Seems like the Covid craziness will never end, doesn’t it? I mean, of course it will, it has to – but we’re still not quite out of the woods. And as the time drags on, more than ever we need movies and TV to tell us stories to help keep us all sane. We need that comfort – and nothing fills the need like a guilty pleasure flick. Just like comfort food that’s loaded with fat and sugar and salt and is really bad for you but tastes so good – guilty pleasure flicks lift your spirits and soothe your soul, even though they’ve been savaged by film critics and/or bombed at the box office. So if you’re in need of some recommendations, here are ten of my favorites – guilty pleasures that don’t get nearly as much attention as legendary cheeseballs like Road House or Showgirls or Top Gun.
This one has a special place in my heart, as it’s the last movie that director Tony Scott helmed before his tragic death in 2012. Very loosely based on a real event, Unstoppable tells the story of a runaway train and the brave folks who put their lives on the line to catch it. Anchored by Denzel Washington’s veteran engineer and Chris Pine’s newbie conductor, the flick has a pretty goofy sense of humor at times – but make no mistake, this is a Tony Scott flick through and through, and action is paramount. And the real star of the flick is the train, which becomes its own character – developing a frightening personality all its own as it mows down everything in its way. If nothing else, the flick’s worth watching just for the amazing stunt work and seamless visual effects.
Piranha 3D (2010)
In the mood for a hard-R creature feature? Look no further than this remake of Joe Dante’s 1978 cult classic. Once those ugly, prehistoric killer fish emerge after an underwater quake and find themselves a smorgasbord in a lake full of Spring Breakers, it’s a non-stop feeding frenzy of blood and gore with a heaping side of raunchy humor. Elisabeth Shue channels her inner Chief Brody as the lake town’s Sheriff with just the right amount of seriousness, aided an effortlessly cool Ving Rhames as her deputy. Christopher Lloyd and Eli Roth also make cameos, but it’s Jerry O’Connell’s porn producer who steals the show – he’s so relentlessly smarmy, you’ll be rooting for the piranhas to get him – and when they do, you’ll be totally grossed-out and laughing at the same time at the uniquely disgusting use of the 3D. Directed by horror master Alexandre Aja, Pirahna has a seriously nasty sense of humor, knows exactly what it is and never has any pretensions. And I love it for that.
The Replacement Killers (1998)
This flick is a prime example of style over substance, but it’s got one irresistible selling point – it’s the flick that introduced American audiences to the awesomeness of Chow Yun-Fat, who made a name for himself as the star of director John Woo’s Hong Kong actioners. Replacement Killers takes those flicks and boils them down into a westernized, bare-bones story of Chow’s assassin, who runs afoul of the Chinese mob in L.A. after refusing to do what they hired him for. He gets reluctant help from Mira Sorvino’s forger, who has a serious attitude and a penchant for using underwear as outerwear. The two of them actually have excellent chemistry despite weak direction and a lousy script – so if you just shut your brain off, you can zone out to the flick’s music-video style and admire Chow’s graceful moves that make gunplay look like a gorgeous dance.
Another great example of style over substance, this cheesy gem features an outstanding cast – Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, William Baldwin and Oliver Platt in all their second-generation Brat Pack glory. Playing medical students who risk their careers and their lives to answer the question of whether or not there’s life after death, things take a turn for the scary worse as their past sins cross over from the other side to haunt them. Directed by Joel Schumacher, Flatliners overflows with flashy 90’s style and not much else – but the cast does their best to play it straight, and they make it fun to watch – especially Kiefer’s character, who goes through the flick getting the ever-living crap beat out of him by the ghost of a kid. And then there’s Kevin Bacon, who’s so cool he can’t even be bothered to use a door – nope, when this guy leaves the house, he rappels out the window. And then there’s his hair – I mean, wow. The flick’s worth watching just for that.
Mission: Impossible 2 (2000)
Now this one’s probably the king of style over substance – and also the one M:I flick that everybody hates on. And for good reason – despite having the amazing John Woo at the helm, the flick is beyond ridiculous, even by M:I standards. Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, with his shaded eyes and wind-blown locks, accepts the mission of recovering a virus from Dougray Scott’s former IMF agent, who’s stolen it with plans to sell it. Ethan teams up with a gorgeous thief, played by Thandie Newton, and together they go through the requisite hoops of crazy action sequences – whether it’s chasing each other down mountain roads in sexy sportscars, or Cruise speed-roping down a million floors to get into to a lab. And then there’s that fight at the end between Cruise and Scott – I mean, come on. How can you not love a fight that starts with both guys jumping off motorcycles to tackle each other in mid-air? Oh, and don’t forget Woo’s signature doves doing their slow-motion fluttering throughout the flick for no apparent reason.Yeah, it’s definitely a flick best enjoyed with your brain turned off.
A pretty straightforward – though admittedly not terribly inspiring – remake of the 1972 classic The Poseidon Adventure, director Wolfgang Petersen’s version does have some fun to offer, just like all disaster movies. It boasts a top-notch cast, led by the always-awesome Kurt Russell, and also features Josh Lucas, Richard Dreyfuss, Emmy Rossum, Mia Maestro, Mike Vogel, Jacinda Barrett and Jimmy Bennett as the band of survivors in search of a way out after the luxury liner capsizes. And even though it certainly needed a much better script, Russell and Lucas do a decent job with the heavy lifting in terms of carrying the flick – and the impressive action set pieces, stunt work and visual effects are enough to make it fun to watch.
This one’s my absolute favorite of all of Sylvester Stallone’s late 80’s/early 90’s vanity vehicles. Sly plays an expert climber/rescuer who’s taken hostage and forced to hunt down suitcases full of cash by a gang of criminals led by John Lithgow’s big bad. As long as you can deal with the truly, truly awful dialogue and the testosterone-filled, over-the-top performances of everybody involved – I promise, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best mountain-climbing action and stunt work ever put on film. And the opening sequence, as opposed to the rest of the flick, is genuinely, seriously frightening.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (2012)
Now here’s a flick that came and went without anyone noticing – and it’s a shame, because despite its goofy premise, it really deserves more love. Based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s history/horror mashup novel and directed by action master Timur Bekmambetov, the flick does an okay job of interweaving the vampire lore into story. So as long as you can accept the idea that vampires killed Lincoln’s parents and that he’s trained to wield an axe like a sword master and has ninja moves – you’ll have some fun, I promise. And the flick actually does a pretty decent job of portraying the actual biographical events of Lincoln’s life when it chooses to. Benjamin Walker holds his own very well playing Honest Slayer Abe and Mary Elizabeth Winstead also turns in a great performance as Mary Todd. This was one of those flicks that I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it, so I would definitely recommend giving it a shot.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017)
Director Guy Ritchie’s take on the Arthur legend gets it all kinds of wrong in terms of the details – like Uther Pendragon and Vortigern being brothers and Vortigern being some kind of evil sorcerer? Yeah – no. I’m also pretty sure that none of the Knights of the Round Table were named Wet Stick, Back Lack or Bill. But hey, what the story lacks in veracity, I think it makes up for in fun. Charlie Hunnam does an awesome job of playing young Arthur as a street-savvy gangster trying to survive on the mean streets of Londinium. Remembering only the death of his real parents, Uther and Igrayne, Arthur’s path is forever altered once Excalibur appears and he pulls the sword from the stone. One of the best things about the flick is the chemistry between Arthur and the Mage (played by Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) who arrives to train him. Their bond almost makes up for Merlin’s absence from the story. Almost. But you don’t watch this flick for the traditional Arthurian legend – that’s what John Boorman’s Excalibur is for. Nah, you watch this version for the action, Ritchie’s signature quirky comedy and some pretty impressive visual effects. Oh, and the music – this flick has an outstanding score by Daniel Pemberton that I listen to all the time. Definite recommend.
The A-Team (2010)
This last one’s especially dear to my heart, as I’m a child of the 80’s and was a huge fan of the original show. I remember when rumor first started going around back in the early 00’s about the flick getting made, and Mel Gibson was supposed to play Hannibal Smith, I was psyched – but then that fell through. Eventually the flick did get made – but when I saw the first cast photo, I was not impressed. I was pretty skeptical that the chosen cast of Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, Sharlto Copley and especially MMA fighter Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson – who had the seemingly impossible task of re-creating Mr.T’s B.A. Baracus – could pull it off. But I’m happy to say I was so, so wrong. It’s clear that writer/Director Joe Carnahan and co-writer Brian Bloom (who also plays one of the baddies) loved the old show as much as I did and knew exactly the kind of over-the-top humor and insane action the story needed to have. And the cast was perfect, absolutely perfect in bringing Hannibal, Face, Murdock and B.A. to life. I mean, they are spot-on. And even though the flick can probably only be properly appreciated by fans of the old show – if you’re in the mood for some heavy action and goofy humor, A-Team will fill the need, I promise. And I pity the fool who tries to tell me otherwise.
This article was originally posted 5/19/20