sleeping with their professor (Greg Kinnear). A date-rape drug subplot was handled with obscene informality for a PG-13 movie, in addition to erotic dancers, blackmail for better grades and general moral bankruptcy. Generation Y should sue for defamation of character.

3. Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 -- Sequels are usually excluded from my list. We'll make an exception since Joe Berlinger's extension of The Blair Witch Project was nothing like the original. This was just another slasher flick obliged to gore and nudity, with steadier cameras and shakier logic. Moviegoers who complained about The Blair Witch Project's ingenuity got the movie they deserve.

2. American Psycho -- The book everyone said couldn't be filmed shouldn't have been. Bret Easton Ellis' excessively gruesome novel was a kick for sickos, but violence was slighted in Mary Harron's film. Either gross us out or make us think. American Psycho did neither, with obsolete satire of 1980's greed. Harron turned a snuff novel into a bluffing film, never as daring as it supposes itself to be.

And, the undisputed worst waste of film in 2000 was:

1. Battlefield Earth -- Celebrity Scientologist John Travolta bankrolled this sci-fi epic, based on a book by the religion's founder, L. Ron Hubbard. A simple tithe would have sufficed. Effects weren't special, and the plot was impenetrable. Travolta, playing an ersatz Klingon, ended each sentence with absurd cackles in his poorest performance ever. Director Roger Christian sharply tilted the camera for nearly every shot, appropriate for a movie constantly zooming downhill. Boredom without end, amen.

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