Archive for August 14, 1998

The Avengers

August 14, 1998

The Avengers is so thoroughly and consistently awful that I’ve actually wasted some time wondering whether its makers intended it that way. If so, the movie is brilliant — a successful blend of terrible acting, a flat-out incomprehensible plot, groan-inducing dialogue, ridiculous action sequences, and artistic failures on every level. It may well have a second life on video as an Ed Wood movie for the ’90s, a Cheez Whiz fiasco to rent and guffaw at with a bunch of wise-ass friends.

In fact, let’s look at it from another angle: Why is this movie so bad? Some theories:

· Ralph Fiennes, who plays secret agent John Steed (the role filled by Patrick Macnee in the BBC-TV series), must have grown tired of giving good performances. So he decided to phone in his performance as Steed, reciting his lines in a dull upper-class monotone occasionally punctuated by a smug little smirk. The result is stunning — the worst acting by a great actor since Al Pacino in Revolution, though unlike Al, Ralph doesn’t get to deliver a line as fabulously shitheaded as “My mouth belongs anywhere I put it.”

· Uma Thurman obviously wanted to undercut her sex-symbol image by making herself look really stupid. She does this in The Avengers by pouring herself into her Emma Peel suit (and I gotta say, Elizabeth Hurley in Austin Powers wore it better), affecting a now-you-hear-it-now-you-don’t English accent, and playing a delirious scene in a straitjacket that will certainly get the movie a spot in Movieline‘s “Bad Movies We Love” column.

· After years of watching other actors ham it up as Bond villains, Sean Connery must have wanted to try it himself. As Sir August de Wynter, who wants to control the weather all over the planet, he’s a real glazed ham, all right. I mean, you stare at him in this movie and you think “My God, he doesn’t even seem like Sean Connery.” Dr. Evil had more dignity than this, for Christ’s sake. Sean’s lowlight comes early, when he’s addressing a roomful of henchmen dressed in … you ready? … teddy-bear costumes. Connery also wears one, though he takes the head off so we can see who he is. He should’ve left it on.

· Director Jeremiah Chechik apparently was curious to see if he could make a movie worse than his remake of Diabolique. After a wide search (so goes my theory), he settled on the Avengers script by Don MacPherson, who fills entire scenes with rapid-fire repartee that’s meant to be witty but so painfully isn’t. MacPherson also knows a knee-slapping pun when he sees one. Walking through a shrubbery maze like the one in The Shining, Emma Peel says “It’s amazing.” Ha ha ha! Get it? A-maze-ing? And there are just so many more like it!

· Having read this masterpiece of stupidity, Chechik (still according to my theory) rushed headlong into production, making sure to pace every scene like a snail crawling up a mountain of flypaper backwards; also taking extra care to make each big set-piece as stupefyingly implausible as possible, from the robot wasps to the magnificently brain-damaged climax, in which Steed and De Wynter duke it out on a metal bridge during a thunderstorm. Guys, there’s this thing called “indoors.” It’s a safer place to be when you’re fighting each other with metal objects during a storm.

· Finally, Warner Bros. must have monitored this production at every step of incompetence along the way — from the script to the dailies to the final cut — and decided to release it anyway. Since Warner was coming off a devastating year full of megabudget flops like The Postman and Sphere, their commitment to a movie that makes Sphere look like Battleship Potemkin brings tears of admiration to my eyes.

Yes, everyone involved with the making of The Avengers has pooled their talents to make something very special. We have to recognize perfection in all its forms, wherever we find it, and what we have here is a perfect piece of shit.