Here at EarnThis, we spend a lot of time praising great works of art. It’s safe to say that designation will not be reached by anything on this list of 10 films. However, I’m a firm believer that there is a particular subset of movies that, when stumbled upon late at night on TV, as a borderline last resort and preferably with plenty of beer and friends around, compel you to keep watching them. You would never consciously plop them in your DVD player, but whether for their unintentional comedy factor, deliciously over-the-top acting, flashes of excellence marred by disturbing flaws, or sheer absurd entertainment, they fulfill a very valuable function. Don’t expect to see any Shawshank Redemption or Casablanca on this list—and even ridiculous movies like Midnight Run and Ocean’s 11 possess far too much quality to mingle in this crowd. But you won’t find The House Bunny either; I like these movies, I think, although if you asked that question in the light of dawn and sobriety, I might hesitate. (List in no particular order, since even I can’t rank these.)
1) The Replacements (2000)
OK, that was partially a lie; The Replacements might be my favorite movie of this genre. This sports movie (which feels like it was actually made ten years earlier) hits every single note you’d expect, with verve and panache and a frequent DGAF philosophy. There’s the story of a washed-up football player who never capitalized on his potential—played, of course, by Keanu Reeves. (There’s not much more one can say about Keanu at this point, but suffice it to say, at one point here, he’s asked what separates winners from losers, and he replies, “The score.” Oh, this movie.)
Later, in this insipid (oops, did I mean intrepid?) tale of ‘replacement’ football players who take over during an NFL player strike, we meet adorably cliché characters left and right, from imposing Black guys to wimpy Europeans (yes, they tried to pass this guy off as a football player, but then again, he’s a kicker, so, wash). A star actor (Gene Hackman) delivering a how-soon-til-I-get-paid sleepwalking. A love interest (Brooke Langton) whose scenes are so desultory, you end up wondering things like “Why couldn’t they use real NFL team names for this?’ when she’s on screen. A truly horrendous sequence where Brooke and Keanu’s oh-so-passionate union is paired with voice-over from John freaking Madden narrating a football player ‘scoring.’ (Possibly be the worst scene of any of these 10 movies, and that’s saying something.)
And yet, you just can’t turn away from The Replacements. I’d be inclined to riff on it more, but Bill Simmons (once again proving himself to be much more tolerable in the realm of pop culture than sports) broke it down nicely. He classifies it as “delightfully unappealing.” Yep.
Last but not least, this movie understood the value of lines (delivered with full sincerity) that are half great, half eye-rolling. (A technique employed excellently in the Fast and Furious series-coming up later, don’t you worry.) Keanu’s best: “Pain heals. Chicks dig scares. Glory lasts forever.” Fantastic stuff.
2) American Pie 2 (2001)
The last entry in the Pie series that could even rent a house in the neighborhood of ‘good.’ AP2’s libidinous heroes return after their successful conquests in #1, and to spice up their summer in between college years, they…go to a lake house for a few months? Even for this kind of movie, this isn’t much of a plot, but the laid-back vibe, likable characters, and memorable gags make for an excellent late-night channel-surfing destination. Stifler (Seann William Scott) tags along again, ostensibly because the rest of the group (Jason Biggs, Chris Klein, Thomas Ian Nicholas, et al.) can’t afford the place without him, but really because the franchise needs him. Although the novelty is gone, AP2 still hangs on because of Eugene Levy, the amusing battle between Stifler and Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), and above all, for introducing/popularizing the critical ‘Rule of Three’ to determine how many, um, partners someone has had.
3) 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)
I imagine most people would assume the entire Fast and Furious series could pass for this category, but that would be foolishly mistaken. The unfortunate third entry, Tokyo Drift, was dreadful, but the others–#1 and #5 namely—are stone-cold classics. Although my love for this series stuns all my friends, I won’t deny it; Paul Walker’s death legitimately ruined my Saturday night when I heard about it last year. This series has managed to hit that sweet spot of being ferociously entertaining and campy without making you feel like a moron.
Too Fast, taking place mostly in sunny Miami, is low-key high-octane-ness, a more difficult feat to pull off than it seems. In between fun racing scenes with a lot of blurred colors and awesome cars, Faster introduces Tyrese as the stereotypical badass/stupid friend (essentially replacing Vin Diesel’s iconic contributions as such). The most ludicrously hilarious moment in this one? Probably a tie between Walker (sniff) driving backwards at highway speed (!) or the casting of Cole Hauser as the villain.
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, the bad guy is one of the friends from Good Will Hunting. This is a truly mind-boggling casting decision, although to be fair, it’s not any dumber than some of the stuff Tyrese does (his finest hour: spontaneously shooting at cops in an open car lot for no real reason). The racing scenes will get you going, and whenever Fast2 needs something to do—which is fairly often—it can fall back on that smile of Walker’s or the (equally attractive) Miami scenery.
4) The Game (1997)
Without its cop-out ending, The Game, a fast-paced thriller featuring Michael Douglas and Sean Penn, couldn’t possibly qualify as a candidate for inclusion here. Unfortunately, its ‘one twist too many’ revelation tells you that the characters, under so much duress for so long, were never really in any legitimate danger. This makes it hard to take the movie seriously on repeated viewings—but that makes it all kinds of perfect for this list. Since you know it’s full of sound of fury, signifying nothing, it’s fun to sit back and watch Douglas freak out as his “game” appears to be taking over his life. Cool concept, deflating ending, but a late-night doozy.
5) Hitch (2005)
If fast cars or stupid football players aren’t your thing, maybe this will suit you. Hitch isn’t the best romantic comedy of its time (this one probably is), but it’s a nice mix of an inoffensive-yet-not-bland flick. The neat concept of a ‘date doctor’ adds a fresh twist to the rom-com genre, and Will Smith and Kevin James are well-cast as opposites on the ‘game’ spectrum. Major props to the scene where the former hides behind a door and gives impromptu courtship tips (a la Roxanne) as the latter talks to his dream girl just inches away. But if you look at this movie too closely, you’ll notice that it milks about 25 minutes out of Kevin James being unable to dance and Smith getting food poisoning, not to mention the two or three different climaxes. You have to channel-flip with this one.
6) Major League 2 (1994)
I considered the original Major League for this, but it’s actually a respectable movie. There’s no such concern with this sequel to the popular story of the undermanned (hey, kind of like The Replacements) Cleveland Indians baseball team. Not with their ace pitcher (Charlie Sheen) dealing with grumpy romantic foils, an immature catcher (his gimmick: he can’t throw the ball back to the pitcher, and you’ve already rolled your eyes), and a horrendous scene late in the movie where Sheen says the word ‘assohle’ about 35 times (to himself!). But glorious slugger Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert) is back, and his interactions with all the other players on the team will make you laugh. Best moment? When the team’s manager (James Gammon) gives his version of a pep talk: “We won a game yesterday. We win today, and that’s two in a row. We win one tomorrow, and that’s called a winning streak. It has happened before. So let’s see some hustle out there!” Perfect for fans of bad baseball teams.
7) Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Oh, yes. I would never admit to liking this movie in mixed company, because, let’s be honest, it does veer too far off track on occasion. (The climax is…not good.) Yet I secretly love (most of) it—thanks to another prime Brosnan performance, a Bond girl who can actually fend for herself rather than playing the helpless damsel in distress, a delightful cameo from the wacky teacher in Fast Times at Ridgemont High as an incompetent assassin, and, most of all, the best car chase in Bond history. You heard me.
8) Ted (2012)
Seth MacFarlane’s feature debut isn’t a movie. Like, at all. Concepts like “character development” or “dramatic tension” or “plot coherency” don’t exist here any more than they do in, well, MacFarlane’s cartoon shows. And none of that kept me from seeing Ted twice within its opening weekend, for there are moments in these series of barely-connected vignettes that will make you wet yourself laughing. (Several lines provoked as much laughter from the audience as I’ve ever heard in a movie theater.) It’s not for everyone, but you have to admit the genius of taking the idea of a talking teddy bear—which just happens to be the fantasy of every little kid—but having him smoke, drink, say, and bang anything he wants. Plus, Mila Kunis.
9) White Men Can’t Jump (1992)
Yes, this is me throwing a little bit of shade at this adored film, which I can’t really get all the way through with my full attention. At first, it’s brilliant, especially in the trash-talking, on-fire-dialogue basketball scenes with Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson, and Wesley’s posse. (“Why don’t we take all those bricks and build a shelter for the homeless, so maybe your mother will have a place to stay?”) And the fact that everybody knows a guy just like Wesley Snipes’s character is a major plus.
WMCJ doesn’t have the same ‘unintentional comedy’ factor as many of the aforementioned, but it’s here for the frustrating way that its pieces of greatness don’t coalesce into a complete movie. The two-hour film becomes repetitive and slow by the end, and Harrelson’s girlfriend is an outright nuisance. A few beers don’t make her any more tolerable, and if you want to be considered a classic like writer/director Ron Shelton’s earlier Bull Durham, you can’t afford missteps like that.
10) Draft Day (2014)
I mean, come on. Just look at this new sports movie hitting theaters today. Set aside the concept, which looks overly-niched (how many people will this really appeal to?), absurd (how could a writer have any genuine sense of what happens behind the scenes in these situations?), and yet highly entertaining. Put all of that on hold, and just wonder how, in 2014, a mainstream movie could possibly proclaim that the Dallas Cowboys “win…a lot.” I’m a Cowboys fan, and I almost burst out laughing when I first heard that. Has no one looked at this script since 1995? I don’t know, but I think we know where Draft Day (starring Kevin Costner as Kevin Costner) will ultimately land in our hearts…and I couldn’t be more excited. But only time will tell whether it can dethrone The Replacements as the best (worst) sports movie ever.