The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Not all Netflix movie suggestions are created equal. Here’s how to spot the bad ones.

From left: Corey Hawkins, Adria Arjona, Ben Hardy, Ryan Reynolds, Mélanie Laurent and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo in “6 Underground.” (Netflix)

This is a story about betrayal.

About how one night not long ago, while I was sheltering in place, Netflix suggested a film that presumably was watchable. It was called “The Assignment” and starred Michelle Rodriguez (of “Fast & Furious” fame) as a male contract killer who, after taking the wrong “assignment” (i.e. murder job) is subsequently forced to have gender reassignment surgery as punishment. Under better circumstances, most people would have kept scrolling, but Sigourney Weaver and Tony Shalhoub were in it, too. How bad could it be?

Bad. Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad.

Wildly problematic premise aside, “The Assignment” lacked all of the redeeming qualities that make even God-awful movies entertaining in a “but the costumes!” sort of way. The plot wasn’t just off the rails; it was a train wreck. The acting wasn’t just cheesy; it was unpalatable. Case in point? Rodriguez’s parting lines: “I used to be a guy. A real bad guy. Then things changed.” This was no “Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby.” Netflix had gotten it so very wrong.

All across America, countless couch potatoes are feeling that cramp you get from zooming past sleek thumbnails promising two hours of escapism — let’s call it Netflix wrist — because the very thought of clicking on the wrong choice can be crippling. The fear is real. And no one should have to suffer through Rodriguez’s stupid beard and Weaver’s straitjacket without warning.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of movies on Netflix (and other streaming services) masquerading as time well spent. A completely unofficial poll turned up “Kings,” “Aftermath,” “6 Underground” and, of course, “The Assignment,” among them. Here’s what they have in common.

Never heard of it? There’s a reason for that.

Turns out “The Assignment” is old bad news. It came out in 2017 to reviews that didn’t hold back. The New York Times called it “ridiculous even by its own nonsensical standards.” The Los Angeles Times wrote, “There’s howlingly awful and then there’s ‘The Assignment.’ ” Uncovered cinematic gems are certainly a thing, but a truly amazing Shalhoub vehicle that somehow flew under your radar? Unlikely.

A former A-lister climbs into a serious vehicle.

In “Aftermath,” Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Roman, a construction worker built like a boulder trying to cope with the loss of his wife and pregnant daughter in a plane crash. Loosely based on a true story, the film toggles between Roman’s saga and the equally depressing tale of the air traffic controller whose mistake caused the midair collision. The plot just keeps getting slower and sadder and darker until the final scene, when two people joined by tragedy have nothing for each other or the viewer. Basically the whole thing is like if over-steamed Brussels sprouts were a movie.

And in hops Daniel Craig.

“Kings” is such a sleeper bomb. With Halle Berry playing a put-upon mother of eight foster kids living in
’90s-era South Los Angeles and Daniel Craig as her cantankerous neighbor-turned-lover, the movie looks at first glance like it could be bad-good. Nope. “Kings” uses the tragedy of Latasha Harlins’s senseless slaying and Rodney King’s savage beating to establish itself as a serious take on the cultural unrest that lead to the L.A. riots. Berry and Craig team up to find some of her kids during the first night of unrest, and the pair inexplicably spend a good chunk of the film falling in love while chained to a streetlight. Halfway through the film, a co-sufferer remarked, “This is insulting.” Save yourselves.

Adam Sandler is in it, and it’s not “Uncut Gems.”

As one friend put it when asked about which bad movies to avoid: “Adam Sandler Netflix vehicles numbers one through N.” No other explanation necessary.

It looks an awful lot like another good movie you saw, but something’s off.

For weeks, Netflix has been trying to convince viewers that “6 Underground” is worth their time. Don’t fall for it. With Ryan Reynolds at its helm, the movie is a two-hour-long trailer for the half-dozen better films it steals from. It takes the best of “Fast & Furious,” “Ocean’s Eleven,” “The Italian Job,” “Mission Impossible” and basically every other “let’s get the gang back together” movie and throws it into a blender. It took multiple personal attempts to watch Reynolds and co. boom and bang across the globe in expensive cars trying to save. . . something. It’s impossible to follow, so don’t.

The premise looks dumb.

“Why would an actual assassin write a book about being an assassin? It’s beyond stupid,” a character prophetically remarks in the Kevin James clunker “True Memoirs of an International Assassin.” In it, the former “King of Queens” star plays a cubicle jockey with visions of Tom Clancy dancing in his head. He writes a low-budget spy novel that is marketed as “nonfiction,” and instead of canceling him, the global bad guy community falls for it. It’s beyond stupid. If “6 Underground” is stroke-inducingly fast, “The True Memoirs” is comatose-level slow, with James playing a limp fish out of water. Fellow Post colleague Travis Andrews called it possibly “the worst thing on Netflix.”

Forest Whitaker is in it. (We kid. Sorta.)

These days, you may be tempted to watch a disaster movie because why not lean into, you know? There are fine offerings out there for all your apocalyptic pandemic cinema needs, but “How it Ends” ain’t it. It’s a twist on the buddy movie starring Forest Whitaker as the overbearing dad and that one guy from “Divergent” (Theo James) as the hated future son-in-law. There’s an “event” on the West Coast (earthquake? war? aliens?), and Whitaker and James team up to save the day. The banter is bad, the action is predictable and the actual ending of a movie called “How it Ends” is so ambiguous and lazy you will yell at the screen. Cathartic, this chaos-movie is not.

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