In the past two years, some of Hollywood’s most famous stars—from Richard Gere to Jennifer Lopez—have found themselves making films intended for theatrical release that end up going straight to DVD. So, to help you decide whether to rent a “busted theatrical” you’ve never heard of but stars one of your favorite actors, we’re taken the time to tell what we think of the 10 highest-profile films to debut on DVD since 2006.
10. Darwin Awards
The Big Losers: Winona Ryder, Joseph Fiennes
Deservedly Dumped?: If you thought Ryder had paid her debt to society, think again. Hollywood’s sentenced Ms. Sticky Fingers to patronize intriguing but hit-or-miss indie comedies until she gets back in the studios’ good graces. Director Finn Taylor’s premise is amusing: two insurance investigators (Ryder and Fiennes) dissect claims involving likely nominees for the Darwin Awards, which honor the morons who accidentally kill themselves in the dumbest of ways. But the flatter-than-a-MacBook Fiennes—miscast as Ryder’s obsessive-compulsive partner—almost ruins everything with his appalling impersonation of Adrian Monk. No wonder Ryder looks aghast all the time. Still, even anti-Darwinists will chuckle at David Arquette, Alessandro Nivola and Judah Friedlander offing themselves in outrageous fashion.
9. Suburban Girl
The Big Losers: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alec Baldwin
Deservedly Dumped?: What’s a scream queen to do when she wants to stop screaming? Try, of course, to force us take her seriously. But no one’s paying much attention, given the nonchalant reception to The Air I Breathe, Southland Tales and this literate but obvious chick-lit romcom culled from Melissa Bank’s The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing. It doesn’t help that Gellar is merely adequate as an assistant book editor who finds a lover and mentor in oft-married publisher Alec Baldwin. Yes, it’s a little unsettling to watch the bearish Baldwin paw the still-girlish Gellar, but Suburban Girl does depict its May-to-December romance with care and sensitivity. And the 30 Rocker manages to provoke much fondness and compassion for a serial womanizer and recovering alcoholic who is his own worst enemy.
8. The Myth / Robin-B-Hood
The Big Loser: Jackie Chan
Deservedly Dumped?: With Twin Dragons and Mr. Nice Guy failing to do Shanghai Noon-like business, we’re now denied the opportunity of seeing Chan ’s Chinese-made efforts on the big screen. The ambitious Myth tells parallel past-and-present stories. Director Stanley Tong fails to maintain an even tone as he switch back and forth between eras—Chan ’s mission to protect a Korean princess is a treated as a solemn historical epic, his exploits as a modern-day archaeologist possesses a National Treasure-like lightness—but the action is terrific. A fight in a rat paper factory ranks among one of the most original Chan ’s undertaken in years. Yes, Robin-B-Hood is Three Kidnappers and a Baby, with Chan and his gang paid to snatch a newborn from his rich parents. But what’s great about this long but fast-paced family-friendly yarn is that it gives Chan the perfect excuse to engage in all sorts of chop-socky shenanigans strictly for laughs. And trust Chan to get up to more mischief in a bounce house than a 4-year-old boy ever could.
Stars: 2 for The Myth; 3 for Robin-B-Hood[PAGEBREAK]
The Big Losers: Jason Statham, Ryan Phillippe, Wesley Snipes
Deservedly Dumped?: The prison-bound Snipes has more to worry about these days than whether his cliché-ridden shoot-em-ups continue to debut on DVD. Still, it’s a surprise that this crime caper—pitting Snipes’ resourceful bank robber against Statham’s disgraced cop and Phillippe's by-the-book detective—would bypass theaters. Statham enjoys a loyal following, so Chaos probably would have done as well as Crank or The Transporter. Indeed, the typically steely Statham and the terribly serious Phillippe carry Chaos on their backs given that the loose-and-cocky Snipes is often nowhere to be seen. Director Tony Giglio fails to keep things moving quickly or prevent the sense of déjà vu that accompanies Chaos. After all, Statham’s been involved in his fair share of bank jobs, and the twist ending is too close to War’s for comfort.
Stars: 2 [PAGEBREAK]
6. The Contract
The Big Losers: John Cusack, Morgan Freeman
Deservedly Dumped?: Kevin Costner’s loss is Cusack’s gain. In his lawsuit against the producers of Taming Ben Taylor, Costner claimed he rejected $8.5 million for The Contract to star opposite Michelle Pfeiffer in the never-made romcom. Cusack earned $6 million as Costner’s replacement, director Bruce Beresford reveals in his published diaries. And John Cusack’s worth every penny, as his verbal and physical sparring with the dignified Freeman keeps this by-the-numbers variation on The River somewhat involving. That said, prepare yourself for the usual twists and turns as ex-cop Cusack’s weekend wilderness getaway with his estranged son is ruined when he crosses paths with on-the-run hitman Freeman. But if a bored Beresford—once a respected director thanks to Breaker Morant and Driving Miss Daisy—shows no interest in his hero’s fate, why should you?
Stars: 2 [PAGEBREAK]
5. I Could Never Be Your Woman
The Big Losers: Michelle Pfeiffer, Paul Rudd
Deservedly Dumped?: Michelle Pfeiffer intended to end her hiatus from acting with Amy Heckerling’s 2006 romcom, not with 2007’s Hairspray. But, per Entertainment Weekly, distribution problems resulted in two years passing before I Could Never Be Your Woman was banished to DVD in February. In this cougar version of Suburban Girl, forty-something sitcom producer Michelle Pfeiffer falls for a younger actor (Rudd). Unfortunately, Michelle Pfeiffer seems less comfortable acknowledging her age than does her whining divorcee. Rudd’s too old to play 29 and he expends too much energy trying to be goofy and endearing. Like our chemistry-free lovers, the film shows its age. Heckerling’s efforts to be hip—through endless pop-cultural references—would have come across in 2006 as sadly self-conscious. Today, though, Will & Grace and crunk jokes stink worse than over-ripe brie.
Stars: 2 [PAGEBREAK]
4. Man About Town
The Big Loser: Ben Affleck
Deservedly Dumped?: Before the high of Gone Baby Gone there was the low of Man About Town. This Hollywood satire—directed with staggering self-importance by The Upside of Anger’s Mike Binder—is not as bad as the “Bennifer”-activated bombs Gigli or Surviving Christmas. But Affleck’s even smugger than usual as your stereotypically obnoxious talent agent suffering from an existential crisis. To make sense of his life, he decides to keep a journal. He soon realizes that he’s not a very nice person (which we knew from the get-go). And he remains that way, even after trying to better himself and win back his wife (a surprisingly appealing Rebecca Romijn). All Man About Town confirms is that no one cares when Hollywood turns the cameras on itself, especially when your lead character deserves his comeuppance.
The Big Losers: Jennifer Lopez, Antonio Banderas
Deservedly Dumped?: Will J.Lo ever find her Monster's Ball? Not that you can blame her for taking on the demanding role of an American journalist covering the unsolved murders of female workers living in a Mexican border town—especially as she’s reunited with her director Gregory Nava. But she fails to convince us that her newspaperwoman possesses enough smarts to report an accident, let alone the news. Under Nava’s heavy hand, Bordertown suffers from a crippling identity crisis. Is it an investigative piece about the rich exploiting the poor? A political thriller of the kind Sidney Lumet once made? A telenovela obsessed with Lopez’ flirtatious behavior with editor Banderas and the other hunks she meets on the job? There’s a powerful film to be made about these murders. Shame Bordertown isn’t it.
2. The Flock
The Big Losers: Richard Gere, Claire Danes
Deservedly Dumped?: In the past year Gere’s delivered three masterful performances—in The Hoax, The Hunting Party and this morbid, measured thriller by Infernal Affairs’s Andrew Lau—but no one’s noticed. Maybe Richard Gere thought this would be his Seven. But we’ve seen Seven. So despite the tense atmosphere that Lau creates, we know what path public safety officer Richard Gere and his rookie replacement Danes will predictably take as they hunt down the sex offenders they suspect kidnapped a girl. As our eyes and ears, Danes admirably expresses the revulsion we feel at the sick and twisted world she must explore. But Richard Gere tears through the proceedings with all the anger and frustration of a seen-it-all lawman now willing to broke the rules. He once again proves that he gets better the older he gets.
1. Edison Force
The Big Losers: Kevin Spacey, Morgan Freeman, Justin Timberlake, LL Cool J
Deservedly Dumped?: Fine, you’re forgiven if you bought J.Lo as a journalist in Bordertown. But shame on you if you believe Mr. SexyBack as a newshound out to expose a group of dirty cops led by Dylan McDermott. Timberlake isn’t just inert to the point that he makes Mariah Carey look like Kate Winslet—he’s visibly intimidated whenever he shares scenes with Freeman and Spacey. Not that the two Oscar winners—the former’s Timberlake’s boss, the latter’s an investigator—do anything to save this hackneyed tale of power corrupted from being an out-and-out embarrassment. Freeman’s far from his usually graceful self, while Kevin Spacey’s in full chew-the-scenery mode. Worse, the dialogue is as unintentionally funny as Spacey’s puffed-up hair. Sadly, Edison Force hasn’t dissuaded Timberlake from acting again. No wondering we’re crying him a river.