Last week I attended a screening of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone with every intent to review the film here on Movie Mezzanine. Unfortunately, five minutes after the credits began to roll I had essentially forgotten about the swing and a miss of a comedy I had just suffered through.
Now, either of these two scenarios could’ve happened: within the time span of walking from the theater to my car I developed a loss of all memory (which would explain why getting home felt like a task akin to circumnavigating the globe). Or, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is yet another example of remarkably gifted individuals creating a bad movie.
For the sake of this article, I’m going to side with the latter rational. Naturally this “great people making bad movies” is not a conceit exclusive to comedies. This is a phenomenon that has swept across genres, countries, and mediums.
I give you five possible explanations (not excuses) as to why films like The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Gangster Squad, Death to Smoochy, and Ocean’s Twelve fail to meet their potential.
The Five Stages of Grief, Or How Talented People Make Terrible Films That Induce Grief
1.) Translation from Page to Screen Disease: A lot of scripts may appear to look good on paper, but not so much in execution. Unfortunately, by the time a director understands what they have isn’t so great, it’s too late.
2.) Overcompensation: The third “stage” stems from the previous one. Performers having to overcompensate for the banal material they’re given. Some actors and actress are able to improvise, turn silver into gold. But as the multitude of dreadful films would support, this doesn’t transpire often.
3.) The “Too Much” Syndrome: Envision a plethora of actors and actresses duking it out for screen time and dialogue. That is the “Too Much” syndrome. It’s not something any film desires or longs for. Unfortunately, romantic comedies and period-piece dramas are often diagnosed with this detrimental syndrome.
4.) The “I bought an island and am now in massive debt” Complex: Nicolas Cage taught us a valuable lesson when he purchased that 40-acre island in the Bahamas: Never purchase a 40-acre island in the Bahamas, ever. If you do, you’ll be forced to star in movies like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Trespass, Seeking Justice, Drive Angry, Bangkok Dangerous, and Season of the Witch. Aside from Cage, we’ve seen actors and actresses phone in their performances before. It’s not only unenjoyable to watch, it’s disheartening to see accomplished thespians waste their time and talent.
5.) The Difficulty of Creating Art: The most pragmatic of these five rationals is, irrefutably, the last one. It’s no secret that creating a movie with even just an inkling of artistic value is an arduous, rigorous, and painstaking process few have successfully completed. Perhaps that is why even the most gifted of filmmakers, from Alfred Hitchcock to Woody Allen to Paul Thomas Anderson, have failed on occasion.
Although I’m still attempting to figure out what the hell went wrong in Whatever Works and Scoop and Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger and Alice and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, it’s the ability to rebound from failure that we admire so much in not only our favorite filmmakers, but people.