The strange phenomenon of the deteriorating late-night movie
Have you ever stayed up late to watch a movie you know nothing about, only to watch it worsen before your eyes? We highlight a weird TV phenomenon...
As our article about great post-pub movies demonstrates, we’re not averse to watching movies after the witching hour, especially if we may have already enjoyed a beer or two. And with the wealth of cable and digital channels available, there’s always a wealth of movies to choose from at around midnight, whichever night of the week it is - for some reason, the films of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone appear to be on constant rotation on certain channels.
Now and again, though, we’ll forgo our addiction to such classics as Red Heat or Rambo: First Blood Part II (films that, thanks to the rotation mentioned above, mean we’ve seen bits of them well over a dozen times), and we’ll take a chance on something we haven’t seen before.
It’s fair to say that, once we get to the graveyard shift area of the television schedules, the programming content on even the posher channels - such as BBC One, if you live in the UK - begins to wane somewhat. By the time the pubs have shut, we’ve arrived at the time of night where the repeats of old sitcoms lurk, documentaries about oil rigs and educational programmes involving maths and men with beards.
While decent films are undoubtedly shown late at night, there’s an extremely common other variety: the mysterious, deteriorating late-night movie. These are easy to spot, since you’ll either never have heard of them before, or the film in question’s one you know received bad reviews, but from the opening half an hour, you can’t begin to see why.
Sometimes, they’ll star someone you’ve heard of. The film might be a comedy, a drama, a sci-fi movie, a western - the genre doesn’t matter. The one defining factor is this: they’ll hook you in with an intriguing opening. You’ll look at your watch, and wonder whether it’s a bit too late to stay up to watch the entire film when it’s already midnight and you have to get up for work in the morning, but you think, never mind the tiredness - you just have to see what happens next.
If this has happened to you before, you’ll know what comes next. You get to the second half of the film, and the plot begins to fall apart. Its once intriguing premise is rapidly seeping away due to either bad acting, indifferent direction, or predictable storytelling. You look at your watch again. It’s now well past one in the morning. But by now, you’ve watched over an hour of the movie - you’re committed. You may as well see this thing through to the end.
The end, it turns out, wasn’t worth waiting up for. With a predictable cry of, “Why did I stay up to watch this crap?” you slope off to bed, dejected.
If you’ve never experienced this phenomenon, you have our congratulations - because it’s happened to this writer many, many times. A case in point: a couple of years ago (or it might be months, I can’t be sure), the Robert De Niro movie Godsend appeared on the television just as I was about to head off to bed. I vaguely remembered hearing about the film when it came out (2004, as it happens), and remembered that it hadn’t been well received, but I thought, “Robert De Niro’s in it. It can’t be that bad, can it?”
Godsend followed the now familiar late-night movie template: its opening was mildly compelling, but its plot rapidly descended into the arena of mediocrity. De Niro looked vaguely uncomfortable in his lab coat as a scientist who uses cloning techniques to resurrect the dead son of a couple played by Greg Kinnear and Rebecca Romijn. The script contains such scintillating lines as “I provided you with a house and a son. You remember that, you ungrateful piece of shit,” and a small boy exclaiming, “Boobies!"
In retrospect, I should have known it was time to give up on the movie when the first eye-roller of a plot twist turned up, but a mixture of curiosity and sheer defiance forced me to persevere. By the final, ridiculous rug-pull moment, I was furious with myself: I’d been lulled into watching a deteriorating movie yet again.
A few other examples of such films are Babylon AD (an intriguing sci-fi build-up quickly gives way to a muddled and disappointing second half), Someone To Watch Over Me (not Ridley Scott’s finest hour, as I discovered), and Halloween V.
Now, you might argue that anyone who sits and watches a rapidly worsening movie rather than go to bed deserves everything they get - and you’d be absolutely right. And yet, even with the power of the Internet at my fingertips, with the ability to check reviews on movies I’ve either forgotten about or vaguely heard of, I’ll still find myself entranced by depressingly average films, and end up watching right to the end credits.
Out of morbid curiosity, I’ll stay up and watch all 136 minutes of Michael Bay’s The Island to see if it really is as bad as its reviews maintained, and predictably, its intriguing first hour disintegrates into an action-heavy mess.
The reality, of course, is that most movies are neither remarkable nor terrible, but decidedly average. And if there’s one thing responsible for making a film less than reasonably good, it’s usually a risible or dull final act. These movies, it seems, are doomed to appear in quiet moments on the TV schedule, usually when most sensible people have gone to bed.
I don’t know why I subject myself to these situations, but I know I’ll do it again. The 1996 Drew Barrymore rom-com Wishful Thinking and the 1996 Jean-Claude Van Damme action flick The Quest are both on British television after midnight tonight. If I’m not careful, I’ll probably end up watching both of them.