Sometimes we go to the movies not to be challenged, but to be entertained and comforted. Genre cliches, movies that are about the same no matter what, that meet our expectations but never exceed them, are the comfort food of movies. We know that they are not particularly good, but we go back to them anyway. They are familiar, predictable, and we know exactly what we’re getting. Observe:
Salisbury Steak (Romantic Comedies)
e.g. New Year’s Eve (2011), You’ve Got Mail (1998)
There are plenty of great romantic comedies, but it seems like most of them are cobbled together from hamburger to resemble a superior product. For example, New Year’s Eve is a cheap copy of a better movie (Love, Actually (2003)). You’ve Got Mail has the same leading actors and same plot of a better movie (Sleepless in Seattle (1993)). Here’s the clincher – everyone knew this going in, and both of these films made a ton of money at the box office.
e.g. Spiceworld (1997), From Justin to Kelly (2003)
The Musical is a genre that has fallen out of favor in modern Hollywood. Before the days of television (music videos especially), they were frequently either star vehicles or showcases for Vaudeville style acts. While some musicals remain popular for various reasons (Singin’ in the Rain (1952), West Side Story (1961), White Christmas (1954), The Wizard of Oz (1939)), many feel dated – like someone cobbled something edible together from sponge cake and filling.
But pre-television musicals have an excuse. Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) for instance seems dated now but it served its purpose as a showcase for Judy Garland’s talent and brought it to a wide audience during an era when people needed an escape. Poorly thought-out modern musicals have no excuse, and serve as long, ill conceived, music videos for flash in the pan artists (Spiceworld) or popular televisions shows (From Justin to Kelly).
Kung Pow Chicken (Action Movies)
e.g. Faster (2010), Battlefield Earth (2000)
Sometimes we like something a little spicier. Yeah it’s fried and bad for us, but it’s so cheap, tasty, and here in twenty minutes. Yes we’ll be hungry again in half an hour, but it’s great while it lasts. While there have been excellent, popular, purely escapist action films, some are filled with terrible dialogue, boring car chases, and plots that make absolutely no logical sense. Watch Faster and you’ll see what I mean.
Watch Battlefield Earth and you’ll see even worse. It makes Faster look like Citizen Kane (1941).
e.g. Deuce Bigalow, European Gigolo (2005), Every “____ Movie” after the original Scary Movie (2000)
Want something kind of light and a little gross? The gross-out comedy genre has what you’re looking for. It’s too bad that whenever Hollywood has a decent idea for an R-rated comedy, they dump a horrendous sequel on us. Sometimes the sequels have at least some redeeming value, but sometimes the first movie wasn’t that good to begin with (Deuce Bigalow) or it’s another of a seemingly endless parade of “Scary Movie” style parody films.
e.g. The Saw Films (2004-2010), Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)
Horror movies are the empty calorie, escapist, cash-cow of the movies always have been, and probably always will be. They’re cheap to make (Saw), easy to pump our sequel after sequel (Saw), and always end up making a decent amount of money (Saw).
The problem is that the horror movie genre ends up looking far easier than it is. This is what inspired a New Mexico insurance salesman to create a “horror movie” that may be the worst film every released in a movie theater – Manos: The Hands of Fate.
Next time: Epilogue – Movies with No Redeeming Value
(c) 2012 D.G. McCabe