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The absolute worst movies of 2019

It almost seems to be an unwritten Hollywood rule that for every amazing, well-crafted piece of cinema released in any given year, there must be at least one completely misguided, poorly executed, lazily written slog of a film. Some of these catch us by surprise, arriving with high expectations only to offer bitter disappointment; others, we see (or rather smell) coming a mile away. Sure, it would be unrealistic to expect every major Hollywood release to be a home run, or even a single — but every year, the studios offer up a hearty batch of pictures that (in keeping with the metaphor) strike out, then burst into flames while walking back to the dugout.

2018 gave us a surplus of absolute stinkers, and this year is shaping up to be no different. These are the horror flicks that generated more unintentional laughs than scares, the trippy sci-fi pieces that tripped and fell on their faces, the superhero blockbusters that failed to achieve liftoff, and the high-minded dramas that bypassed Prestige Town and headed straight for Facepalm City… the very worst movies of 2019.

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Replicas

Keanu Reeves is as in demand as ever, and has even cemented his action star bonafides relatively late in his career thanks to the John Wick series. Over the years, he's only appeared in a handful of sci-fi features — but one of those happens to be among the greatest films that genre has ever produced, so we were psyched to see his return to the world of trippy sci-fi weirdness with Replicas. Then the reviews started to come in — and our excitement turned to surprise, then disappointment, then embarrassment. 

The film was simply a complete mess, plagued by a clumsy script written in service of an absurd storyline, not to mention unexciting action sequences and plot holes you could drive a semi through. The Guardian's Charles Bramesco offered up a positively Ebert-esque review, taking every cast member but Reeves to task for "[delivering] the stilted language as if it might bite them on the tongue," and damning Keanu with the faintest of praise: "An evolutionary marvel, Reeves has figured out how to adapt to the hostile environment of mediocrity, and here he takes to the gobbledygook and gaps in logic like a genetically altered fish to water." Pajiba's Roxana Hadadi called it "truly generic sci-fi filmmaking… with many, many familiar ideas…  [it's] bad, but it doesn't even do us the favor of being good-bad," while Rashid Irani of The Hindustan Times took one for the team: "I saw it so you wouldn't have to. Give Replicas a miss."

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The Upside

A remake of the French film The Intouchables, The Upside endured a lengthy development process, with talent both behind and in front of the camera coming and going for the better part of five years. Then, after debuting at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, the movie — which was produced by The Weinstein Company — sat on a shelf for the next year and a half, due to the avalanche of sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein. The drama, featuring Bryan Cranston as a paralyzed billionaire and Kevin Hart as his ex-con caretaker, was then purchased by STX Entertainment — and when it was finally released in January 2019, it was met with the mother of all shrugs.

Critics were near-unanimous in their praise for Hart's and Cranston's performances and chemistry together, and in their disdain for virtually everything else about the film. Descriptors like "hackneyed," "mawkish," and "clichéd" were thrown about with abandon, along with more involved and colorful ones like "a barely legible assemblage of incidents that only somewhat resemble a story" and "a blob of unflavored Jell-O that you're supposed to find delicious just because it went through the motions." But it was Film Inquiry's Asher Luberto (in a review headlined "The Upside: Not a Lot of It") who summed up the critical doldrums most succinctly: "You have seen it all before, and probably done better… the film [has] fallen, and can't get up."

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Glass

2017's Split was rightfully hailed as a return to form for director M. Night Shyamalan, and its last-minute reveal — that it was, in fact, a stealth sequel to his amazing 2000 film Unbreakable — kicked the hype machine for a third installment into high gear immediately. Shyamalan obliged, bringing back Unbreakable's David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and Elijah Price, a.k.a. Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) and Split's Kevin Crumb, a.k.a. the Horde (James McAvoy) and Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy) together for Glass, the trailers for which promised us a superpowered throwdown for the ages. Typical of many of Shyamalan's movies, a vocal minority of critics found it to be a misunderstood masterpiece — while most simply found it to be poorly written, ploddingly paced, and, well, boring.

ComingSoon.net's Alan Cerny echoed the opinions of many in lamenting the film's lack of action while heading the "misunderstood masterpiece" crowd off at the pass. "Those who dismiss the movie will probably be inundated with a lot of hooey about how we didn't get it," he said. "But I can't excuse bad filmmaking… [Glass is] a superhero movie that pulls its punches, and no one wants to see that." Sameer Amer of The Express Tribune neatly summed up the issues: "Glass ultimately suffers because of problems with its pace, coherence and storyline." Ouch. But Mahmoud Mahdy of FilmGamed fielded the biggest burn: "A wagon carrying dramatic garbage advancing on rails at a constant pace to reach a destination where nobody ever wanted to go."

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Serenity

Serenity, starring Matthew McConaughey as a fishing boat captain and Anne Hathaway as the ex-wife who shows up seeking protection from her new abusive husband, is a seedy murder mystery with a twist; the problem, unfortunately, is that the mystery isn't so tough to parse out, and the twist is absolutely ridiculous. We won't spoil it here, for the simple fact that we'd be downright embarrassed to spell it out; one wonders why writer/director Steven Knight (The Girl in the Spider's Web) didn't feel the same when finishing off his screenplay. In case you think we're being hyperbolic, consider the words of the great Rex Reed, who has seen a bad movie or two in his distinguished career.

Writing for the Observer, Reed argued, "Serenity already qualifies as the worst film of 2019. Both moronically written and directed with shocking, amateurish ineptitude by Stephen Knight, it's a pointless bomb… a sub-mental waste of time and Diane Lane… As the movie turns into a long, exasperating episode from The Twilight Zone, the dialogue induces giggles and then loud guffaws." Chicago Reader's Leah Pickett called it "a directing failure, seeing as McConaughey acts like he's in a prestige drama; his intensity clashes with the pulpy narrative and its illogical contrivances. The movie becomes even more ridiculous after its big reveal, which is obvious from early on and suggested in the opening shot." All we'll say is that said reveal isn't "it was all a dream" — it's even worse.

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Miss Bala

Gina Rodriguez is probably most familiar to audiences by way of her starring role on the CW's romantic comedy series Jane the Virgin, so it's a little unclear why Miss Bala — her first big-screen starring vehicle — would attempt to make her over as an action star. Perhaps surprisingly, many critics agreed that she acquitted herself quite nicely; it's everything else about the movie that failed. A remake of the 2011 Spanish film of the same name, it stars Rodriguez as a makeup artist who gets caught up in an extremely convoluted cross-border drug trafficking plot while attempting to help a friend win a beauty contest; perhaps the premise was somehow less of a head-scratcher in Spanish.

Speaking of which, Francis X. Friel of Mountain Xpress burned the film to the ground with a single sentence: "The rare remake that makes you wish the original had never existed." Most critics were no kinder, pegging it as "generic and uninspired," "a contrived Hollywood adaptation," and "an over-complicated mess," while still near-unanimously praising Rodriguez' screen presence. Writer Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer and director Catherine Hardwicke were taken to task early and often for completely mucking up the point of the original film, with Film Comment's Michael Sragow getting a bit political in order to make this point. "Miss Bala," he said, "provides the first feasible argument for our southern neighbor to pay for building a wall: to keep Hollywood hacks out of the country."

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Wonder Park

Paramount's animated feature Wonder Park is a first in modern cinema: it's the only major studio picture to ever be released with no credited director. You read that right — even Alan Smithee, the famed pseudonym reserved for filmmakers who disown their movies, couldn't be bothered to take credit. Original director Dylan Brown (who has worked as an animator on a laundry list of Pixar classics) was fired near the end of the film's production for "inappropriate behavior," and apparently, nobody else who worked on Wonder Park — the story of a little girl who wills the theme park of her dreams into existence — was willing to step up and take responsibility for it. There is a reason for this.

Despite an awesome voice cast featuring Mila Kunis, Ken Jeong, Matthew Broderick, and Kenan Thompson, the film suffered from terminal issues at the writing stage, seeming to be supremely unsure of its premise and even its tone. Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com called it "Melancholy in all the wrong ways… [it] only makes a strong impression when it's disturbing or saddening in a manner the film itself seems only dimly aware of," a sentiment echoed by Jake Wilson of The Age. "Children will likely find the film both boring and upsetting," he said, "a deadly combination." Perhaps the phantom director should have paid more attention during his time at Pixar: "It aspires to be Inside Out," said Empire's Ian Freer, "but falls way short."

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Tyler Perry's A Madea Family Funeral

Another year, another entry in the seemingly unkillable Madea series, the films that — along with the other cinematic works of creator, director, writer, and star Tyler Perry — always seem to inspire two different sets of lines around the block: fans who can't wait to catch the latest outing, and critics who can't wait to take their shots. Tyler Perry's A Madea Family Funeral (promised to be the final film in the series) was certainly no different, garnering $72 million at the domestic box office while reliably bringing out maximum snark in virtually ever reviewer tasked with sitting through it.

"Considering how well the character has served him," said Frank Scheck of The Hollywood Reporter, "Perry certainly doesn't return the favor in this graceless installment combining raucous comedy and turgid melodrama to undigestible effect… [the film] has a tossed-off quality, giving the impression it was written and shot over a long weekend." Alternate Ending's Tim Brayton lambasted Perry's "hapless, ineffective form of filmmaking marked primarily by its disinterest in whether anything about it is actually working," while Brian Orndorf of Blu-ray.com opined that the director "makes the viewing experience feel like a kidnapping." But to sum it up with extra flair, here's Crooked Marquee's Eric D. Snider: "Excruciating and baffling with occasional flecks of bemusement at how misguided it is; garishly lit and cheap-looking… woefully overlong and ham-fistedly plotted because writer-director-producer Perry keeps hitting pay dirt with these things and has no incentive to improve."

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Trading Paint

John Travolta has accomplished many things in his career: helping to cement the popularity of disco, assisting Quentin Tarantino in reinventing the action film, and trading faces with Nic Cage, to name just a few. But 2019 saw him notch perhaps his most dubious achievement: fielding a picture which scored a big fat goose egg on Rotten Tomatoes for the third time in two years. His misbegotten biopic Gotti and woefully inept speedboat-racing thriller Speed Kills were considered by many to be the worst films of 2018, and Trading Paint — the story of father-and-son racecar drivers pitted against each other by an unscrupulous rival — is shaping up to be a strong contender for this year's title.

The 11 critics who bothered to review it trashed it mercilessly, none more so than Johnny Oleksinski of the New York Post. "[Travolta's character] hops back in the driver's seat after six years on the sidelines to kick his son's butt. 'Hell, you can't write this any better!' says one of the track commentators. Yes, you can… [the racing sequences] are as exciting as a Ford Taurus trying to parallel park." Critics were uniformly puzzled over the appearance of country superstar Shania Twain as the obligatory love interest ("Maybe she just really wanted to meet Travolta," pondered one) and infuriated by the cliché-laden script from Craig R. Welch and Gary Gerani. The silver lining here: a losing streak this egregious usually means there's nowhere to go but up.

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Hellboy

Director Guillermo del Toro's 2004 Hellboy and its 2008 sequel Hellboy II: The Golden Army were fine adaptations, admirably capturing the spirit of the Dark Horse comics character — a half-human, half demon superhero with one hell of a right hook — thanks to the director's unabashed love for the material and the lead performances of Ron Perlman in the role he was born to play. A third del Toro-directed installment was rumored for years, but fell apart due to the producers' desire to go the reboot route. With Stranger Things' David Harbour in the lead, The Descent's Neil Marshall at the helm, and a hard R rating, the 2019 edition of Hellboy looked mighty promising — right up until it landed in theaters with a resounding thud.

While there was plenty of praise for Harbour's take on the character, critics found it to be a performance in service of "a complete and total garbage movie," a "series of scenes strung together with barely a path to guide them," and (our personal favorite) "a fecal matter weather event of a film fiasco." Fortunately, the movie's underwhelming box office likely means that the sequel teased in the post-credits stinger will never come to pass. If its near-total failure wasn't enough to bring tears to the eyes of del Toro, the words of RogerEbert.com's Christy LeMire probably did the trick: "You will never realize how much you need Guillermo del Toro in your life," she said, "until you see the reboot of Hellboy."