“Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” – John F. Kennedy.
Those words were reportedly spoken after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and while they ring true in the real world, their reverse applies to the fantasyland of the motion picture business. While it takes hundreds and even thousands of people to take a movie from idea to the big screen, commercial and critical success is often attributed to one performer or one director or one producer or, quite rarely, one writer. Movies that bomb at the box office and with critics, however, frequently see blame so dispersed and diffused that it’s as if no one is at fault.
This edition of KIMT’s Weekend Throwdown will take a look at what it is that makes a bad movie bad and how even a good movie can get swallowed up by it. It’s “Geostorm” (2017) vs. “Hunter Killer” (2018) in a battle to determine why Gerard Butler goes home and cries himself to sleep on a pillow full of money each night.
"Is it my breath?"
“Geostorm” is one of those disaster movies that’s a disaster in its own right. It cost about $120 million to make and earned just $33 million in the U.S. It has a 13% fresh rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website. After finishing initial production in 2015, the people who made it thought it sucked so hard they went back and not only shot new scenes in 2016 but added new characters and even replaced an actress. The movie then sat on the shelf for another 10 months before they finally unleashed it on a very-suspecting public. Short of having someone die during production, everything that could go wrong with this movie did go wrong.
It opens with narration explaining that when the Earth was beset with extreme weather that threatened to kill millions and even billions, the nations of the world came together under the guidance of Jake Lawson (Gerard Butler), a brilliant scientist who of course can’t play by the rules, to create a global system of satellites to control the weather and save the planet. But after a nasty public spat with a U.S. Senate committee, Jake gets fired from the project by his government official brother, Max (Jim Sturgess). Cut to three years later and the satellite system is starting to cause deadly weather catastrophes and Max has to bring Jake back to find the problem and fix it before it produces a geostorm that wipes out all life on Earth.
"Do I have something in my teeth?"
What’s wrong with “Geostorm?” Let me count the ways.
1. It is profoundly dumb as only something created by rich Hollywood jagoffs can be. The movie tells us that after getting fired, Jake Lawson wound up living in a trailer in Florida and fixing the electric motors in the cars of retirees to make ends meet. He not only oversaw the construction of the greatest technological achievement in human history, which probably had to have been the most expensive thing in human history, but he literally saved the life of every man, woman, and child on the planet…and the movie expects us to believe that having an argument with a snotty politician ruined Jake’s career? Really? He’s essentially a combination of Howard Hughes and Albert Einstein and no one anywhere has a job for him? He’s the savior of Mankind and people aren’t throwing money at him just to show up at their son’s bar mitzvah?
How hard would it have been to have Jake working on another impressive project somewhere when his brother asks him to come back and fix the weather satellites? Or show Jake living a life of decadent celebrity and coasting on his achievements? It just required these filmmakers to have a brain, which means it would have been harder than a quadruple amputee climbing Mount Everest.
2. It is boring with a capital B, O, R, I, N, and G. Not only are the disaster effects a rehash of things already seen in a bunch of previous CGI-fests, but there is a long stretch of the film where nothing is happening. No one is getting shot, stabbed, blown up, frozen, fried, or hit by lightning for a ridiculous amount of time for a movie that never has any ambition to be more than a visual thrillfest.
'Is it because I won't stop asking people to pull my finger?"
3. It is both existentially horrifying and sedately lame. This is a film where millions of people get massacred by Mother Nature but it is all presented in such an antiseptic and bloodless fashion that none of it means anything. There’s not a single second of genuine excitement, fear, dread, or joy in the whole blessed thing because no one can take any of it seriously, including the people who made “Geostorm.” They didn’t even bother to give us some significant supporting characters to kill off. The only people to die in this movie, besides the pixelated presentations of mass humanity, are a couple of third-string doofuses who are less engaging than the generic teenagers slaughtered in any Z-grade slasher flick.
4. It is politically preachy. I don’t know why this is a lesson which has to be learned over and over and over again, but people only want their entertainment to entertain them. Especially when it comes to $100 million special effects extravaganzas, they don’t want to hear a lecture on global politics, the evils of American exceptionalism, and the wonders of diversity. To be fair, “Geostorm” isn’t particularly egregious on this but it’s like squirting some expired mustard on a turd sandwich.
"Is it because I won't stop using my dad's headphones?"
About the only good thing you can say about “Geostorm” is that moviegoers sniffed out this bomb and avoided it at the theater.
That same fate appears to have befallen “Hunter Killer.” It earned a pitiful $6.6 million its opening weekend at the box office, finishing a distant #4 at the box office and behind two films that had already been in theaters for three weeks. Audiences apparently saw this thing coming and decided to get out of the way. The problem is…”Hunter Killer” is actually pretty good.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not going to win any awards and won’t make viewers forget about “The Hunt for Red October” (1990) or “Run Silent Run Deep” (1958) but “Hunter Killer” is a legitimately diverting and well-made little adventure flick.
"Do you still blame me for breaking up with Jennifer Aniston?"
A U.S. submarine is sunk in the icy waters off the coast of Russia. Captain Joe Glass (Gerard Butler) is put in charge of the attack sub Arkansas and sent to investigate. Meanwhile, a four-man special forces team is sent on a covert mission inside Russia to find out what role it may have played in the sinking. What our fighting forces discover is a military coup to kidnap the Russian president and start a war with the United States. Can the skill and bravery of the American military save the day? Does the sun rise in the east?
“Hunter Killer” is like a good Michael Bay movie if you let him spend about half what he would like to on it. It’s based on the novel “Firing Point” and like most movies adapted from books, there are a lot of things on screen that must have been much better developed on the page but any half-decent novel has to be cut down in order to fit in a two-hour film. I can say “Hunter Killer” has made me interested in reading the original book, which hasn’t happened since I saw “Silence of the Lambs.” I would honestly like to know more about both Captain Joe Glass and the military team sent into Russia, which is a tribute to the actors playing those characters but also to the depth the story shows them to have.
"Should we tell him?"
The movie is also admirably realistic in showing how combat modern works both on land and at sea. A lot of war fighting in the 21st century consists of people separated by dozens or hundreds of miles and it’s a battle to push the right button at the right time. But it remains as true today as in the time of Sun Tzu that the key to victory is often knowing when to fight and when not to.
What I can’t figure out is why “Hunter Killer” bombed so hard at the box office. It’s got a solid cast and concept. Unlike “Geostorm,” where I remember how lame the ads for it looked, the marketing campaign seemed fine. There isn’t a bunch of competition for the same audience. It’s only the second action flick out in a month and the other was a more obviously cartoonish super-hero movie. It’s not like this kind of movie is out of vogue. “Mission Impossible – Fallout” is the same general genre and it made $220 million this year. Another pure military flick, “12 Strong,” made $45 million in 2018 and “Hunter Killer” will struggle to make half that. Did people hear the word “Russia” in the TV ads and think it was going to be another anti-Trump screed?
"Three words: Gods of Egypt!"
“Hunter Killer” isn’t at all that. It’s a gripping little heroic tale of men trying their damnedest not to be at war and it takes this Throwdown over the only unintentionally amusing “Geostorm.” What both films do demonstrate is how hard it can be to hold anyone in Hollywood accountable for failure. “Geostorm” is a stupid movie that, outside of Abbie Cornish’s turn as a badass and sexy Secret Service agent, has nothing of value to offer and probably should never have been produced in the first place. “Hunter Killer” is a good movie where everything more or less makes sense and it’s probably better than many other films seen by far more people this year. The people at fault for the first failure and the reasons for it are completely different than those in the second. Who should take the blame?
Thanks “_____!” (Insert Trump or Obama, depending on your political leaning.
Written by Dean Devlin and Paul Guyot.
Directed by Dean Devlin.
Starring Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish, Alexandra Maria Lara, Daniel Wu, Eugenio Derbez, Amr Waked, Andy Garcia, Ed Harris, Mare Winningham, and Talitha Eliana Bateman.
If only they could have found some way to get her character into "Hunter Killer."
Hunter Killer (2018)
Written by Arne Schmidt and Jamie Moss.
Directed by Donovan Marsh.
Starring Gerard Butler, Carter MacIntyre, Mikey Collins, Will Attenborough, Keiron Bimpson, Shane Taylor, David Gyasi, Michael Jibson, Common, Gary Oldman, Kola Bokinni, Linda Cardellini, Zane Holtz, Michael Nyqvist, and Alexander Diachenko.
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