Feature: "Thanksgiving Turkeys"
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By D. Scott Apel

If you've ever seen the delightful sci-fi comedy flick Earth Girls Are Easy, then you probably remember comedienne Julie Brown's ode to guys, "I Like 'Em Big and Dumb." This could easily have been the motto of Hollywood over the past few years, and certainly for 1997.

Since Thanksgiving is right around the corner, we have the opportunity to cast a gimlet eye -- or in this case, a giblet eye -- on the worst turkeys released on tape during the past year. This year's criterion for inclusion is movies that are "Big and Dumb" -- but we like them not.

The following five films, all of which were released on tape during the past 12 months, were indeed "big," as most hit Number One at the boxoffice or on the video rental charts, or both. And "dumb" can be defined as anything from sacrificing plot logic for special effects to insulting the intelligence of the viewer.

Since this is Thanksgiving, let's consider these five films to be a feast for the (non)senses, and assign them each an appropriate "dinner role" in a typical holiday meal, but one gone horribly awry. You might note that four of these five flicks are sequels to much better films -- the equivalent of a good meal belching back at you long after it's been enjoyed, leaving one with little but heartburn.

Finally, if you disagree with any of these choices, content yourself by remembering that one person's turkey is another's Thanksgiving. Have a happy holiday!

Escape From L.A. (Paramount; rated R; 1:41). Whatever possessed director John Carpenter and star Kurt Russell to resurrect a 15-year- old film and attempt a sequel is anyone's guess. (Mine is "the money.") But while Escape from New York was a clever satire of action flicks, a decade and a half later the boys seem to have forgotten to pack a sense of humor in their survival kit. All we're left with is a collection of random scenes, none of which displays the ingenuity or irony of the original. Using our food metaphor, Escape from L.A. made pate of the original, and ended up just another plastic plate of crudités.

Salad Course
Batman and Robin (Warner; PG-13; 2:05). I believe Nostradamus predicted that one of the most clearly-defined signs of the immanent Apocalypse would be the day when Uma Thurman turned in a bad performance. Well, start stockpiling the bomb shelters, because that day has finally arrived. Arnie fares no better, saddled with blue makeup, a chrome-domed exoskeleton any Terminator would mock, and puns so painful that any self-respecting six-year-old should feel smarter than Mr. Freeze. Far too many other themes, plot lines and characters are tossed together to make this anything other than a bad salad. And even though the flick took in over $110 million at the boxoffice, let me state this opinion very clearly: Joel Schumacher should not be allowed to direct traffic, much less another big-budget Batman action epic. He did, however, manage to do something that no other director in this series has done to date, which is to out-camp and out-dumb the original "Batman" TV series, and make it look sophisticated by comparison.

Mish-Mashed Potatoes
Dante's Peak (Universal; PG-13; 1:49) and Volcano (Fox; PG-13; 1:44). Lumped together like mashed potatoes because they're pretty much the same movie, as the West Coast is visited by a plague of lava-poppers, and a struggling couple is forced to "feel the heat." (OK, so maybe "baked potatoes" would be a better metaphor...) Peak hauled more ashes, while Volcano concentrated on "Lava in Lalaland," but neither was even warm in its geo-logic. Together, they earned $114 million in theatrical release, qualifying the similar theme as one big eruption...of inanity.

Daylight (Universal; PG-13; 1:55). Serving up a list of the year's biggest, dumbest flicks without an entry from Sly Stallone would be like serving turkey and mashed potatoes without gravy. And Daylight certainly deserves a spot on this menu of misguided movies. The opening is a crash course in how to raid the pantry for cardboard characters, and the cookie-cutter recipe that follows could have been cooked up by a computer. Throw in a pinch of coincidence and a heaping helping of stunts that would kill any non-movie human, add water (literally), and you end up with a concoction that is much like bad gravy: thick (intellectually), lumpy (in its plot and acting), weak (in its logic) and very difficult to swallow.

The Main Course
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (Universal; PG-13; 2:09). Even though it suffered from a bad case of sequelitis, Lost World raked in over $225 million in theatrical revenue, making it the most overstuffed turkey -- and the biggest disappointment -- of the year. And while the "T.Rex vs. T.Railer" showdown was a cliffhanger, audiences spent the majority of the movie fighting off not fear but fatigue -- while waiting for anything to make any sense in the underdone plot. The original film gave the sensation of a dose of adrenaline, and passed on a sense of wonder; the sequel gives the same sensation as stuffing ourselves on turkey and trimmings, and wondering only how long we can last before passing out on the couch from the overdose of tryptophan.

Not all the action epics released on tape during the past 12 months were big and dumb. So just to take the nasty taste away after feasting our eyes on the above, a short list of recommended big and smart flicks would include Breakdown, Men In Black, and The Fifth Element; and in the "big and dumb fun" category, Mars Attacks and The Long Kiss Goodnight.

D. Scott Apel is the former video columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, and is author of the video guide Killer B's: The 237 Best Movies On Video You've (Probably) Never Seen.

Previous features:

Die Laughing: 13 flicks guaranteed to rattle your funny bones.

Film Noir: Build a library of some classic B-pictures.

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November 24, 1997