Looking for something mindless to watch this weekend so you can relax or cook or do something else with the TV on in the background? I don't know about you, but I need the noise. I also need the occasional break from the heaviness of beautiful dramas, the high decibel levels of the newest action extravaganzas, and the profound depth of the best auteurs. I love all those kinds as a movie fan, but there's still room in my life for the less-ambitious flicks that critics love to pile on.
Melodrama and spectacle are two ways to identify a bad movie. Films that put action sequences ahead of story or resort to soap opera-type plotlines are almost always worth skipping. This stuff has been done so many times, it's redundant to keep watching the same old thing over and over. But there are exceptions. Some movies are so over-the-top they're glorious. The seriousness with which these films take themselves inadvertently makes them hugely funny and likable. Each has absurd moments and each overcooks its story to make it seem more important. None of these stories are important, but they're fun to watch.
Days of Thunder (1990)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Robert Duvall, Michael Rooker, John C. Reilly
Cruise as rookie race car driver Cole Trickle is a beautiful ode to prima donnas everywhere. Duvall is hilarious as the sage racing veteran with an answer for everything. Kidman plays a physician who forgets she's brilliant and falls for the dumb jock.
Varsity Blues (1999)
Starring: James Van Der Beek, Jon Voight, Paul Walker, Scott Caan, Ali Larter
"I don't want your life!" Texas high school football players get the star treatment, but the star quarterback goes down and unheralded Jon Moxon leads the team to victory and to an uprising against their cutthroat head coach.
The Human Stain (2003)
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, Wentworth Miller
Based on a Philip Roth novel, the movie stays true to the book's strange plot (while forgetting its themes) about a African-American whose fair skin has allowed him to live as a white man his entire life. Now a respected professor, he's ironically fired for a racist epithet and flips his middle finger to the world, taking in a troubled mistress who may be his death.
Starring: Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, Steve Buscemi, Billy Bob Thornton, Owen Wilson, Michael Clarke Duncan
Like Days of Thunder, a Jerry Bruckheimer production, which means male-fueled adrenaline and a lot of stupid dialogue. If, by chance, you haven't seen Armageddon, you're missing out on one of the great stupid action movies of all time. Willis is an expert deep sea driller and NASA asks him and his crew to go into space, land two shuttles on a meteor hurling towards Earth, drill a hole into it, drop a nuke and blow it up. Sounds doable.
Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter, John Goodman
Steven Spielberg's love affair with Richard Dreyfuss (Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind) hit a wall in 1988 with the release of Always, the Capra-esque tale of a dead pilot whose spirit watches over his firebrand girlfriend.