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The slimmest pickings: Tatara's ten worst for 1997

February 10, 1998
Web posted at: 12:44 a.m. EST (0544 GMT)

From Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- It's a tough job but somebody's gotta do it. There were so many worthy candidates for the crummiest movie of 1997, I had to start throwing away stuff that would have topped the charts in a less offensive year ("Spawn," anybody?) Here they are, in order of ickiness. You've been warned.

1. "This World Then the Fireworks"
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This God-awful adaptation of a long-lost Jim Thompson noir story doesn't grab you by the collar, it grabs you by the intestines. Director Michael Oblowitz allows smug-meister Billy Zane (who gives just about the lousiest performance of the year) to pose, preen, and deliver monotone voice-overs throughout, while Gina Gershon (as an incestuous hooker) fornicates a man into a cerebral hemorrhage. There are several other nauseating displays, such as a sweaty fat guy getting a spike jabbed through his eyeball and Rue McClanahan (not sweating, but Rue McClanahan nonetheless) spouting Bible passages. My friend, Chris, leaned over to me at one point while we were watching it and said, "At least you're getting paid."

2. "Bliss"

Plain old dumb. Craig Sheffer, Sheryl Lee, and Terence Stamp star in this ode to tantric sex and the life-affirming art of alternating your breathing from nostril to nostril. Sheffer and Lee are sexually-confused newlyweds who go to Dr. Stamp in a desperate attempt to fine-tune their hokey-pokey technique. In the process, they turn themselves around. That's what it's all about. The dialogue is mind-boggling. At one point, Stamp's suave therapist asks Sheffer, "What do you think of your penis?" (Answer: He likes it, and, I suppose, takes it with him wherever he goes.) There's also a moment when Lee admits to Sheffer that she's been faking her orgasms. Writer/director Lance Young presents Sheffer's response more melodramatically than that scene in "Gone With the Wind" where Scarlett stumbles through a train yard full of shot-up Confederate soldiers.

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3. "Chasing Amy"

More overrated than that alien autopsy movie. A lot of people have pointed to this as writer/director Kevin Smith's "more mature" approach to filmmaking, and I'll give him that much. Whereas "Clerks" and "Mallrats" seemed aimed at 7th graders, 10th graders should get a real charge out of "Chasing Amy." Ben Affleck, whose co-written screenplay for "Good Will Hunting" is light years beyond anything Smith is capable of, plays a guy who falls for a beautiful 20-something woman (Joey Lauren Adams). Adams' character is a lesbian ... but never fear. All lesbians need is the good-lovin' of a strapping heterosexual male to make them see the light. Ask any 10th grader. Never mind a highly unconvincing attempt at wrapping up the story, Smith's clunky staging of scenes and primitive editing technique suggest that he's faking it, cult or no cult. (Now everybody can call me funny names again on Smith's Web site. Thanks for thinking of me, guys.)

4. "A Life Less Ordinary"

Go figure. Director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge, who brought us the sharp, scathingly-observational "Trainspotting," followed up that triumph with this meandering mess of a kidnapping/road movie that actually manages to make Ewan McGregor unlikable. It's an unfocused melange of flat dialogue, no plot, and forced whimsy. Cameron Diaz does what she can to save the day by walking around in real small panties. I applaud the effort, but it's nowhere near enough.

5. "8 Heads in a Duffel Bag"/"Gone Fishin'"
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I know this is cheating, but anybody who can manage to star in 2 movies that are this horrific in the space of 12 months deserves a special citation. Joe Pesci chews his way through these so-called comedies like they're heaping plates of Mama's conchiglie, although the fact that the titles are actually the movies' plots should have been enough to keep him away from the table in the first place. Pesci is a very good (if limited) actor who has seemingly lost his ability to read. Marty and Bob really should perform an intervention.

6. "The Lost Highway"

David Lynch officially wore out his welcome in my cranium about four movies ago, and this one seals it. (His fate, not my cranium.) The guy has taken every self-satisfied, lug-headed impulse he's ever had and run with it, making movies that exist more to stoke a fawning fan base than to actually accomplish anything coherent on a movie screen. "The Lost Highway" is supposed to be amusing because it doesn't make an ounce of sense, but I can walk out on the street right now and round up 10 people who can do the same thing with more gusto. Of course, then I wouldn't get to experience the "satire" of seeing a woman forced into oral sex at gunpoint while a snuff film is projected in the background. Very impressive, Dave. How do you think of this stuff?

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7. "For Richer or Poorer"

Tim Allen and Kirstie Alley star as a rich couple who hide out from the IRS on an Amish farm and are forced to wake up early to milk the cows. Allen makes faces when at a loss, and is evidently at one more often than the New Orleans Saints. Supposedly a comedy, but if the audience had been any more quiet I could have studied for a calculus exam.

8. "Excess Baggage"

"Hey, everybody, let's give Alicia Silverstone her own production deal!" The only logical response to this suggestion is "har-har," but that doesn't mean that Ms. Clueless didn't get to enter the rare air of hyphenated actors with "Excess Baggage." Sporting, oddly enough, the same basic storyline as "A Life Less Ordinary," the movie is a kidnapped heiress comedy that stands more as a reason for Silverstone to pout and throw tantrums than anything else. It's slow and awful, and so is Benicio Del Toro as the reluctant kidnapper. Were it not for Billy Zane (see Number 1), I would be hailing Del Toro's performance as this year's prime example of visionary no-goodness. Christopher Walken is also on hand, looking, as usual, like someone is continually pulling his hair from behind.

9. "The Fifth Element"
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So this scantily-clad fashion model (Milla Jovovich) drops down to earth in the distant future, and, lo and behold, she's actually the Supreme Being! Bruce Willis picks her up in his flying taxi cab, and they get chased around a huge city by guys dressed like giant hermit crabs. Stuff zips-zangs-and-zoings all over the place for the entire movie, and every single second of it is VERY VERY VERY LOUD! KABOOM! Pensive-moment fans (smart people) might want to do something less chaotic, like pounding themselves in the head with a plank for a couple of hours. Director/audience assailant Luc Bresson recently got engaged to the Supreme Being, which promises to put him at a pronounced disadvantage around the household.

10. "Underworld"

Larry Bishop (Joey's son, which might explain a few things) wrote the clichd, highly unimaginative screenplay for "Underworld," and, if I didn't know that, I'd think it was the work of Quentin Tarantino after a sharp blow to the head. Bishop lays on the inane and/or perverse chatter shtick big time, with nonchalantly violent gangsters Denis Leary and Joe Mantegna discussing hee-larious minutiae like Danny Kaye's performance as Hans Christian Anderson and their love for sappy Broadway show tunes. Never mind that the movie makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. It looks, smells, and (if you squint your ears) sounds like "Pulp Fiction," so it's obviously as good as "Pulp Fiction." Right?

Um, wrong.

*Honorable mention- The trailer for "The Postman"

Whose big idea was it to take the silliest, most ill-advised moments in one of the year's most ridiculous movies and string them together as a come on? I must've seen this thing seven times, and every time it got bigger laughs than the whole of "For Richer or Poorer." Kevin Costner recently snapped at a reporter in a New York City tabloid, claiming that this audience reaction was, I don't know, an urban myth or something. I guess I just imagined it seven times.

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