Some years back, a friend and I watched the John Carpenter-directed movie Vampires. We were stunned that the man who gave us classics such as Halloween, Starman, The Thing, and Escape from New York could be at the helm of a movie that failed so miserably. Our conversation focused not on the movie –there was not much to analyze—but on the question, how do bad movies get made?
It might be as difficult to answer as ‘why do bad things happen to good people,’ but I’ll take a few shots.
The question arose in my mind more recently after having viewed 2nd Serve, a movie about a fallen tennis pro and a collection of misfits that follows the basic trope of ‘zeroes to heroes.’ We’ve of course seen this movie before, most notably with the Bad News Bears and the countless other poetasters that came after. Other than that, I have nothing else to say about 2nd Serve. You wouldn’t want me to. You might think the movie is a parody of something, but it’s not. It makes absolutely no sense and is so ridiculous, you would wonder how it actually came together. Thus, the existential question I’m exploring in this review.
Believe it or not, I don’t like to dump on movies. I get sent many, and my response is usually “I don’t like to write about a movie, good or bad, unless I feel there is something interesting to say.” I won’t just trash something if I don’t like it. I simply won’t review it. But sometimes I will review a movie I don’t like if there is something to be gleaned.
Upon first viewing 2nd Serve, I thought there was little to say and I put it aside. But that old question kept popping up in my mind: how did this thing get made when its failings are so obvious?
There is of course the easy way out: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The mother of an ugly child thinks that child is beautiful. This might cover a lot of material, but movies cost a significant amount of money to make. Even an indy film, like 2nd Serve, probably had at least a $500,000 budget. The actors are professional and trained, not grabbed off a street corner for a no-budget project. Care was taken to select them and construct this movie. So why didn’t anyone ask, during pre-production, “shouldn’t our actors look like they know how to play tennis?” Caddyshack wasn’t supposed to be an accurate depiction of golf, but at least Danny Noonan had a nice swing. Didn’t anyone on the production crew or in the cast or even bystanders think to mention how unrealistic all the tennis scenes were? Weren’t the producers concerned they would be throwing their money away when the project was brought to them?
Sometimes, as in the big budget arena, a film production is a creature of momentum. Millions have been plunged into it, and even if it looks bleak the idea is to forge ahead and get it on screens to recoup what it can. There’s some behind the scenes footage of George Lucas at the final edit of Star Wars: Phantom Menace. He knows it’s bad, but what can he do at this point? He of course was lucky, for that movie made hundreds of millions.
And this might be the real reason why bad movies get made, whether indy or tentpole: they do well financially. It’s no different than the investment banker taking a gamble on Greek debt. He thinks he can make a killing and is stunned when it doesn’t pay off. Bad movies get made because some make a lot of money. Movies, like it or not, are a business, and the majority of them are produced to make a profit. You don’t have to play on 4,000 screens to earn. The DVD/VOD/cable market is robust, and producers know they can score here if not in the theater. So when the bottom line is the paramount element in a film production quality will often take a back seat, and why would anyone stop when the trick oftentimes works?
It could be that 2nd Serve eventually falls into the ‘good-bad movie’ category. This would be films such as Tango and Cash or Showgirls. They are basically silly but for some reason you want to watch them. I don’t think 2nd Serve is comparable, nor do I think it has the kitsch and the camp that made something like Plan 9 From Outer Space the benchmark for the good-bad movie. Still, there is something intriguing about a movie so bereft of a point or originality that it sticks in your mind. In this sense, whether intentional or not, 2nd Serve succeeds.
I’m not sure this answers the question ‘how do bad movies get made?’ but if we really knew the answer to that, then they would never see life. A paradox to be sure.