Every year brings us films that fizzle. I'm not just talking about the stinkers that should have never been made, but the misfires that had genuine potential. 2018 certainly had its share of the latter. I don't mean to sound arrogant by saying I could do better than the actual filmmakers, but for creative people, I think it's healthy to imagine how you'd improve another artist's work. In the order of their 2018 release dates, here are nine movies that should have been mine:
- Proud Mary. I have kind of a crush on Taraji P. Henson, and I was excited to see a 47-year-old black woman headline an action picture. But while Proud Mary's marketing suggests a sassy, retro-blaxploitation thriller, in reality it's a tepid crime drama with a generic, wall-to-wall score, an awful performance by Danny Glover, and a screenplay that mostly just rehashes John Cassavettes' 1980 drama Gloria. (To drive this point home: Proud Mary screenwriter Steve Antin also wrote the forgettable 1999 Gloria remake!) If I was in charge I would have written a fun – and funny – script from scratch, and tried to spice up the proceedings to Baby Driver levels (though Edgar Wright is a much better director than I am).
- Mom and Dad. This coal-black Nicolas Cage comedy had an irresistible premise: parents around the country go insane and feel compelled to murder their children. There's some sharp social commentary here, but writer/director Brian Taylor ruins it by applying the same manic editing and saturated cinematography from his gonzo 2006 hit Crank. This style is already badly dated; I would have directed Taylor's decent screenplay with some good old-fashioned suspense, the kind that made Get Out work so well.
- Winchester. As a former tour guide at San Jose's Winchester Mystery House, I would have loved to tackle a big-screen dramatization of Sarah Winchester's life. Alas, Australia's Spierig Brothers, working with American screenwriter Tom Vaughan, base their screenplay on the Mystery House's rubbishy tour guide script, ignoring historical accuracy and going for cheap (and cheap-looking) jump scares. They even take the great Helen Mirren, an ideal choice for Mrs. Winchester, and shunt her off to the side to make room for their fictitious and frankly dull protagonist (played by Jason Clarke). The supernatural stories about Sarah Winchester are all bunk, but few would want to watch a straightforward biopic on the woman, so I'd have to infuse Sarah's real story with some spectral elements. No one's paying me to write a treatment, so I can't say what story I'd actually tell. But it would be a hell of a lot more compelling than the one Winchester ended up with.
- Every Day. It must have been a challenge to adapt David Levithan's YA novel for the screen, as its first-person narrator is a literal "free spirit" who wakes up in a different teenager's body each morning. But it's territory I've wanted to cover ever since I wrote a screenplay called Every Stranger's Eyes in 1999, which had a similar idea. I liked Levithan's book, and the film itself isn't bad – it's nicely shot, and has some really talented young actors playing the protagonist. But it only skims the surface. If I could make this, I'd turn it into a TV series, to better explore the book's themes and its subplot, involving another, eviler "free spirit", which is not at all in the current film.
- A Wrinkle in Time. Madeleine L'Engle's 1962 children's novel needed more focus and dramatic tension to work on screen. Disney's misguided adaptation had neither. The script by Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell is nearly plotless, Ava DuVernay's direction is badly-paced – in fact, it seems like everyone associated with the film was just plain lost. My version would at least have been more clever and less condescending, though frankly the best version would have been animated.
- Ready Player One. I read, and enjoyed, Ernest Cline's 2011 bestseller, saturated with nifty 1980s pop culture references. But this Steven Spielberg-directed adaptation is a mess, losing most of what made Cline's novel so charming. Its best sequence by far is a re-creation of The Shining (ironically not in Cline's book); I would have filled the film with similarly clever puzzle-solving sequences that moved the plot forward while paying homage to the past – and I definitely would have corrected the script's maddening plot holes and contrivances.
- Rampage. This is the only movie on this list that I didn't watch; the trailer was enough, don't you think? Rampage was the last arcade game I played obsessively in the '80s – it hurt my hand so much that I gave up on joystick games altogether. Anyway, the game's gimmick was fantastic: you play a human character who transforms into a giant gorilla, a giant lizard, or a giant wolf – your choice – and you get to lay waste to cities at will. Be the monster in a monster movie! The studio execs who adapted Rampage instead cast Dwayne Johnson as a primatologist/ex-soldier (of course) dealing with three mutated animals (not transformed humans), resulting in a shallow Godzilla/Mighty Joe Young hybrid. Sure, it made money as is, but I would have honored the nutty spirit of the game with three gleefully destructive Hulk/Banner-like protagonists, embarrassed post-transformation nudity and all.
- The Happytime Murders. It shames me to think that I once pegged this as 2018's potential sleeper hit. Essentially Who Framed Roger Rabbit? with Muppets instead of cartoons and a slew of F-bombs that are edgy in theory but cringey in practice, Happytime doesn't deserve its talented stars Melissa McCarthy, Maya Rudolph, and Elizabeth Banks. At fault, besides Todd Berger's lame script, is the design and voice of the protagonist, a Muppet private eye. Director Brian Henson (son of Jim) opted for a grizzled, humanoid, Mike Hammer-like character who's stiff as a log. I would have made Happytime's hero a manic Kermit type, then swapped out the awkwardly crass dialogue for something with genuine wit. Those two changes alone would have made Happytime twenty times more enjoyable.
- Bohemian Rhapsody. This Freddie Mercury biopic was a massive hit, so my more accurate version would have likely resulted in worse box office. Regardless, while the cast is perfect, I was no fan of John Ottman's disjointed editing, the film's mawkish tone, or the often pointless rejiggering of actual events. I would have fixed all of these flaws and rolled actual footage of Queen's Live Aid performance over the end credits instead of culminating with the film's faithful but overlong reenactment of the event. So sue me.