As is usually the case with Bad Movie Night posts, I had a lot of fun writing this — it originally appeared at my former online home — but, being honest, the only true necessity on this page is the hyperlink found within the sentence “No amount of typing can describe it adequately.”
Last night we found ourselves we a quick-witted guest, a hearty supply of good beer and a few spare hours. In our household, that’s an irresistible invitation to wallow in some choice cinematic ineptitude. After steeling ourselves with a dinner of lamb steaks, Guinness-battered onion rings, and country-style potatoes, we gathered anxiously for Bad Movie Night.
While we have a ready supply of DVDs standing by for just such an occasion, we decided it was worth a last minute check of the battalion of movie channels that come clattering through our satellite dish. After all, most of them favor less accomplished fare (number of showings of P.S. I Love You scheduled on HBO channels in January: 17). Perhaps there might be some options suitable for the evening’s theme.
This is how we found our way to our first ever Uwe Boll film.
Boll is a notoriously bad filmmaker, often cited as the worst working today. At least he’s considered the worst working with regularity, sizable budgets, and some amount of studio support. Knowing little more about the film than Mr. Boll’s reputation, we began the evening with the cumbersomely named In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (Uwe Boll, 2008). If that title makes you think of a certain fantasy epic that snared a record number of Oscars a couple years ago, then the marketing brigade has won. The association is clearly coveted. This fantasy film is rife with creatures and battle sequences that look as if they were retrieved from the Weta Workshop discard bin. Based on a video game (a media source that has never been wise for Hollywood producers to plumb), the film is a standard-issue parade of sword-and-sorcery nonsense, rendered breathtakingly awful by Boll’s ineptness. Distant establishing shots (taken from crane, helicopter, far-off mountain peaks, and, perhaps, spacecraft) are inserted nearly randomly. Scenes don’t build and conclude, flowing into the next. They just end suddenly, like dropped eggs. It’s hard to tell if Boll doesn’t really know how movie scenes are supposed to be shaped or if he prefers they reflect some sort of personal mental restlessness. It would almost be better is he announced “I’m bored now” on the soundtrack before cutting to the next bit of inane business. At least there would be a discernible reason for the shifts.
There are so many beautifully bad elements at play in the movie: the hackneyed mechanics of royal lineage with cackling duplicity and surprise heirs, the mystical race of women who control forest greenery and come yo-yoing out of the treetops like barbiturate-addled Cirque du Soleil performers, and, when things seemingly can’t get any more absurd, the sudden appearance of springy ninjas tumbling through the air to fight side-by-side with the armored warriors. For all that, it is the casting that is most giddily, grandly disastrous. There’s Matthew Lillard bugging out his eyes and contorting his face as a villainous schemer. There’s Ron Perlman, gruffly disinterested as a cohort of our farmer hero. There’s Leelee Sobieski, looking so shell-shocked as a proto-feminist princess soldier that it’s easy to imagine that she spent the entire production with “I was once in a Kubrick movie, I was once in a Kubrick movie” echoing desperately in her brain. There’s Ray Liotta, sneering wildly in the midst of late-eighties music video effects as some sort of evil sorcerer dressed in a Matrix-knockoff leather jacket that looks like it was purchased online. And, in arguably the most telling indicator of the film’s quality, Burt Reynolds as the besieged king. What’s that like? No amount of typing can describe it adequately.
After that, the comparatively tame failings of Jumper (Doug Liman, 2008) were somewhat anticlimactic. That doesn’t mean the movie was good. It is still a blatant franchise grab with Hayden Christensen as a teleporting twenty-something who discovers that he is not unique, but is instead part of a whole class of people known as Jumpers who are being hunted and destroyed by a group calling themselves Paladins, led by Samuel L. Jackson with all-purpose flour rubbed into his hair. It would take a director of uncommon wit and creativity to forge something watchable from these raw materials, and Doug Liman, no matter how much the first Bourne movie may have inflated his reputation, doesn’t meet those qualifications.
You’d have to engage in quite a hunt through the least loved corners of the DVD rental emporium to find another film that so positions itself for a sequel. Pilot episodes of television series have more closure than this thing, with every character properly positioned to easily step back into the fray should the movie gods be so cruel as to actually let Jumper 2 come to fruition. If it does, maybe Liman can turn the second installment over to Uwe Boll. Burt Reynolds would make a fantastic Jumper general.