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Sinful Cinema (#110 of 11)

Sinful Cinema Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Most Offensive and Homophobic Football Movie Ever Made

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Sinful Cinema: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Most Offensive and Homophobic Football Movie Ever Made
Sinful Cinema: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Most Offensive and Homophobic Football Movie Ever Made

One of my favorite things about recalling my movie-watching past is considering the ways I viewed certain films through younger eyes. To see these movies again, today, is often a wildly different experience. Back then, there were countless passages I didn’t get, and, surely, dialogue I couldn’t grasp. A childhood story I’ve recounted ad nauseam involves Batman Returns, and my recitation of the word “bastard” at a friend’s house during playtime. I was eight, and I was scolded by the friend’s mom, but all I knew was that’s what Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman said when she landed in a truck full of kitty litter. We all have stories like this, of course. But I recently discovered that, in my personal viewing history, perhaps no movie has played more differently for my current and former selves than Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.

Co-written by lead star Jim Carrey, this 1994 football-themed farce made the rubbery comedian a household name, and was quickly followed, within two years, by the onslaught of The Mask, Dumb and Dumber, Batman Forever, and the Ace Ventura sequel, When Nature Calls. I’m not sure if I ever loved Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, but I clearly absorbed enough of it to remember its hallmarks well: lines like, “Alrighty then”; Ace’s signature, tidal-wave up-do; and gags like Ace literally talking out of his ass. What I didn’t realize is that this movie is shockingly offensive, and not in the tongue-in-cheek, envelope-pushing way most modern comedies are. It’s set during the lead-up to a Super Bowl, and while I’m sure plenty of football films have delivered their share of queer slurs, I don’t think any are as homophobic—or, in large part, transphobic—as this one.

Sinful Cinema Halloween: H20

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Sinful Cinema: Halloween: H20
Sinful Cinema: Halloween: H20

Sadly, Halloween: H20 has nothing to do with water. It isn’t the Michael Myers brand’s equivalent of Jason X, sending its masked killer into the deep sea instead of deep space. No, the title of this 1998 slasher, the seventh in the Halloween series, merely exploits the fact that “Halloween” starts with an “H,” and that this installment takes place 20 years after the original. That “h2o” is also a universally known yet wholly unrelated combination of characters is simply, ya know, earworm-y title gravy. I actually can’t recall water, in any capacity, appearing in a single frame of this film. The liquid most often featured is alcohol, like chardonnay and vodka, which Keri Tate, better known as Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), slugs back to quell fears of the brother who offed her promiscuous friends in the ’70s. Having faked her death, changed her name, and given birth to a son, John, Laurie (as we’ll call her herein) is now the headmistress of Hillcrest Academy, a tony private high school in a remote part of California, and the perfect secluded, hallway-rich setting for a killer to stalk and stab. At this school, LL Cool J, one year away from the equally sinful delight Deep Blue Sea, plays token-black security guard Ronnie; Adam Arkin plays Laurie’s colleague and love interest, Will; and Josh Hartnett, in his feature debut, plays grown-up John, who, at the edge of seventeen, serves to prove that Myers may just have a long-standing Stevie Nicks obsession.

Sinful Cinema Disorderlies

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Sinful Cinema: Disorderlies
Sinful Cinema: Disorderlies

You gotta love Ralph Bellamy. In addition to having a reputation as an all-around nice guy and consummate professional, he ended his career on an odd, fascinating note. First, he was the guy who never got the girl in the 1930s. Then, in 1958, he became the quintessential interpreter of FDR on stage and screen. Finally, he ended up one of the few studio-system, Hollywood character actors a teenage Black kid in the ’hood could immediately identify. He showed up in a memorable role as one of the Duke brothers in Trading Places, a role he reprised in Coming to America, and between those two films he appeared in Michael Schultz’s live-action cartoon, Disorderlies. It’s here that Bellamy not only bronzed his ghetto pass but proved that he’s game for working with just about anybody. Disorderlies has both a novelty rap act AND Luke (Anthony Geary) from General Hospital. How can a connoisseur of trash not love this man?

Sinful Cinema 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag

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Sinful Cinema: 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag
Sinful Cinema: 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag

You can count Joe Pesci’s star vehicles on one hand, and people will tell you My Cousin Vinny is the only worthwhile title. Don’t believe it. Just when his post-Goodfellas bankability was starting to wane, and the Lethal Weapon and Home Alone franchises had lost their nineties-defining luster, Pesci landed the lead in 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag, the most high-concept action-comedy this side of Snakes on a Plane. Written and directed by Tom Schulman, who won an Oscar for his snuggly script for Dead Poets Society, and otherwise penned a lot of family-friendly stuff like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, this is the work of a debut director itching to access his inner mafioso, but perhaps not quite knowing how. Where to start? Well, with a mob hit, of course—err, make that eight mob hits. Tommy (Pesci) is an old-school gangster hired by Benny (Joe Basile) and Rico (Anthony Mangano) to deliver the titular parcel to a boss named Big Sep (Howard George), who’d better get his heads within 24 hours or “more are gonna roll, capiche?” Tommy flies commercial air with his bag full of noggins, getting past security by slipping a handgun into an innocent woman’s pocket, then nudging his luggage across the floor amid the metal-detector diversion (ahh, 1997). He then takes a seat beside Charlie (Andy Corneau), your typical square who happens to have Tommy’s very same bag. Needless to say, when Tommy is forced to check his duffel due to its massive size (and the ironic fact that a medic needs to store live human organs in his overhead compartment), the wiseguy and the wimp eventually end up with each other’s goods, making things extra awkward for Charlie when he goes to meet girlfriend Laurie’s (Kristy Swanson) parents.

Sinful Cinema Swordfish

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Sinful Cinema: Swordfish
Sinful Cinema: Swordfish

At the dawn of the 2000s, Warner Bros., Joel Silver, and Village Roadshow Pictures had to do something to keep their Matrix momentum going. So, while waiting for the Wachowski siblings to form and polish their tech triumph’s sequels, neither of which would arrive until 2003, the studio bigwigs developed Swordfish, a tacky, brazen knockoff they undoubtedly saw as the next best thing. Even opening, pointlessly, with a familiar, pixelated-screen aesthetic before adjusting to 35mm, this risible techno thriller fires so much aww-shit “coolness” at its viewers that, upon its June 2001 release, few likely realized they were being hit with hollow shells. It’s all an unwitting realization of the “misdirection” philosophy so reiterated by cyber-villain Gabriel (John Travolta), who talks about Houdini and Dog Day Afternoon like he’s a cultural sage with blonde highlights (also rocking berets and traipsing around his LA-nightclub pad, Gabriel trumps Edna Turnblad as Travolta’s gayest role). You see, Swordfish thinks it’s one heady affair flecked with nifty booms and stunts, but its ideas are as goofily slim as its action is often needless, and director Dominic Sena and writer Skip Woods seem blissfully blind to it all. Their film has all the stylized convolution of The Matrix, but virtually none of the coherence or cerebral stimuli.

Sinful Cinema Girls Just Want to Have Fun

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Sinful Cinema: Girls Just Want to Have Fun
Sinful Cinema: Girls Just Want to Have Fun

Full disclosure: I am absolutely biased when it comes to Girls Just Want to Have Fun, the sweatband-and-synthesizer chick flick that pulls its name from Cyndi Lauper’s breakout hit. This is the movie I used to rent incessantly and watch on elementary-school sick days, back when, ya know, no one suspected a thing about this sports-snubbing color coordinator. So excuse me if I have a certain fondness for Janey Glenn (Sarah Jessica Parker), whose enthusiasm is almost as huge as her barely-straightened hair, and Lynne Stone (Helen Hunt), who made the Catholic School uniform naughty way before Britney Spears. But even from an objective viewpoint, Girls Just Want to Have Fun isn’t really a bad film, at least not in the ways in which we tend to define bad films. The acting is more than competent, there’s not much glaringly bad dialogue, the humor is inventive, and the song-and-dance is engaging. The direction (by Back to School helmer Alan Metter) is smooth enough, and there’s essentially nothing morally reprehensible to sneer at. It’s consummately tacky, for sure, but as a high school fantasy about a young girl chasing a dream, it’s got a leg up on a whole lot of like-minded films. The reason it’s such an easy target for ridicule is it may be one of history’s most instantly dated movies. Consider what Lynne says when she first meets Janey on the bus, and turns her schoolgirl skirt inside-out to reveal a leather interior: “Velcro! Next to the Walkman and Tab it’s the greatest invention of the 20th century.”

Sinful Cinema Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2

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Sinful Cinema: Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2
Sinful Cinema: Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2

Studio meddling and directorial straw-grasping really hammered the coffin nails into Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, the viciously derided, multi-media sequel to one of the biggest (and most profitable) film phenomenons in history. Whether necessary or not, someone was bound to make a follow-up to The Blair Witch Project; the tricky part was how to do it. From a distance, the most laughable decisions made by Artisan Entertainment, which hastily hurried the sequel’s production while high on the first film’s success, involve silly, superficial adherences to The Blair Witch Project’s faux-doc qualities. Soldiering forward without the blessings of first-installment directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez (who reluctantly remained attached as executive producers), the studio hired a documentarian (Paradise Lost helmer Joe Berlinger), and endorsed the hiring of unknown actors like Erica Leerhsen, Tristen Skylar, and Stephen Barker Turner, who, in a worthless nod to Heather Donahue and company’s ostensible self-portrayals, have the barely-tweaked character names Erica Geerson, Tristen Ryler, and Stephen Ryan Parker. Since Book of Shadows, in plot and format, largely and clearly operates as a traditional narrative film, shot predominantly in 35 mm and acknowledging its predecessor as a fiction, such choices feel more like frivolous insults than attempts to retain the original’s spirit. The sequel itself might have some intriguing thoughts about mixed perceptions of reality, but there was no sense trying to keep up the ruse that anything about the Blair Witch brand is factual.

Sinful Cinema Super Mario Bros.

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Sinful Cinema: Super Mario Bros.
Sinful Cinema: Super Mario Bros.

Let’s get one thing straight: You can say whatever you want about Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel’s Super Mario Bros. (1993), but you need to remember that it wasn’t cheap—in fact, a more brazenly commercial product of this size and sweep may never have crawled out of studio hell in the 1990s. Furthermore, the conditions that leavened it—a hotshot husband-and-wife directing team propelled into the eye of a sprawling, committee-bred, synergetic summer-blockbuster hurricane, well after shooting began—would probably never be repeated again. The result is a queasy jumble of genre tropes (re-appropriated to hit kids’ sweet spots), and remarkable modernist visual gags, packed with political subtext, yet tossed off like so many cheap pizza napkins.

Sinful Cinema Catwoman

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Sinful Cinema: Catwoman
Sinful Cinema: Catwoman

If 2004’s Catwoman expressed anything, it wasn’t female empowerment, but the empowerment Halle Berry felt after winning her historic Oscar three years prior. Having already rocked her Bond-girl bikini in 2002’s Die Another Day, Berry kept on trucking with the sexualized-heroine angle, liberated by the kudos she netted for letting Billy Bob Thornton make her “feel good,” and no doubt thinking more about Catwoman’s iconography than the actual strength of the new film’s material. It’s hard to recall a recent Oscar victor with an odder post-win career than Berry. Critic David Edelstein has rather aptly called her out as being a “lovely non-actress,” and her taste in projects has been, quite frankly, bonkers. From Gothika to Cloud Atlas, there’s really no Berry film that one can admit to liking without a disclaimer. Catwoman, at least, is vividly exceptional, a good piece of trash with copious watchability, for both its car-wreck qualities and abundant camp delights. She may have showed up to collect the Razzie she ultimately won (again, galvanized by her shield of Academy approval), but it is a bit sad that Berry really isn’t in on the joke here. As Edelstein says, she’s an endearing and uncannily comely star, but she’s largely—and often, hilariously—to blame for this film’s undoing.

Sinful Cinema The Driver’s Seat

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Sinful Cinema: The Driver’s Seat
Sinful Cinema: The Driver’s Seat

It’s generally agreed that films fall into one of three categories: The Good, The Bad, and the So-Bad-It’s-Good. Still, there remain a few highly select examples of a fourth category: the What-in-Hell-Was-That? Michael Sarne’s star-laden evisceration of Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckinridge is certainly one of these, as are such disparate disasters as The Lonely Lady (Pia Zadora’s last-ditch attempt at being taken seriously), the sub-Ed-Wood exercise in low-budget incomprehensibility Mesa of Lost Women (1953), and—when and if it finally gets released—Faye Dunaway’s vanity (and how!) rendition of Terence McNally’s Maria Callas play Master Class. Yet none of these acts of cinematic desperation are quite as outré as The Driver’s Seat.

Directed by Giuseppe Patroni-Griffi, this Italian-made English-language drama, adapted from Muriel Spark’s novella about a mentally unbalanced woman searching for someone to stab her to death, stars Elizabeth Taylor and features (as Neil Patrick Harris would say, “wait for it…”) Andy Warhol. Nothing in the good, bad or so-bad-it’s-good canon compares to it. And if you were among the semi-happy few who managed to see it back in 1974, when it was released (or, some might say, “escaped”) to select grindhouses before vanishing into the maw of home video, then you know what I’m talking about. For while Elizabeth Taylor certainly made her share of stinkers in a long and productive career (Cynthia, The Sandpiper, Young Toscanini), it’s hard to imagine another item so fit to leave moviegoers scratching their heads, wondering precisely why it was made.