Todd McCarthy's Most Disappointing Films of 2012
I never feel right pinpointing worst films of the year, simply because I do my best to avoid what I hear or sense would be total wastes of time; life is too short. Then there are the likes of John Carter, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Red Tails and Red Dawn, which everyone can point to as misfires but are closer to being just misguided or dull than truly and unforgivably awful.
More interesting and dismaying, I think, are the disappointments that had legitimate shots at being special, because of the talent involved, ambitious subject matter or both. There is always something a bit heartbreaking about could-have-been-great projects that fall short for various reasons, and I can think of at least three 2012 films that fall into that category.
One is Prometheus, which certainly is watchable and intriguing for a while on first viewing but the deficits of which become blatantly clear on a second look. If you're Ridley Scott and have made two of the definitive sci-fi classics of the modern era, Alien and Blade Runner, better to steer clear of the genre than to deliver something that doesn't measure up. Expectations were monumental due to its predecessors and the three decades that had passed since the director's last trip to the future, so Scott faced long odds going in that he could match or top himself. You could sense the air running out of the tank as you watched.
Another disappointment was David Cronenberg's quite faithful adaptation of Don DeLillo's novel Cosmopolis. It wasn't that the book was so hot; in fact, it's obvious and rather a grind, even at its short length. But the material, about a young financial wiz making his way across a chaotic Manhattan cityscape in his stretch limo, seemed to provide the potential for resonant, subversive treatment in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse and the more recent Occupy movement. Plus, Cronenberg had been on one of the best rolls of his career, a decade of excellence that embraced Spider, A History of Violence, Eastern Promises and A Dangerous Mind. Alas, the result was inert, unconvincing and lackluster, mysteriously appealing to some loyal critics but not at all to the public.
I was among the maybe two dozen people nationwide who actually saw Atlas Shrugged Part II, an unfathomable sequel from the same producers as Part I but with a different cast and “creative” team. The good news is that even the enthusiasm of conservative talk show hosts couldn't float this turkey even for a respectable opening weekend. The bad news is that this adaptation fell into the wrong hands in the first place. Whatever one's thoughts about Ayn Rand and her mammoth fictional screed, it could have made mighty ideological melodrama with the right filmmakers and cast. Michael Cimino expressed interest in Rand at certain points and, in his prime, could have been an interesting choice to direct. For other proposed versions, Angelina Jolie, Charlize Theron, Julia Roberts and Anne Hathaway were floated to play the lead. What could have been a major, provocative, controversial and/or outrageous film just became a little nothing, an opportunity missed if I've ever seen one.