actor-writer, Adam Sandler, Amy Brenneman, bad films, bad movies, bookies, channeling Adam Sandler, cinema, cops, Dayton Callie, Detective Iggy, drama, Elizabeth Perkins, film reviews, films, gangsters, George DiCenzo, J.B. Smoove, Jersey Shore, Jimmy Smits, John Spencer, John Turturro, Lesser Prophets, Michael Badalucco, Movies, Paul Diomede, Robert Miano, Scott Glenn, Steve Harris, stupid films, suicidal brothers, tedious, terrible films, The Practice, William DeVizia
As someone who watches a lot of films, I certainly watch my fair share of flops. As someone who patently refuses to turn off even the worst film, however, I also suffer through a lot of bad films. In most cases, these films end up being merely colossal wastes of time (which, by itself, certainly isn’t a good thing). Sometimes, however, films can be so aggressively terrible, so massively flawed in every conceivable way, that it’s almost as if the universe is issuing me a personal challenge: make it through this…if you dare! In roughly 98% of these instances, I’ve emerged victorious, if hopelessly scarred from the battle. Every great once in a while, however, a film comes along that completely breaks me, wearing me down to the point where continuing would be futile torture and the only sane response would be to throw the damned thing into the nearest trashcan. The Last Rites of Ransom Pride was the closest that a terrible film has come to making me throw in the towel in quite some time. Lesser Prophets, however, ended up being a film so tone-deaf, so wholesale awful, that I almost gave up. Key word, of course, being “almost”: if Last Rites couldn’t reduce me to mindless jelly, there was no way in hell I was going to let this monstrosity beat me. That, after all, is how the bad guys win. And I am not about to let Lesser Prophets win.
There are a lot of ways to make a bad film but one of the surest, most obnoxious ways is to take a simple story and make it needlessly complicated with excess characters, pointless activity and endless red herrings. If you really want to knock one out of the park, throw in a bad script, especially if it features some of the most bone-headed dialogue in recent memory and give us some actors who are in an active competition to see who can emote the hardest. The cherry on top? This one is only for professionals but is guaranteed to make your production nigh impossible to watch: make sure that the tone of the film is constantly at odds with its individual scenes. Need an example? Replace the classic Friday the 13th score with music from My Little Pony but keep everything else the same. Still foggy? How about adding fart noises and a xylophone to a torture scene? Need a better example? Sit through any 10-minute portion of Lesser Prophets and consider yourself enlightened.
Since this is (technically) a review, I suppose that I should at least attempt to summarize the plot. To the best of my limited abilities, here goes: Detective Iggy (Scott Glenn) is trying to bust three bookies, Jerry (George DiCenzo), Charlie (Michael Badalucco) and Eddie (John Spencer). Iggy’s brother, Sal (Robert Miano) owed money to the bookies and killed himself when he couldn’t pay up, leading Iggy on a quest for revenge (kind of/sort of). The bookies “tolerate” local guy Leon (John Turturro), who appears to be just a few cards short of a full deck. Leon keeps an eye on his neighbor (Elizabeth Perkins) and her son, who are being resoundly thrashed by husband/father Bernie (Dayton Callie), a slimy art thief. Mike (Jimmy Smits) is a smug neighborhood asshole who owes lots of money to the bookies but refuses to pay, since he’s decided to move away (ask the Federal government how well that works). He and his racist friend (who appears to be the prototype for most male characters on the Jersey Shore) end up running afoul of a black gang leader, played by The Practice’s Steve Harris, and who gets the single most descriptive name in the entire film: Giant black man who throws brick…I shit you not. Somehow, all of these disparate “characters” (I use the quotes since none are actually fully developed enough to be considered characters, merely lazy symbols) come together in a tsunami of absolute suckage, leading to a finale that is as outrageously cheerful as the rest of the film is cheerfully terrible (Spoiler alert: everybody who’s still alive gets a happy ending, regardless of what awful acts they committed in the film…call it a reward for making it to the finish line, I guess). Cut to credits.
There are, as briefly stated above, about a million reasons to dislike Lesser Prophets. In the interest of space, I’ll list just a few of the nearly limitless group:
— The acting ranges from “just there” to “bizarre” to “dinner theater”
— John Turturro channels the bone-headed-jerk era of Adam Sandler so eerily that it must be on purpose
— Wipe-cut transitions and “zany” music seem a bit goofy when used between suicides and gangster scenes
— There were about seven main characters too many: at times, this seemed to have one of DeMille’s casts of thousands, even though it looked like a Poverty Row direct-to-video release
— Scott Glenn is an amazing actor and seeing him ham it up in this hurts my heart
— The film tries way too hard to be both cool and funny but it is neither
Ultimately, Lesser Prophets is a terrible film, devoid of even the unabashed craptasticality that can save similarly terrible films like Megalodon 3 or The Room. Tellingly, Lesser Prophets’ writer, Paul Diomede, is also one of its “actors”: he makes an appearance as someone named Cheddar Fry. Full disclosure: I don’t remember anyone named Cheddar Fry. Perhaps he was Jimmy Smits’ racist friend…perhaps he was one of Steven Harris’ “tough” gang members. He might have been playing Leon’s bicycle, for all I know. I will tell you one thing, however: I ain’t watching the movie again to find out.