Hollywood traditionally holds back its Oscar-bait movies until the year’s fourth and final quarter.
Cinematic stink bombs, by contrast, can hit screens at any time of the year. That proved true in 2021 as the year’s very worst movie dropped on New Year’s Day.
The following films tried, and failed, to inspire us in ways the best movies can. That’s the definition of being “kind.”
Shadow in the Cloud
This 2021 clunker could resurface as a cult film in the “Troll 2” mold. It’s that bad, but it’s not just the absurd storytelling that earned it a place on this list. The story’s stubborn woke streak made “Shadow” insufferable. Say what you want about “The Room,” but Tommy Wiseau didn’t lecture us about the patriarchy along the way.
Chloë Grace Moretz gives all she’s got as “Shadow’s” heroine, a plucky gal trying to outlive a gremlin attached to her World War II plane.
What begins as a genre romp morphs into an unintentional comedy that should have embarrassed everyone involved. Maybe Moretz and co. will reunite after the film reaches cult movie status. More likely, they’ll wish they could delete “Shadow” from their respective IMDB pages.
Walking with Herb
George Lopez shines as an angel guiding a grieving grandpa back to Christ. How? The older man picks up a golf club and enters a PGA tournament, despite having given up the game long ago.
Huh? That’s far from the wackiest part of this strained, silly story.
Faith-kissed movies have come quite a ways in recent years. That means “Herb” shouldn’t be as unbearable as it is, especially given the presence of Lopez, Edward James Olmos and Kathleen Quinlan in key roles.
Unbearable is a kind way of describing this grandpa’s search for meaning behind a tragedy.
Sometimes a film critic can see a clunker coming by the lack of buzz behind a project.
Any horror film with James Wan’s name attached should be an event unto itself. He’s responsible for the first, and best, “Saw” film, plus “The Conjuring” and “Insidious.” He’s a modern-day Wes Craven, a horror auteur who loves the genre and delivers some of its better chills.
So what happened with “Malignant?”
The first bad omen? If you watch the trailer it barely matches the story’s plot. Plus, the film’s first five minutes feature the kind of amateurish acting we grew accustomed to in the slasher-fied ’80s.
It only gets worse from there.
To “Malignant’s” credit, the third act is bonkers, so there’s some B-movie fun to be had there. Otherwise, this is a massive step back for Wan … and audiences.
Coming 2 America
We waited 33 years for this?
This cash grab should have built on Eddie Murphy’s bounce back vehicle, “Dolemite Is My Name.” To be fair, Murphy never went away. He just needed the right movie to showcase his gifts for a fresh generation. Bringing Prince Akeem back should have been a comedic layup. Instead, “America” plays out like something a creatively spent artist soul tackles to pay the bills.
The sequel is aggressively unfunny and unnecessary, a devastating one-two punch given how long its been since the original hit theaters. Suffice to say Murphy’s skills go mostly untapped, while a game Arsenio Hall fares worse.
We do get plenty of woke flourishes, though, further disconnecting the sequel from its ’80s roots.
Spiral: From the Book of Saw
It’s wise to fear franchise reboots, but “Spiral” suggested something more substantial. The “Saw” reboot cast Chris Rock as its hero, hardly Hollywood’s first choice for a horror entry. Add Samuel L. Jackson, who never phones in his work, and suddenly another “Saw” entry has our attention.
So much for first impressions.
“Spiral” lacks scares and surprises, while the screenplay makes weak attempts to play up Rock’s comedic roots. By the finale you’ll rather hack off a limb that suffer another “Saw” installment.
The trailer for M. Night Shyamalan’s latest mind bender suggested he found his groove (again). No such luck.
“Old,” set on a remote beach where the inhabits age at a dramatic rate, teems with storytelling potential. Shyamalan delivers some body horror theatrics, but he fails to give us engaging characters to make those moments land.
“Old” isn’t scary, provocative or insightful. It’s a mess that aspires to something greater but never comes within earshot of it.
Dishonorable Mention: “The Starling,” “Don’t Look Up” and “Willy’s Wonderland.”