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The Hall of Shame

Stories by Analise Lipari and Sean Sweany | Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The copy of “Crossroads: the Collector’s Edition” you keep carefully tucked in the back of your movie bin; the “Best of Vanessa Carlton” concert DVD that the varsity basketball player stealthily hides in the “Rush Hour 2” case; the “Mystery Science Theater: 3000” collection that leaves its Polo-clad owner’s bottom drawer once every full moon – these are the films that shame us, the ones we just can’t let die, our best (or worst) guilty pleasures.

No jock will admit it, but undoubtedly among his film library is an old school Disney classic. Even the prissiest of girly girls has a well-worn and beloved copy of “Pitch Black” hidden beneath her mattress. In the end, it’s the old adage that holds true – one man’s trash is another man’s guilty pleasure.

Dirty Dancing (1987)

Argued by its devotees to be the greatest dancing film in all of cinema, “Dirty Dancing” is a coming-of-age tale with one of the decade’s best soundtracks. Frances (Baby) Houseman (Jennifer Grey) is a Jewish teenager whose family vacations annually at a ho-hum Catskills resort. This particular summer, however, at the cusp of the 1960s, will change Baby’s life forever, after she meets Johnny Castle (a pre-“Roadhouse” Patrick Swayze), the handsome dance instructor with a shady past.

Cinema dogma insists these two be together, and the audience has no objection, especially with multiple dance sequences and the cheesiest (thereby the best) dialogue in the business. Through their synchronized mambo skill and chemistry, they find “the time of their lives.”

“Dirty Dancing” has it all – a great male lead for the women, irresistible dancing and drama, and Disney’s Lumiere himself, Jerry Orbach, as Baby’s father. In the end, however, one undeniable truth remains – nobody puts Baby in a corner.

Legally Blonde (2001)

Like, ever wanted to go to Harvard Law? In this popular legal farce, Californian Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon), a bright but amusingly ditzy college senior, is brutally dumped in public by her beloved Warner Huntington III (Matthew Davis), in favor of a more “serious” kind of girl. Elle, determined to win him back, follows him to Cambridge and becomes a successful lawyer in her own right.

What makes “Legally Blonde” the guilty pleasure that it has become for so many is the film’s semblance of just enough realism to feel plausible in the kind of world where the material of choice for a toilet seat cover is faux fur. Elle wins a major murder case using her intuition and a unique brand of smarts, uncovering the true murderer with the chemical equation for a successful perm. If Elle Woods can succeed at Harvard, and land cute lawyer Luke Wilson in the process, then so can the scrubby-sweatpants-clad Notre Dame or Saint Mary’s girl watching her on screen.

Crossroads (2002)

Its undeniable position at number 98 on IMDB.com’s “Bottom 100 Films” list cements the reputation of “Crossroads” as an ultimate guilty pleasure flick. Britney Spears’ sole venture into cinema (to date…), “Crossroads” is a road trip flick with a three-day-old bubble gum pop kind of flavor. Lucy Wagner (Spears) and her two best friends (Taryn Manning, Zoe Saldana) bury a time capsule as tweens, left to be opened on the night of high school graduation. When that fateful evening rolls around, the three are in decidedly different positions than they were before – one engaged, one pregnant and one the shining star of her high school (use deductive reasoning to figure out who plays the last one).

Inspired by Lucy’s dream to find both her long-lost mother and a record contract, the three set out on a cross-country voyage from Georgia to L.A., picking up a sketchy-but-cute (and thus completely acceptable) hitchhiker along the way (Anson Mount).

There is little to say about the beauty of “Crossroads” that hasn’t been said, but it does have its moments of fabulousness. In particular, Lucy – a budding poet – recites profound verse to Ben (Mount), which any Britney scholar would know to be the lyrics of her hit “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman.” Serious stuff.

For Britney fans, the logic is clear – any flick featuring the Princess of Pop, with a compelling story and fun soundtrack thrown in, is cinematic gold.

The Pagemaster (1994)

Seen as Macaulay Culkin’s last major ‘cute kid’ performance of the 90s, “The Pagemaster” is a romp into the history of western literature, combining live action and animation techniques to tell the story of young Richard Tyler (Culkin). Afraid of pretty much anything, Richard is swept by an errant thunderstorm into the hallowed halls of his local library, where the mythical Pagemaster (the immortal Christopher Lloyd) transforms him into an animated character. Only through the help of genre books Horror, Fantasy and Adventure can Richard return to the real world, via classic literature.

“The Pagemaster” serves as any book geek’s dream, with Richard swashbuckling Captain Hook and escaping the claws of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, all with page-bound Whoopie Goldberg and “Star Trek” alum Patrick Stewart at his side. The detours into the worlds of Captain Ahab, Rapunzel and Frankenstein are welcome in the current era of animation dominated by such classics as Will Smith’s “Shark Tale.”

The end of the Culkin era was a time of tragedy and celebration, and both are captured in the sweet awesomeness that is “The Pagemaster.”

Underworld (2003)

“Underworld” is the kind of film whose audience seems simple to pin down. Indeed, any flick involving an epic, multi-century war between werewolves, or “lichens” and vampires, seems destined to fall into the realm of adolescent-teenage-boy fantasy. However, the secret audience of “Underworld” is not found in the male locker room, but rather in the one next door.

Girls are drawn to this movie in droves, with its tough female lead (Kate Beckinsale, a leading vampire), cute love interest (Scott Speedman of “Felicity”) and deliciously cheesy violence. The overall tone is one of slick gore, and the vampire/werewolf mythology is an addicting combination.

In the critical world, “Underworld” holds little chance of an Oscar anytime soon. The film’s final sequence, involving a surprise beheading by way of cerebellum exposure, makes sure of that. But with a tagline like “An Immortal Battle for Supremacy,” the kick-ass reputation of “Underworld” holds true, be it for a token tough guy or the unsuspecting girly girl.

3 Ninjas (1992)

Some of the most unbelievable, yet entertaining movies made are the type where young children outwit and defeat menacing enemies. The original “3 Ninjas” film fits this description perfectly and stands as a quintessential guilty pleasure movie.

The premise is simple. Three brothers learn martial arts from their elderly grandfather to prepare them for the real world. Through some tenuous plot maneuvers, the boys are kidnapped by their grandfather’s enemy and must use their martial arts techniques to defeat the enemy.

There are many reasons why this movie deserves little credit. It is short – less than an hour and a half – and the hardly believable plot still has trouble carrying through the run time. The B-list actors do a poor job and even fail to sell some of the martial arts on camera. Finally, the idea of young children fighting grown men with guns and swords is absurd.

Yet it is this reason that “3 Ninjas” is enjoyable enough to be considered a guilty pleasure. It follows in the tradition of movies such as “Home Alone,” where humor and entertainment come from a young child outsmarting and taking advantage of dimwitted bad guys. A belief in the underdog makes for good cinema.

Labyrinth (1986)

This fantasy film about a young girl who ventures into a mythical labyrinth to save her brother from goblins is often dismissed as a crazy 80s children’s movie that is scarier than it is funny. While this may be true, “Labyrinth” is a film that is easy to privately love, yet publicly disown.

A young Jennifer Connelly ventures into a bizarre labyrinth inhabited by creatures dreamed up by Muppet creator Jim Henson. Henson’s creative genius is on full display here in a world more grown up than that of the Muppets. The puppets in this film seem like real actors thanks to the life given to them by Henson and his team.

Another endearing quality of the movie is the presence of David Bowie the actor – as the evil Goblin King – and Bowie the singer – as musical director for the film. Bowie often bursts into song during the film, belting out cheesy 80s tunes that add a touch of nostalgia to the movie.

“Labyrinth” is not really meant for kids. The mature writing and plot appeal to the inner child in anyone who watches the film. Its unique style and charm give the film a memorable place in the minds of moviegoers as a guilty pleasure.

Rocky IV (1985)

The fourth installment in the “Rocky” franchise pits the lovable American fighter Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) against the indomitable Russian Ivan Drago. In a movie series that should have ended after the second movie, film quality is most certainly lacking here. Audiences know what they are in for as soon as the opening credits inform them that the film is both written and directed by Sylvester Stallone.

The not-so-subtle allusions to the struggle between capitalism and communism in the film provide much of the entertainment, especially when Russian crowd members begin to cheer for Rocky in the final fight, as if to symbolize the inevitable conversion from communism to capitalism in Russia.

The plot and fights of the film are hardly believable and it is this impossibility that makes the movie so appealing. The “David vs.Goliath” message is a strong one that resonates with all viewers. An appearance from James Brown and the music of 80s bands like Survivor help make the movie inspirational and energetic.

Thanks to all these qualities, “Rocky IV” is a movie worth watching all the way through whenever it is on television. While it did not win any major awards or receive acclaim for being a good film, it stands out as part of one of the most beloved American action series of all time.

Top Gun (1986)

The high-testosterone, dangerous world of Navy fighter pilots comes to life in the 1980s thriller “Top Gun.” A 24-year-old Tom Cruise launched his career in this somewhat political, high-action movie.

Noted for many of its one-liners and character names, the film in reality lacks a serious plot and features less-than-stellar acting from Cruise, Val Kilmer, and Meg Ryan. A slew of continuity errors and goofs indicate the hasty production values of making the big-budget movie.

In spite of these issues, “Top Gun” is still a guilty pleasure due to the entertainment value that comes with watching it. The intense action of the aerial dog fights is exciting and set a standard for future movies involving fighter jets.

Director Tony Scott (“Days of Thunder”, “Man on Fire,”) brother of Ridley, keeps the movie together and adds quality cinematography and editing. “Top Gun” seems to be one of the first modern-era movies in that it tries to combine action, romance, comedy, and even tragedy into a two-hour summer blockbuster. This enjoyable combination has since come to be standard in Hollywood, but the blend is perhaps most original and memorable in “Top Gun.”

Batman Forever (1995)

The third installment in the adaptation of the Batman comic stands right in the middle of the decline of the franchise. Val Kilmer donned the Bat suit after Joel “Phone Booth” Schumacher took over the reins from previous director Tim Burton. Chris O’Donnell joined the cast as Robin and future Oscar winner Nicole Kidman plays the female lead.

In spite of the A-list talent in the leading roles, this movie suffers from poor writing and worse acting from the protagonists. The supposed “Batman for a new generation” loses its way thanks to a mediocre story, which involves Bruce Wayne undergoing therapy to deal with his inner demons. Cheesy action scenes provide the icing on the cake in helping make this a meager excuse to rake in money.

What saves the film is the maniacal acting of the two villains, Two-Face and the Riddler. Tommy Lee Jones is a strong villain, but Jim Carrey steals the show as the Riddler. Carrey’s comical one-liners and exaggerated actions generate laughs and keep the story from becoming monotonous. Watching the bad acting of the heroes against the strong performances from the villains helps this movie achieve the status of a guilty pleasure and maintain a presence in the world of comic book movies.

All of the above movies are well loved by fans across the world – despite their lack of critical acclaim. They are guilty pleasures, films that will be special no matter the quality of acting, writing or the film as a whole.

Whether films like these are blemishes on the name of Hollywood or signs of the power of film to gain sentimentality, they will continue to be cherished by movie fans for a long time.