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Hollywood's Total Stinkers

Three Colossal Wastes of Talent, Money and Material

My choices for the three worst movies of the past 20 years, in descending order of awfulness:

The Avengers (1998). Here is a movie in which, grandly and triumphantly, nothing works. Nothing. The plot bites. The actors (Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman and Sean Connery) seem to be in three different films. The screenplay seems devised upon the model of a paper-stone-scissors game in which each new development cancels the developments before it. It trashes the memory of an energetic television past in the legendary '60s in which Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg's Steed and Peel had acquired the giganticism of deities. It cost a fortune. It lost a fortune. It disgraced everybody affiliated with it. It made the regal, lionesque Connery look stupid. It made Uma Thurman look asexual. It made Ralph Fiennes look so twerpy he should pronounce his name "Rayfe."

The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990). This movie begins with conceptual idiocy. Brian De Palma, a liberal, is signed to direct a novel by Tom Wolfe, a conservative. His first task, of course, is to "fix" it. And, of course, the more he fixes it, the broker it gets. The result sucks the bracing vitality from Wolfe's autopsy of '80s greed, lost American vitality, surrender to the banal, the coarse, the craven and the grotesque. The novel's social tapestry, its exactness of observation, its swiftness of passage, its curiosity about how things work--in short, its truth--become lost forever.

Showgirls (1995). This Joe Eszterhas-Paul Verhoeven collaboration in and of itself ruined an entire year of moviegoing. The worst part of it was that it showed so much promise up front. Verhoeven was a certified bad-boy genius, with such twisted hits as "RoboCop" and "Total Recall," which showed him to be one of those remarkable creatures of the demimonde turned on by both sex and violence. I like that in a man. Eszterhas, on the other hand, was a super-successful screenwriter ("Jagged Edge," "Music Box," "Sliver"), except that nobody noticed that all the movies had the same plot. He, too, liked 'em mean and dirty and had even collaborated with Verhoeven on the sado-macho Sharon Stone star vehicle "Basic Instinct," a super hit. So: Turn these guys loose on Vegas and those leggy, gorgeous creatures who so fascinate those of us in the audience who will never get close to one. Tell it like it is, all the squalor and glamour, all the backstage bitching and fretting, all the sweat and work. Sounds good, no?

But "Showgirls" is as sexy as dishwashing. The star, Elizabeth Berkley, can't act. It has no tone, save a leer. At the end, it turns into a karate movie. It was ugly as sin but nowhere near as much fun.

Kyle MacLachlan is so fine as the oily, slimy casino entertainment director that he almost completely destroyed his career. Eszterhas did destroy his career, and then he had a pitiful try at "revenge" by writing and co-directing an anti-Hollywood movie billed as an "Alan Smithee Film," and it, too, was truly awful.

And Verhoeven? He got another multimillion-buck project just a few years ago: the Nazis vs. Space Bug movie "Starship Troopers."

As for De Palma? He's had several films since then and in fact is on the schedule for this year in "Mission to Mars." That just goes to show that in Hollywood, no bad deed goes unrewarded.

--Stephen Hunter

Washington Post Staff Writer

Double & Nothing: The All-Sly Sampler

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