A Tale of Two Terribles

Recently I decided to revisit two different movies, both of which I think aren’t very good.

The inevitable question is, why did I waste my time with revisiting two movies I think aren’t very good? Well, that’s a great question! With the task of recording/producing three regular podcasts each week, it’s fair why you’d wonder why I would arguably waste my time.

First and foremost, don’t you dare judge me. It’s my life and I’ll live it how I wish.

The First Terrible

One of the titles was something that I wanted to revisit for a number of years, but it wasn’t available easily. The movie is Freejack, a 1992 sci-fi clunker starring Emilio Estevez, Rene Russo, Mick Jagger, and…Anthony Hopkins, who must have been contracted to this thing before Silence of the Lambs made him a household name.

I’m not even going to fact check that last statement. It’s the only way it makes sense that he’s in this.

It was covered some time ago by How Did This Get Made?, the podcast that’s something of a spiritual child to the original Mystery Science Theater 3000 or RiffTrax. I was amazed that I could still picture scenes in my head as they discussed it. So I waited.

It took me this long to revisit because it had too high a price point for an out-of-print DVD, and wasn’t on any streaming services I use. I’d watched it in the movie theater when it was first released, and it remained ensconced in my brain as one of the least-enjoyable movies I’ve ever seen. I’m sure I must have seen it at least once more in the days of VHS, but I can’t be certain.

One day, I stumbled across it on Amazon Prime and I felt that I had to revisit it.

It’s truly, amazingly, incoherently terrible. There isn’t a single good decision in this film, with the exception of casting Anthony Hopkins because he’s good in anything. I mean, he’s not really all that good here, but he’s still fun to watch. Sorta.

Casting Mick Jagger as the bad guy pursuing Emilio Estevez was an interesting decision, at least. It certainly helped convince me and my friends to see it one night in 1992 after a Speech & Debate tournament.

Aside: It could have been a play, but I’m pretty sure it was one of those tournaments. I remember at one point we were hanging in the teacher’s lounge and the heavy wooden door with the spring-loaded hinge closed on my fingers and my high school ring kept my fingers from getting crushed. I had a weird “dent” on the bone of my ring finger for at least a year afterward. I forget what I had for breakfast, but I remember this moment. Memory is fickle and weird.

The point is, though, that Freejack is irredeemably bad. There’s nothing bright or fresh about it. Unlike Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, my love of which is well-documented, there is a spiritless malaise that oozes from the movie. It’s relentlessly boring and lacks any verve or flair.

It’s a movie where every person seems not to have communicated with anyone else what their specific intentions were, from the writers, to the director, to the crew, to the actors. That shows through very clearly.

It amazed me how well I remembered it despite not having seen it for many, many years. I even remembered certain lines and line deliveries!

Have I seen “worse” in the intervening years? Arguably, yes. But this is still a flaming piece of junk in that particular landfill.

“We’ve got a legendary rock star known for sex appeal, so let’s put him in a helmet that makes him look like Eli Manning on game day.”

The Second Terrible

The other movie I revisited, mainly because I needed to think about something and put it on as a distraction, was 1987’s Over The Top. After marveling that it came out the same year as Jaws: The Revenge and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, I started to ponder why I’m even willing to rewatch it.

Even as something that I had on as “mental noise” so I could think through an issue, Over The Top is terrible. But it’s a different kind of terrible from Freejack.

I’m not talking about the very tired line that something is “so bad it’s good.” That nonsense line just gives us permission to laugh at someone else.

I know that making fun of others’ failures is humanizing and cathartic. It’s why RiffTrax is so damn funny. We like to know we’re not alone in our missteps.

Aside: Of course, if someone makes fun of our mistakes and failures then hopefully we are as gracious as we expect them to be. That’s where the brotherhood forms. (Yes, yes, or sisterhood.)

But Over The Top is different. While bad, it’s earnestly trying to succeed. It’s at least displaying some level of competence, and professionalism.

It isn’t trying to be anything more than it is at the same time. It’s like a “play” written and performed by a grade schooler; you recognize they’re trying their best and have a clear idea of what they want to do.

They’re unloading all of their ideas without worrying about anything but unloading them. There’s a charm to that. It doesn’t make it good, but it does make it cute. The very premise is absurd – a truck driver who’s also a competitive arm wrestler has to win back the love of his estranged son after his mom dies, and also Robert Loggia is the Evil Rich Grandpa – and so it makes no apologies, it just goes for it.

Over The Top is, of course, aided by solid sounds. It features one of Sammy Hagar’s greatest tracks. (I said what I said!) In a way, it’s come to symbolize garbage cinema in the best possible way: Bad, but enthusiastically so.

That, I think, is the core distinction between these two kinds of terrible.

Sylvester Stallone in Over the Top which is a film movie called Over the Top with Sylvester Stallone playing Lincoln Hawk in a movie film called Over the Top.
I mean, it’s just absurd from the beginning, but at least it’s happily absurd.

The Core Distinction

Freejack is dour and cripplingly self-serious, which makes it feel even worse than it is. It’s incapable of existing except through inertia.

No one appears to be having any fun.

So, even though I thinkOver the Top is a bad movie, it’s one I’d revisit because it’s not malignantly bad. Over The Top is having enthusiastic fun with an absurd concept. It’s as if everyone involved knows it’s not good, but just gives it all they’ve got anyway. Because why not?

I guess those are the key factors that makes a bad movie rewatchable: Fun and Enthusiasm. If you’ve got those, it’s hard to hold a grudge about missing the mark.

But seriously, Freejack is the bad kind of terrible.