There are, of course, a multitude of ways to commemorate the ending of a calendar year, from earnest list-making to drunken revelry in the frigid public square. In our household, we decided to revive a beloved practice to finish off a year that had many positive personal developments but was also marked by drastic spiritual pummeling any time we seriously examined the state U.S. current affairs. Whether masochistic or deeply fitting, we wiled away the final hours of 2017 with a Bad Movie Night.
For the uninitiated, our preferred practice is to program a double feature of maligned cinematic artifacts united in some facet: performer, director, theme, genre, or, well, just about anything. Given the date, it only seemed fitting to select a pair of films that, by critical consensus anyway, were contenders for the title of Worst Film of 2017. As it happened, that broad category includes two major studio releases that made their respective incursions to the nation’s multiplexes on the same October day.
From the moment we first saw the trailer for Geostorm (Dean Devlin, 2017), we had an inkling it would be featured in one of our fetid film festivals. What aficionado of crimes against cinema could resist a booming disaster movie in which the government agency war room includes a precisely calibrated countdown clock tensely touting the pending arrival of rampaging weather systems?
Joining the ranks of inept extrapolations of legitimate climate change concerns into action nonsense, Geostorm begins with the premise that huminaty’s disruption of the basic workings of the Earth’s climate was corrected with a net of interconnected satellites that somehow (scientific details, as you might imagine, are sparse) kept devastating storms and extreme temperatures in check. When it starts to malfunction, leading to a sudden deep freeze in the Afghanistan desert, the authorities need to recruit the hothead, rebelliously assertive developer of the project, Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler).
Jake is shipped to the stars, where he grudgingly works with the international crew on the space station that’s home base for maintenance of the massive fleet of satellites, collectively called Dutch Boy. In the meantime, Jake’s brother, Max Lawson (Jim Sturgess), starts to suspect that the problem with the protective system may be the result of insidious sabotage. Luckily, Max is secretly dating a Secret Service agent (Abbie Cornish), who can help him perform tasks like kidnapping the President of the United States (Andy Garcia).
Everything that transpires is, of course, ludicrous. That’s not automatically enough to sink a film, as Devlin’s former regularly collaborator Roland Emmerich proved as recently as the underrated White House Down, which delivered its logic-defying nonsense with conviction and verve. Making his directorial debut, Devlin demonstrates practically no knack for spinning the material into something enjoyable. It plods and teeters, and the dialogue (Devlin and Paul Guyot are co-credited on the screenplay) is so woeful that I swear I saw the actors wince while delivering some of it.
In other words, it’s everything a bad movie should be.
At least Geostorm isn’t really aiming to be much more than popcorn entertainment. Watching something like The Snowman (Tomas Alfredson, 2017) implode is far more dismaying, if only because some laudable personnel are stuck with this intellectual dead zone on their filmographies from now on. It’s one of the rare instances of Thelma Schoonmaker serving as an editor for someone other than Martin Scorsese, for Odin’s sake.
Based on the best-selling novel by Jo Nesbø, The Snowman follows Norwegian detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender) as he hunts a serial killer with a fixation on the frosty, bulbous figures of the title. The murderer mails the police taunting notes with crudely drawn snowmen on them and has a tendency to build Frosty’s cousin around the scenes of his crimes. Sometimes they even face the house, which is supposed to be insidious for some reason.
If Geostorm routinely defies logic, The Snowman takes place in an alternate dimension where logic has never existed. Schoomaker was reportedly brought in to try and save the film in the editing room, but it seems trimming away problematic bits resulted in a movie that has gaping holes in the narrative, as if it were suffering from the sort of drunken blackouts that our hard drinking hero Harry Hole likely experiences. (The character name is so exquisitely amusing, in an admittedly highly juvenile fashion, that it must be shared in full at every opportunity.) The story had an odd randomness to it, especially when it flashes back to the plodding adventures on an earlier boozehound cop, played by Val Kilmer. Nothing progresses. Events — including radical time shifts to accommodate those flashbacks — just happen.
Tomas Alfredson was a director of note coming The Snowman, having previously presided over the utterly fantastic horror film Let the Right One In and the John le Carré adaptation Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which delivered Gary Oldman his first Academy Award nomination. Here, he joins the elite and misbegotten club of filmmakers who transform from crafters of esteemed fare to people who exhibit a bizarre fundamental incomprehension of how movies work. Watching The Snowman prompts suspicion about Alfredson ever again signing his name to a worthwhile film. The proverbial snowball residing in Hell has better odds.