Half and Half

Years ago, I worked at a crappy radio station with a guy who had a great voice and knew more about 1950s and 1960s rock ‘n’ roll than anyone I’ve ever met. Had he possessed an ounce of ambition, he could have been the next Wolfman Jack or Casey Kasem. Instead, he was perfectly happy to live in his Jim Rockford-style mobile home, eating pizza, drinking beer and banging younger women.

You guessed it; I’m jealous. But that’s not the point. (At least not in this posting.) My point is, nothing annoys me more than unrealized potential. This fellow had a real gift and he squandered it. Combine his talent and knowledge with my motivation, and, well, I’d be living in a much nicer mobile home.

That’s why I get bummed by movies that start out with so much promise, only to go horribly wrong. More unrealized potential. I’d much rather watch a move that stinks from beginning to end. At least it’s not setting me up for a big letdown. Maybe I need to be more like Jack Nicholson in “Chinatown,” who says, “I never expect anything and I’m still disappointed.”

At any rate, here’s my partial list of films that fall apart in the second half:

“Joe vs. the Volcano” – Okay, this is one of my favorite movies. It’s the exception that proves the rule. The first half is so brilliant, it makes up for the second half. How can you not love a movie starring a bloated, pasty Tom Hanks, toiling away in a soul-draining nightmare of a factory when he’s diagnosed (by Dr. Robert Stack, no less) with a “brain cloud” and given mere months to live. Mix in a tour de force triple-threat performance by Meg Ryan at her cutest, and Ossie Davis doing Morgan Freeman before we knew there was a Morgan Freeman, and you’ve got my kind of flick. Once they reach the island of Waponi Woo, the movie sinks into the blue Pacific, but I’m willing to forgive it (although I do pine away for what might have been). Not so these other disappointments, which just piss me off…

“From Dusk Till Dawn” – There’s no middle ground with Tarantino. He’s either really good or really bad. Here he’s both. The movie starts out with a bang when preacher Harvey Keitel and his family are kidnapped by the twisted Gecko brothers, played by a young George Clooney and an irritating Tarantino (who needs to get out of his own way). As they escape deep into Mexico, the psychological and emotional tension escalates via Tarantino’s trademark dialogue. But once they reach the vampire-infested cantina, the film devolves into just another comic book gorefest. Don’t get me wrong; I usually love comic book gorefests. But Tarantino misses an opportunity to explore the nature of evil by comparing and contrasting (as they say in college) the evil bad guys with the really evil dead bad guys. Still, Salma Hayek looks great living or dead. Sigh.

“The Descent” – And speaking of hot babes, here we’ve got the makings of a taut psychological thriller when five stunning twenty- something women decide to get down and dirty in a previously-unexplored cavern somewhere in the Appalachian mountains. The claustrophobic early scenes literally made me break out in a cold sweat. And the corner-of-the-eye hint of mutant menace ratchets up the suspense. But once we see these humanoid goobers in all their glory, we realize they’ve been borrowed from a dozen other horror flicks. And the over-the-top shredding can’t hold a candle to what we’ve already seen in our mind’s eye. When will writers and directors learn that less is usually more? Don’t answer that; I already know.

“Collateral” – Tom Cruise actually does something interesting as a frenetic, emotionally-damaged hitman who takes cabdriver Jamie Foxx on an unscheduled trip through nightime Los Angeles. There’s genuine chemistry and crackling dialogue between the two stars as they play their cat-and-mouse games. That is, until an unbelievable coincidence sends the cab (and the film) careening out of control down the path of “Die Hard” dumbness. Again, don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of the “Die Hard” franchise. But it never claims to be something it’s not. “Collateral” set me up for a smart, snappy joy ride, only to screw me over with the old bait and  switch. No tips for these guys.

I’ve got plenty more examples, but I’d rather hear from you. Please weigh in with your most disappointing setups and non-payoffs. I’m looking forward to adding to my collection.