The new year is a time for reflection, for hope, for fresh starts and new outlooks on things. It’s a moment of renewal, where people all over the world can look up with fresh eyes and resolve to do better. It’s an annual second chance to get things right, and make good on the promise that life has to offer.
Unless you’re a movie studio, in which case it’s just when you quietly trot your worst films out into the back alley, throw them in a dumpster, pour gasoline on the whole thing, and light a match. Yes, while the rest of the world is trying new ways to improve, Hollywood maintains its record streak of using January as a parade of shame for new releases while simultaneously devoting all resources to propping up their Awards Season contenders. Several companies will even split the difference by releasing their hopefuls in late December to ensure Academy eligibility, but only in New York and Los Angeles, before converting their prestige and nominations into marketing for wider openings this month. It’s a time-honored tradition known as bullshit.
Amazingly, though, this particular January doesn’t look all that bad, relatively speaking. Of the 12 new movies being released this month, it’s pretty much an even split. Five have “earned” a spot in this column, five have passed the basic smell test, one doesn’t have a publicly available trailer for me to scrutinize, and the final one – the reboot of House Party – would have been included here if there was a Green Band trailer that I could embed (only the Red Band is available, which doesn’t show up). That still means that half of this month’s output is going to be shit, but a) it’s a smaller than average output, and b) there have been years where basically every January premiere was abominable. I’ll take the little victories wherever I can. Hell, this may turn out to be one of the shortest columns I’ve ever done in this series.
Still, that doesn’t mean there’s not plenty to discuss, so let’s ring in the new year proper by uncomfortably dropping our balls! This is the January 2023 edition of “This Film is Not Yet Watchable!”
Plane – January 13
Let’s ignore for a second the fact that this trailer brags about being a byproduct of Angel Has Fallen, the generic action movie dialogue, the convoluted plotting to set up the conflict, the fact that the main character is named Brodie, that he works for Trailblazer Airlines, or that Gerard Butler apparently decided to quit acting as soon as he was killed off in How to Train Your Dragon 2 but decided to keep making movies anyway. Instead, let’s focus on what is honestly the most glaring issue with this whole exercise in futility.
The movie is called Plane, and yet it appears that only the first act takes place on a plane. Everything else is on an island. Once the plane crashes, the title is utterly meaningless. Imagine if they made a movie called Motorcycle, but instead of it being about motorcycles, it’s about a guy who crashes one and spends the rest of the movie at the DMV. Or what about if they made one called Boat that was about completely land-based people who build ships in bottles while carrying around gravy containers.
If you can’t even satisfy the one-word title as the basic setting and plot driver of your film, what chance do you honestly have of making anything of quality? Oh sure, one of the last shots in the trailer shows a plane taking off with a blown tire, implying that the plan to escape from the nebulous island of murder minorities is to somehow make it back to their crashed aircraft and get it flying again – which is just stupid – but that still probably only accounts for 25% of the total runtime at best.
What I’m saying is that I’d rather watch Disney’s Planes, because at least it delivers what it promises.
Detective Knight: Independence – January 20
Remember when Lionsgate was the major distributor for independent films trying to crack into the mainstream? I miss those days. Instead, they’re two-for-two in this month’s column for the latest borderline abusive exploitation of Bruce Willis’ failing health. I mean, just listen to his slurred line deliveries. Just look at how tired and run down he appears. Just watch as he tries to feebly punch a heavy bag. This isn’t acting anymore. This is a man giving all he’s got left and being robbed of his dignity in the process. It’s tragic and arguably criminal at this point.
Meanwhile, we have Jack Kilmer (Val’s son, so you know he’s experienced a thing or two about a beloved actor fading away from illness) giving what appears to be one of the most wooden, unmotivated performances imaginable, as an ACAB rebel who steals a police uniform and a gun to exact vigilante justice on thugs and miscreants (read: non-whites; seriously the only minorities in this trailer are criminals that Kilmer shoots), even though said uniform looks like it came straight from the Spirit Halloween store and no one would believe for a second that he was a cop. Throw in some jingoism about how police are heroes and angels that watch over us, awash in giant American flags, and you’ve got something that Donald Trump Jr. probably jacks off to while face deep in a mountain of cocaine, but not an actual movie.
Seriously, what the hell happened to you, Lionsgate?
You People – January 27
Quick question for Hollywood trailer editors: Do we really need establishing shots of the Los Angeles skyline to know we’re in L.A.? Do we need the same for New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, or any other major city? You know you can just tell us what town we’re in, right? This is the second straight trailer in this column that opens with what you seem to think is a glamor shot of downtown L.A., but seriously, nobody cares. Literally no one is watching this teaser going, “Well thank fuck I know this is Los Angeles! Otherwise none of this would make any sense! I mean, Jonah Hill AND Eddie Murphy in the same place? What are the fucking odds? Oh, it’s L.A., I get it now. I’m totally going to subscribe to Netflix so I can see this masterpiece!”
Anyway, now that my latest insipid rant is over, on to the actual trailer…
“So do you hang out in the hood all the time, or do you just come up here for our food and women?”
“It’s a valid question.”
NO IT FUCKING IS NOT! And if you don’t believe me, reverse the roles. Have a white couple ask this of a black man and replace “hood” with “suburbs.” Then tell me it’s a valid question, Nia Long! I hope you get disappeared while on vacation!
Look, I don’t know why Jonah Hill looks like everyone’s mental image of a high school drama coach, I don’t know why he wants to marry Eddie Murphy’s daughter, and I sure as fuck don’t know why he’s trying to awkwardly refer to Malcom X as “The G.O.A.T.” Frankly, I don’t want to know. This is the shortest trailer this month, and it is just complete cringe. It makes a big deal about Hill and Kenya Barris writing the script (and Barris directing), but then gives us a preview that’s literally just Meet the Parents with some entry-level racial conflict thrown in instead of the religious and masculinity ones. How is this in any way appealing?
The answer is that this scene takes place at Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles. God DAMN I love me some Roscoe’s!
Fuck the rest of this trailer, however.
Shotgun Wedding – January 27
Remember last year when I named Marry Me as “The Worst Trailer in the World”? Well, this shows exactly why you don’t marry Jennifer Lopez. There’s cheesy acting, bad comedy, armed assailants, and worst of all, an Edwin McCain song.
Seriously, is there any kind of property that J-Lo can’t fuck up? It’s like she saw The Lost City and thought, “Hey, now there’s something I can do, a rom-com where I’m also an action star! And I can show off my abs and pretend I’m still in my 20s while doing it! SOMEONE PAY FOR ME TO GO TO THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC FOR TWO MONTHS!” Yeah, as you watch that whole scene between her and Jennifer Coolidge as Josh Duhamel’s “mom,” asking if Lopez is just genetically hotter than everyone, remember that Coolidge at 61 is only eight years older than Lopez at 53, and Duhamel is 50. Figure out all those icky dynamics while “I’ll Be” plays for the millionth time.
“Not once did I think that I’d be walking handcuffed through the jungle with a live grenade,” says Duhamel, failing to realize that by marrying Lopez he’s essentially falling on one. OH!
Also, congratulations, Lionsgate, you now account for 75% of this column so far! What in the actual retail fuck?
And just like that, we’re already through the main portion of this month’s program. But fear not, for I have saved the best trainwreck for last. It’s time once again for “The Worst Trailer in the World… This Month!” In a period with so few options, one trailer stood head and shoulders above the rest, even though its title character only stands waist high as she murders you, in one of the most baffling attempts to terrify I’ve yet seen!
M3GAN – January 6
It IS nice to have a friend, especially if you have one who will talk you out of paying to see bad movies.
And with that, we conclude, as always, with this month’s “Redemption Reel.” As it’s January, the pickings are slim, as even the movies that seem good don’t look particularly great. However, there is one project that, given the previous accomplishment of its creator, deserves at least a mild benefit of the doubt.
Missing – January 20
Aneesh Chaganty made his directorial debut with the 2018 thriller, Searching, which was one of my favorite films that year. Led by a career-best performance from John Cho, Chaganty took the otherwise lame framing device of staging the entire movie via computer screens and social media and turned it into a surprising and compelling Hitchcockian roller coaster. Not many filmmakers strike gold on their first outing, so I was excited to see what he’d come out with next.
That follow-up is Missing, starring Storm Reid, Ken Leung, and Nia Long, in a sequel that is advertised as creating an anthology-style franchise. This time the roles are reversed, with Long as a parent going on vacation with Leung as her boyfriend and disappearing (holy crap, my wish from seeing the You People trailer came true!), forcing Reid to lead the chase to find her mother and get her home safely.
A lot of the imagery is similar to its predecessor, which makes me a touch fearful that this will be more of a copy of Searching than a spiritual successor. There’s also a potential red flag in the sense that Chaganty only co-wrote the story and produced the film, with Nick Johnson and Will Merrick (two of Chaganty’s editors on Searching) directing and penning the actual script. Finally, the fact that the film’s release was moved up to January instead of its original date in February leads me to wonder if Sony saw the finished product and thought it wouldn’t make money, thus relegating it to the dumping ground.
But I’m willing to set all that aside and give this a chance, because I did that once before with Chaganty, and it paid off better than I could have ever expected. And despite my trepidations, there do appear to be some solid-looking scenes in the trailer, including twists and turns about both Long and Leung’s identities, expanding the proceedings from the narrow radius of Searching to as far as Colombia, and some intriguing dynamics when it comes to what kind of access a teenager can have to investigative resources versus an adult.
I’m cautiously optimistic that this will work out, and even if it doesn’t, Chaganty engendered enough goodwill with his first outing that he can overcome a sophomore slump so long as Missing doesn’t turn out to be a near-exact clone of Searching, thus rendering him a one-trick pony. I have enough faith in his storytelling skills to believe he’ll avoid such a pitfall.
That’s all for this month. I plan on seeing a couple of new movies this month, though most of my focus for the next few weeks will be on the impending Oscar nominations. Good luck to you if you’re seeking any of these out, and here’s hoping that 2023 will suck slightly less than 2022!
Join the conversation in the comments below! Are you planning to see any of these films? Do you think I was too hard on any of them? Do you think Edwin McCain tells people he’s Bo Bice to avoid embarrassment? Let me know!