Why The Emoji Movie is a load of...
As Sony's latest animated feature opens to a chorus of jeers, our reporter explains why this cynical picture is a worthy new entrant to the bad film hall of fame
It may star Patrick Stewart as a talking poop, but that's not why The Emoji Movie has been creating a stink this week.
Sony's big new animated film is on the receiving end of some of the most damning reviews in recent memory. "A force of insidious evil" gasped one critic. Another hailed it as a harbinger "of the end of the world". One reviewer warned parents to keep their children away from director Tony Leondis's "vile animated faux-comedy". Even the usually reserved New York Times slammed it as "idiotic".
So unanimous were the jeers, The Emoji Movie at one point basked in a 'perfect' zero per cent on Rotten Tomatoes, a website that tallies movie ratings. By comparison, Christopher Nolan's Harry-Styles-v-Third-Reich romp Dunkirk enjoys a 93pc average.
But can an animated feature about talking emojis - those cute symbols so beloved of smartphone-addicted tweens - truly be that reprehensible? After all, aren't kids' movies, by their very nature, for children rather than grown-ups (much less, snooty film critics)? Since when were adults supposed to 'get' pre-teen entertainment anyway?
The sorry news is that The Emoji Movie is indeed as dismaying as the reviews suggest. It's not so much that the film is unfunny or wastes that theoretically fantastic Patrick Stewart poo cameo (if you didn't know, you'd never guess the mumbling voice was that of the former Captain Picard). What raises it to a new level of dreadful is its soulless, corporate cynicism.
The film at one level functions as the heart-warming tale of a 'Meh' emoji (voiced by departed Silicon Valley star TJ Miller) who can't help expressing himself in ways contrary to his original programming. Thus our hero is forced to travel through the kingdom of Textopolis (which resides inside your smartphone) in search of a cure for his 'ailment'.
But the film doubles as shameless product placement, with popular apps such as Candy Crush plugged deafeningly and without embarrassment. Big deal, some might argue. If your kids want to see it, why not hold your nose and bring them anyway? It's a fair point, yet The Emoji Movie is so tireless in its attempt to sell the audience on the benign huggability of Spotify, Facebook and co that even the most laidback parent might want to take pause. Do you truly want to raise your kids to believe the tech industry is nothing but a force for good and video games are more fun than boring old books? (The written word is disparaged throughout as 'lame' and old-fashioned.)
If nothing else, The Emoji Movie has put itself as the centre of the conversation and will be forever seared into the collective consciousness of film-goers as the worst major studio release of 2017. Behold a clunker for the ages - a turkey of unique and wondrous plumage.
This is obviously a rarefied club and one to which it is not easy to gain admittance. Not all terrible films are created equal. There is widespread agreement, for instance, that last year's Batman v Superman was a propper gobbler. Yet there was something underachieving and unremarkable about its awfulness. It was merely boring and nonsensical - not actively offensive or disturbing.
These are the depths plunged by The Emoji Movie - a fandango that will not only make you hate emojis but will briefly put you off cartoons, cinema and even leaving the house and engaging with the wider world.
In that regard, it is perhaps no coincidence that Sony's flaming dumpster of a flick is aimed at children. When it comes to clogging the screen with mind-bending awfulness, kids' cinema has long excelled. Examples include 2000's Titanic: The Legend, a rip-off of the James Cameron smash which, for reasons never made clear, featured a rapping dog dressed as a basketball player, or, from 2007, Elf Bowling: The Legend, in which Santa Claus is shown enjoying a game of boules using his pointy-eared helpers as bowling pins. The logic is clearly that, as kids will laugh at anything, why make the effort?
Yet the church of bad cinema is broad and grown-up movies are accepted too. When aiming for true, sanity-troubling lack of quality, it is worth bearing in mind that the field is dominated by science fiction, fantasy and horror genre picks. These will typically feature bargain basement special effects, portentous dialogue and gratuitous acres of exposed wobbly bits.
Consider, to pluck one example among many, post-apocalyptic straight-to-video classic Hell Comes To Frogtown, in which anti-hero Sam Hell battles a race of mutant amphibians who keep under-clad ladies as sex slaves.
You can try and watch it ironically - believe me, I've been there - but rest assured the sheer ineptitude of what is unfolding on screen will quickly have you biting your cushion in dismay.
If crafting a true stinker, it also helps if you can wedge in some big names for CV-blotting cameos.
Here The Emoji Movie outdoes itself, with Stewart and Miller augmented by Anna Farris and annoying chat show host James Corden (as a talking high-five). With their involvement in this great honking mess, the actors join an elite grouping that also includes Christian Slater (Alone In The Dark), Sam Neill (the hilarious Fifa hagiography United Passions) and Robert De Niro (Dirty Grandpa).
With an opening day take of $10m in the US alone, The Emoji Movie is set to be a success, dreadful reviews notwithstanding. This raises the appalling possibility of a sequel - a concept that should set a chill in the heart of discerning film-goers. If the original was bad, how awful might the follow-up be? A special place in cinema purgatory is, after all, reserved for needless sequels - movies so bad they not only induce headaches, but retrospectively spoil the films that preceded them.
One of the most notorious examples was 1997's Speed 2, the follow-up to the Keanu Reeves-on-a-bus sensation that tried to get by without either Reeves or the bus. Also casting a retrospective pall are Alien 3, which left a sour taste by killing off most of the survivors of Aliens in the first five minutes, and Jaws 3D - featuring a wooden shark and actors carved from 100pc plywood.
As a handy guide, the higher the number after the title, the worse the film. So while Hellraiser II was a decent chunk of body horror, by the time the franchise got around to its ninth instalment, the laws of diminishing returns had long since kicked in. This is also why the newest Bond movie is invariably worse than the one immediately before.
Yet if The Emoji Movie is firmly in the tradition of Hollywood turkeys, in one respect, it is thoroughly modern. Throughout, the product placement is of a level of shamelessness that would put the most grasping 'lifestyle' blogger to shame. Among the brands Sony shoe-horned into the film are Crackle (a streaming channel owned by... um, Sony), WeChat (big in China), Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter. It is also surely the first kids' film in which file hosting service Dropbox is crucial to the plot.
Forget Patrick Stewart and Mr Poop - the biggest whiff this film gives off is the reek of naked cynicism.