Legally Bland: A Re-Cap of the Summer 2001 Season

By Collin Souter
Posted 08/28/01 22:48:28

I have to be honest, here. This summer drained my enthusiasm of wanting to be a critic (especially since I don’t get paid). Week after week, I dedicated myself to catching the “Big, Blockbuster opener” for the weekend so that I may participate in lengthy discussions about the merits any said movie had in comparison to a such-and-such original/previous installment/last year’s blah, blah, blah… And for what? So I could say to people, “I saw it…”

“How was it?”
“Not bad…So-so…eh!”
End of discussion. So much for the glorious side of being a film critic, of getting the word out on special movies that deserve attention, of championing films that break the mold and venture out into new territories, of even saying “Yes! It’s a great time! Go! Have lots of fun!” Aside from, say, “Shrek” or even the entertaining 3-star “The Score,” I couldn’t get jazzed-up about much of anything.

Other movies that came and went… “Final Fantasy,” which bombed more than it deserved to, especially in the wake of the dull Lara Croft movie… “Cats and Dogs,” which did okay, but would have been better had it been darker and less “human”… “Evolution,” which had a total of three laughs, while shamefully wasting Julianne Moore… “Moulin Rouge,” a movie made up of all ideas and very little in the way of substance… “Legally Blonde,” where the great Reese Witherspoon did a decent imitation of Alicia Silverstone, but so what?…“Scary Movie 2,” a sequel to a parody of a satire…

It went on and on and on like that for three whole months.

Only a couple movies seemed to be worth discussion, “A.I.” being one of them. Like it or not, the movie gets people talking, which should always be encouraged. Some get angry at the mere mention of the title. Some come forward bravely declaring it Spielberg’s best ever. My reaction: I liked it, but not as much the second time around. So-so.

I loosened myself up a bit when June rolled around. I didn’t want to be the snob I usually am when I pay my nine bucks for whatever Hollywood spectacle I chose to see. I mean, really, how can one take a movie entitled “The Fast and the Furious” seriously? Or “The Mummy Returns?” I don’t even remember where the first mummy went to in the first place. I saw the first “Mummy” movie and enjoyed it. Then, I went upstairs to my bedroom, read a book and completely forgot about it. This summer was made up of nothing, but “Mummy”s. And I’m sure we’ll be seeing a sequel to this summer next year.

I must say, though, the summer season picked up quite a bit when two terrific art-house movies hit the screens—“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and “Ghost World”—as well as Dimension Films’ brilliant “The Others,” with Nicole Kidman, all three of which played in limited release…but at least we had something. At least, I could steer people in the right direction instead of just saying, “’Shrek’ is good.” It almost makes me feel like a happy film critic again.

Still, this would be a good opportunity to take some time off and work on those screenplays/plays I’ve been trying to get back off the ground. I see no reason to go see “Bubble Boy” or even Woody Allen’s “Curse of the Jade Scorpion.” I’d rather stay home and write my own movie so that I may one day look upon this web site and see where my movie ranks in the patented scale of 1 to 5 stars. Maybe I’ll be back in a month or so when things have looked up, or when the Chicago International Film Festival comes around, or when I have actually written the words “The End” at the end of something new and dear to my heart. It has been too long since that happened.

A year ago, I started writing critiques, and I started out with a re-cap of the biggest moves that came out in the summer of 2000. Quality-wise, not much has changed, but attendance at the box office grew considerably, as you will see. I figured this would be a good way to sign off before my hiatus. Thanks for letting me vent my nonchalance, now here’s a re-cap of the biggest summer movies, the ones that had people talking at the water cooler on Monday mornings, and, I’m sure, with very small words.

1. SHREK ($261 Million) A great start. Compare this to the number one movie of last summer and I think you’ll see things have improved greatly. If nothing comes along this year to top “Shrek”’s grosses, this will be the second year in a row where the highest grossing movie stars a big green guy (Stay tuned for Ang Lee’s “Incredible Hulk” movie). With its innocent fairy tale story and its twisted humor along the way, “Shrek” truly appealed to all ages and it even had people coming back a second time (myself included). “Shrek,” the highest-grossing movie of the summer, also pushed the boundaries of animation, which would later be pushed even further by “Final Fantasy: The Spirit Within,” the (unfortunately) biggest bomb of the summer. The vast financial gap between these two movies have probably pushed the boundaries of confusion amongst the studio execs, some of whom probably long for the days of “Steamboat Willie.”
My Rating (Out of 4): ***1/2
Last year’s # 1: “Mission: Impossible 2” $213.8 million

2. THE MUMMY RETURNS ($202 Million) An enjoyable Saturday morning matinee movie that, like most summer movies, should be judged as such. I didn’t find it better or worse than the original, though I do long for the days when an Indiana Jones-type movie didn’t have to rely on obvious computer-generated effects to make it exciting. Still, in Saturday morning matinee terms, the effects in “Mummy Returns” could be comparable to seeing the thin line of string that holds the rocket ship in those “Flash Gordon” serials. You know it’s there, but it adds a certain naïve charm to the already silly storyline. Big, goofy fun, but, like the first one, somewhat forgettable, which means someone will have to explain to me in a year or so why The Rock got his own movie.
My rating: ***
Last year’s # 2: “Gladiator” $183.6 million (Two movies about big guys fighting big computer-generated monster things…)

3. PEARL HARBOR ($195 Million) What can we say about “Pearl Harbor” that hasn’t already been said? Can we honestly say it bombed, even with a near-200 million gross? Ask any former Disney exec looking through the want-ads right now and I think they’ll tell you, “Hell, yeah, that movie bombed! Why do you think I’m serving you a happy clown-burger right now? I lost my cushy job as a chair-warmer because of that awful movie!” Disney plans to continue infesting the big screens with this syrupy debacle until it reaches the full $200 million, thereby claiming it as a “blockbuster.” The DVD will supposedly have an R-rated cut that runs five minutes longer, which reminds me of that old Chinese proverb: You can’t polish a turd.
My Rating (Out of 4): *
Last Year’s # 3: “The Perfect Storm” $177.8 million (“P.S.,” a flawed, but much better fictional account of a real-life tragedy)

4. RUSH HOUR 2 ($183 Million) I didn’t like the first one, so why bother with the sequel? Here’s what would have gotten me into the theater: Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker walk down the barren streets of San Francisco. Out of nowhere, the great Zhang Ziyi comes out and, in an amazingly choreographed bit of stuntwork mixed with dark humor, Ziyi beats the living snot out of Tucker. Chan now has to find a new partner. Enter Owen Wilson. The two team up to find Ziyi and thank her. Oh, and I probably would have liked Chan and Ziyi to actually share a fight scene or two together, which should have been a no-brainer. DO YOU UNDERSTAND THE WORDS THAT ARE COMING OUT OF MY MOUTH?
No rating.
Last year’s # 4: “X-Men” $153.3 million (What happened!?!)

5. JURASSIC PARK 3 ($173 Million) Eight years after the original broke the mold for computer-generated characters that realistically ran along-side their human co-stars, JP3 proved that people have yet to tire of the dinosaurs-eat-people franchise. Like the original and its sequel, “Lost World,” JP3 has almost no plot, no characters worth caring about and nothing interesting to say about anything. Like “Fast and the Furious,” JP3 makes no apologies for that, so one can’t really slam it too hard, but I myself felt under whelmed by the result. I don’t recall any white-knuckle tension or shock to any of the action sequences, nothing comparable to the first T-rex attack of the original or the jeep- hanging-over-the-cliff sequence of “The Lost World.” It had its moments, but nothing to get me excited about a fourth installment, which of course could feasibly happen. JP3 ended where “Jurassic Park 4: Dinosaur Troopers” could very well begin.
My Rating: **1/2
Last year’s #5: “Scary Movie” $149.3 million (Quick! Make some more sequels!)

6. PLANET OF THE APES (2000) ($168 Million) If Tim Burton’s remake of “Planet of the Apes” taught me one thing, it would be to take a few minutes—maybe even a day or two—to pause and reflect on a movie before writing the review. A few critics, myself included, came forward after writing their 3-star+ reviews to say they had made a mistake, that upon a second viewing of Burton’s spectacle, they realized that writing a review mere minutes after watching a movie can be a faulty method of criticism. Please, forgive us. Though, I still don’t hate the movie as much as many other people I talked to, one can’t deny that Mark Wahlberg needs to take the other kinds of drugs, the ones that keep him awake. And even though I liked the ending at the time I saw it, you really do have to make up a movie in your head in order for it to make complete sense.
Like almost every other movie on this list, it started with a strong box-office take on its opening weekend, then quickly dropped as word-of-mouth got around. Fox has plans for a sequel (duh!), but Burton has refused to participate. You think Oliver Stone would still be interested? “Nightmare Peyote-trip with Indians of the Planet of the Apes” has a nice ring to it.
My Rating: ***, though a second viewing might change that.
Last year’s# 6: “What Lies Beneath” $141.6 million (Not much of an improvement)

7. THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS ($141 Million) The glory days of cheeseball drive-in cinema returned with this harmless stupidithon of machismo, penis-size compensation and inaudible English. I’m a drive-in connoisseur, but rarely have I had the true drive-in experience by watching a Roger Corman-esque B-movie under the stars. Usually, these days, drive-ins try to cater to the families by playing PG-friendly comedies or action movies. Over the past decade, the “drive-in movie” has gone extinct, thanks in part to the video boom of the 80s. “The Fast and the Furious,” a blissfully moronic and exciting concoction, took all the elements of Corman—A-movie plot (“Point Break”) with B-movie script and budget—and brought it back for us. True, most people don’t see it that way and I can’t argue too much with those who deem it as just plain worthless, but for one evening I sat in my car with my girlfriend and we had a fun time doing a “Mystery Science Theater” riff without bothering anyone around us. I can't deny a good time. But why did this movie do so well at the multiplexes? Perhaps people felt they could watch a stupid, fun summer movie without being “sold” anything false.
My Rating: A very loose ***
Last year’s # 7: “Dinosaur” $135 million (From dinosaurs to the man-ape)

8. LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER ($130 Million) Okay, I only saw the first 35 minutes of this movie, so I can’t say too much about it except that those 35 minutes made me care even less about the video game from which it was based. Just as the cars compensated for penis size in “Fast and the Furious,” Jolie’s doctored breastwork compensated for any interesting qualities brought to her character. Premier magazine ran an interesting article prior to the film’s release detailing the events as to how 13 writers came in to work on this script. The mess of a plot shows signs of conflicting ideas and carelessness run amuck. I think it’s a pretty good rule of thumb that if the movie has too much of nothing going on in the first 30 or so minutes, it will probably stay that way. Anyway, the first movie I saw that evening at the drive-in was “Shrek.” So, how can we explain the numbers? Why did so many people go? Simple: Teenage boys love breasts. Thank you. Goodnight.
No Rating
Last year’s #8: “Big Momma’s House” $116.2 million (Again with the big lips and, again, not much of an improvement)

9. DOCTOR DOLITTLE 2 ($111 Million) See the review for “Rush Hour 2.” I only saw one computer-generated talking animal movie this summer (“Cats and Dogs”) and I didn’t feel the need to have the same mediocre experience twice.
No rating
Last Year’s # 9: “Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps” $115 million (Okay, what’s going on here!?!)

10. AMERICAN PIE 2 ($109 Million) Sneaking in at # 10 only four weeks after its release comes another sequel I managed to avoid. I enjoyed the first A.P. very much, a lot more than I expected, but the onslaught of teen comedies that plague our multiplexes at the beginning of every year leaves me with zero enthusiasm in the summer time for another one, even if it does have the Flute Girl (my favorite character). I hear the women have barely anything to do here, which means we have another comedy about guys being idiots. Didn’t we have this last year at this time with “Whipped?” Some have said they laughed plenty anyway, despite its inferiority, so maybe I’ll check it out on video when I have writer’s block.
No rating
Last year’s # 10: “The Patriot” $111 million, which begs the question...Would Heath ledger rather be caught starring in "A Knight's Tale" or be caught fucking a pie?

Finally, I have here my mid-year Top 10, though I have yet to see the much-acclaimed “” or “Freddy Got Fingered,” as well as a few other art-house movies that have yet to make it to video.

1.The Road Home
2.The Others
3.Ghost World
5.Hedwig and the Angry Inch
6.Spy Kids
8.The Man Who Cried
9.The Score
10.Josie and the Pussycats

Yeah…it’s been that kind of year…

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