Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Movierules #16: Movies Named After Song Titles

This feature now has an updated (and hopefully improved?) version at the always excellent Scene Stealers. So check that out when you can!

People often come up with rules of self-protection when it comes to which movies they’ll watch. For instance, John Campena over at The Movie Blog says to avoid any direct-to-DVD release featuring name stars. There are other rules that everyone seems to know: No sequels with different actors (Robocop 3!). No movies based on video games (Super Mario Bros!). Brian DePalma movies are always worse than you think they’re going to be (Snake Eyes!).

I have a new one for you – one you probably haven’t thought of. Beware the movie titled after a popular song. There are some technicalities to consider here. The song in question can’t be released in association with the movie (In the Heat of the Night). If the movie just happens to have the same name as the song, but the two are clearly totally unrelated it does not qualify (American Psycho is a superb Misfits track, but is not featured in the movie and not popular enough to be well known by the film’s audience). Finally, if the movie is named after an event or issue that the song also just happens to reference, it does not qualify (Bloody Sunday features the U2 song, Sunday, Bloody Sunday, but both are in reference to the same historic occurrence). The following examples come to mind:

Dead Man’s CurveThe Song: Looking through their discography, you forget how many hits Jan & Dean managed. This song was one of their top three – a somewhat tongue in cheek warning about street racing. The song became ironically tragic when Jan Berry sustained brain damage from an accident very near the curve they wrote the song about.

The Film: Not to be confused with the Mark-Paul Gosselaar vehicle, Dead Man on Campus, this 1998 release featured soon to be stars Keri Russell, Michael Vartan, and Matthew Lillard. It uses the age old urban legend that if your collegiate roommate commits suicide, you get a 4.0. There are various roommates and boyfriends and girlfriends who continually try to off each other (while making it look like a suicide) to garner a 4.0. I haven’t seen it in a long time, but it’s one of those movies where there are so many random twists, you’re sure they made it up as they went along. The video title was shortened to “The Curve” either to avoid being mentioned in this blog posting or because they wanted people to think it was a different movie than the one that got a 0% on the Tomatometer.

The Connection: Much like the plot, I assume the title was determined after they were already well into the process. The only soundtrack produced was for the score, but this phrase has always come from the hit song. Avoid this movie.

Down to EarthThe Song: The title track from Stevie Wonder’s 1966 album, this is not one of his most memorable hits. Stevie was only sixteen when it was released and went on to more renowned work soon thereafter. However, it’s a fine tune and one of many that drew attention to Wonder at a young age.

The Film: When is Chris Rock going to make another good movie? I say “another” because I found CB4 to be hilarious despite its consistent nonsense. This remake of Heaven Can Wait (which itself is a remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan) is a poorly done comedy about a standup comedian who is incorrectly killed off by bumbling angel Eugene Levy. Because it’s not his time yet, he is sent back to earth in the body of a fat, rich, white dude. There’s potential here, but all the comedic scenes are horribly misplayed. Hence the 5.0 IMDb rating and 18% Tomatometer.

The Connection: Are we sure they named this movie after the song? The working title was “I Was Made to Love Her”, a far more famous Stevie Wonder song from the same era. Furthermore, check out the opening lyrics of the song: “Down to earth, once again. I’ve been away to long. I got lost but then, I came home again. Home where I belong.” Apparently, these lyrics fit better. The Stevie song they chose for the soundtrack, however, is “Uptight.” Go figure. Avoid this movie.

Can’t Buy Me LoveThe Song: Do I really have to go into detail here? Huge hit for the Beatles from their 1964 album, A Hard Day’s Night. The song is superb.

The Film: Patrick Dempsey is a lawn-mowing nerd who pays a popular cheerleader (Amanda Peterson) one thousand dollars to be his girlfriend for a month, hoping that it will make him more popular. It works, he shits on his best friend’s house and generally starts acting like a jerk. However, in a drunken tirade calling out her friends, Peterson reveals their contract and Dempsey finds himself even less popular than before. His former best friend finally decides to sit with him at lunch leading to one of the football players being decked. What follows is the worst slow-clap in the history of cinema. I know people who claim to love this movie, but I have to believe they haven’t seen it in a while. The IMDb rating is a not horrendous 6.2 (38% Tomatometer). I have to believe people are rating this based on a nostalgic remembrance of how good they thought it must have been. It’s horribly acted and totally inane. Here’s one sentence from Ebert’s review: “It doesn't have a thought in its head and probably no notion of the corruption at its core.” Seriously, it’s going to take me months to get over that slow clap.

The Connection: Well, if it wasn’t obvious already, the song is played over the opening credits. So there you go. More dough for Michael Jackson. Avoid this movie unless you want your nostalgia ruined.

Love Don’t Cost a ThingThe Song: A huge hit for J-Lo and the opening track from her 2001 album, J.Lo.

The Film: This is a 2003 remake of Can’t Buy Me Love. Same premise as above, except this time, the cheerleader in question actually needs the cash because she wrecked her car. Oh, and everyone’s black. I haven’t seen this one and don’t plan to, but its 4.4 IMDb rating and 13% Tomatometer speak volumes. I don’t have much else to say here.

The Connection: OK, so it’s a remake of a vapid movie based on a song. But rather than use the same song again, they obviously should tailor it to their new audience so they use a more current song recorded by a Puerto Rican. Hey, it’s closer than four white guys from Liverpool. Avoid this movie.

Let’s Talk About Sex
The Song: After two albums, it appeared that Salt-N-Pepa were likely to end up one-hit-wonders. Their first single, “Push It,” was a huge success, but their next release flopped. Their third album made them stars, and the biggest hit on the album was “Let’s Talk About Sex.” The lyrics don’t seem the least bit provocative now, but in 1990, they apparently were.

The Film: Troy Beyer was a moderately successful actress, probably best known for her recurring role on Dynasty as Jackie Deveraux. Let’s Talk About Sex was her directorial debut and got a fair amount of indie attention when it was released, partly thanks to the racy posters featuring her and the other two female leads. I’ve seen this movie, and it has all the pitfalls of a lousy indie film: forced drama, insipid characters, and too many goofy situations. Apparently people agree with me because its IMDb rating (3.7) is just as bad as its Tomatometer (15%). Furthermore, they’ve only let Beyer direct one more film – the aforementioned Love Don’t Cost a Thing.

The Connection: I’m guessing they couldn’t get it on the soundtrack, but the song was such a hit, it was still in rotation on mainstream radio at the time. It’s clear they were trying to gain name recognition. Avoid this movie.

Fools Rush In
The Song: Um, have you heard of Elvis Presley? He’s, like, famous and stuff. And this is one of his most famous songs. Except it’s called “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

The Film: I get all those Matthew Perry movies from the height of his Chandler Bing era confused. This is the one where he marries Salma Hayek after a one night stand results in her being preggers. Not the one where he pretends to be gay, and not the one where he is Bruce Willis’ next door neighbor. Unfortunately, because those all seem like one big lousy movie to me, I can’t remember too many specific things about this one. I think Hayek’s family gets really mad at her for marrying a gringo, especially since it was done hastily. Tomatometer says 35%.

The Connection: What a dumb name for a movie. The Elvis song in question is on the soundtrack as well as two of his other big hits. Avoid this movie. Avoid those other Chandler Bing pictures as well.

Happy Together
The Song: Far and away the biggest hit for The Turtles, junior high kids all across the country have performed this tune on talent night since it was released in 1967.

The Film: Due to a glitch in the campus housing assignments, aspiring writer and incoming freshman Patrick Dempsey is assigned to room with a boisterous female played by Helen Slater. I believe she’s a theater major, or at least intends to act as silly and outlandish as possible – partly to needle Dempsey. Dempsey is irate at the situation, particularly when Slater brings Brad Pitt (in his big screen debut) home to spend the night. Eventually, they find a way to manage, then find a way to screw, then find a way to fall in love. One could say they become Happy Together. Ugh, is this an awful film. In college, we had a TV, but no channels and a housemate bought this one from the cheap rack. It was one of nine videos we had on hand, so it played often. It’s one of those movies that is so bad it’s almost funny. But not quite. I’ll never be able to scrub this one from my memory.

The Connection: The song is on the soundtrack and pretty much rammed down your throat during a ridiculous montage. Even if you only have eight other videos and you’ve seen Aladdin and When Harry Met Sally a collective 86 times, avoid this movie. At least watch The Empire Strikes Back video taped off the television w/ commercials included so it ran out of time and doesn’t have the ending.

Jumpin Jack Flash
The Song: Huge hit for the Rolling Stones. You know it. It’s a gasgasgas.

The Film: I know hardly anything about this movie. I just know that my buddy Rob despises it more than any other movie he’s seen. I also know that Whoopi’s in it which is enough to keep me away (and a 28% on the Tomatometer doesn’t help).

The Connection: Rob says the song is on the soundtrack and that makes him angrier than anything. Rob also says to avoid this movie. I trust his judgment.

Save the Last Dance
The Song: The Drifters were one of the most popular acts in the country in the late 1950s and early 1960s. “Save the Last Dance for Me” was the title track of their third release and one of their biggest hits. It may well be their best song as well.

The Film: Julia Stiles moves to a rough part of Chicago where she encounters black people. She dances with them, dates one, and they all sort out their differences. There’s a lot of dancing and fighting. Then she gets into the Juliard school of dance – or something equally prestigious. I’m sorry I can’t recall more info for you. Since Julia Stiles is involved, you already know the acting is terrible. Also, I was really bored. There are very few scenes where anything important happens. I think in the end Julia and her boyfriend have sex, but nobody makes any jungle fever jokes.

The Connection: The only way this title makes any sense at all is if they’re referencing the song. There’s nothing in the movie about saving dances or the last dance. I do think they should have called this “Dirty Dancing 2: Dancing in the Streets.” It still would have been named after a song, and not made any damn sense, but at least people would have known what to expect: A movie that you should avoid.

Some Kind of Wonderful
The Song: It’s The Drifters again. I’m telling you, you don’t realize how many hits these guys had. It was also covered by Carole King and Marvin Gaye. The phrase is also mentioned in Marvin Gaye’s “Too Busy Thinkin’ About My Baby.” However, there’s a completely different version recorded by Grand Funk Railroad. These days, I’m guessing that’s the one people think of when they hear the phrase. At any rate, there are many options.

The Film: Mary Stuart Masterson is a tomboy and Eric Stoltz is her best friend. He has a crush on the popular girl played by Lea Thompson, but Stoltz and Masterson don’t have the cash or clothes of the in-crowd people. Eventually, Masterson and Stoltz end up together. As you may have guessed, John Hughes wrote this film. I found this movie to be an obvious, paint-by-numbers Hughes flick without any of the creativity found in Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller, or Vacation. However, it’s cruising along with a 76% Tomatometer. Perhaps I need to revisit this one.

The Connection: There’s no clear reference to either version of the song. Maybe that’s why the ratings are higher? Still, I can’t see how this title would make any sense without referencing one of them. Based on my personal recollections of this film, I say avoid it and watch a good John Hughes movie.

Soul Man
The Song: Sam and Dave’s biggest hit, the tune was also borrowed by The Blues Brothers and used in their movie.

The Film: C Thomas Howell has the grades to get into Harvard Law School, but not the cash. He finds a scholarship for African American students and by putting on a bad wig and overusing tanning pills, he manages to win the scholarship under false pretenses. However, he’s really bad at basketball! Will anyone discover his ruse? He falls for Rae Dawn Chong, and I think eventually gets in trouble, but I can’t really remember. A 0% Tomatometer sums it up better than I can. Howell and Chong later married in real life, so at least something good came of this.

The Connection: I have no idea if it was on the soundtrack, but I’m guessing it was. Even though James Earl Jones is in it, avoid this movie.

Sweet Home Alabama
The Song: Lynyrd Skynyrd’s most popular song was made in response to Neil Young’s “Southern Man.” It is without question the most ubiquitous “southern rock” song ever made.

The Film: After establishing herself as a New York City socialite, Reese Witherspoon goes back home to Alabama for some reason or another. She still has a husband there she never divorced. Later, her current fiancé, Patrick Dempsey, follows her to find out what’s taking so long. She ends up with the original husband all over again. I can’t remember more of the details because this was one of the most boring movies I’ve seen in recent years. The Tomatometer agrees, chiming in at 38%.

The Connection: The term “Sweet Home Alabama” is meaningless without the song. If the song were never made, this movie probably would have been called “War Eagle!” It’s on the soundtrack, but by a band called Cornbread, not Skynyrd. Avoid this movie.

A Thin Line Between Love and Hate
The Song: The Persuaders were a 1970s R&B outfit and their biggest hit was “Thin Line Between Love and Hate.” In the same style as The Delfonics’ “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time,” it topped the R&B charts in 1971 and went gold.

The Film: Honestly, I don’t know a damn thing about this movie beyond the fact that Martin Lawrence wrote, directed, and starred in it. Apparently he’s some sort of player and one of his conquests gets cross with him and then gets even. IMDb 4.4, Tomatometer 13%. Nuff said.

The Connection: Though this could have been a feasible title without any connection, the song appears on the soundtrack. However, it’s recorded by H-Town – whoever that is. Avoid this movie.

What a Girl Wants
The Song: Christina Aguilera’s second single from her debut album is the one that made her a huge star. You’ve heard it a million times, so I don’t have to go into detail here. It is catchy and annoying.

The Film: A remake of 1958’s The Reluctant Debutant, this 2003 movie stars Amanda Bynes as an American teen who finds out that her father is a British politician. She goes to England to meet him, but they must remain secretive about their connection or he will likely lose the election. I haven’t seen this movie, nor do I plan to. Tomatometer sez 35%.

The Connection: While it doesn’t appear on the soundtrack, how the hell else would they have come up with this name? Avoid this movie.

The Song: People forget just how big Billy Ocean was in the mid 80s. This was one of the big singles from his breakthrough album, Suddenly.

The Film: Patrick Dempsey is a young pizza delivery man who, in addition to delivering pizzas, delivers love and romance to a series of older women. Compounding the significant problem that most of these women are married, he has to keep his life as a male prostitute hidden from his girlfriend and parents. When his mother orders his “services”, he realizes he must put an end to his lascivious behavior, but not before all the husbands figure out what’s going on and try to dole out some mob justice upon his face. Vic Tayback steals the show as lead angry husband. I can’t really remember how it ends, but I think the husbands learn their lesson and start treating their wives better. And Dempsey goes back to college. The movie starts off OK, but quickly degenerates into nonsense, hence the 44% Tomatometer rating.

The Connection: Perhaps this is a bit of a reach – they could have named the film Loverboy if this song had never existed. But it was such a gigantic hit, they must have known people would make an association. Avoid this movie.

Addicted to Love
The Song: Robert Palmer enjoyed a long career, putting out albums for thirty years. Far and away his greatest success, “Addicted to Love” was a smash hit, largely thanks to a video featuring five sleek models clad in black and pretending to play instruments.

The Film: Oooh boy is this a stinker. Matthew Broderick’s girlfriend leaves him for a chef. Broderick decides to move in next door to the chef’s apartment and spies on their “activities.” Meg Ryan is the chef’s former girlfriend. She and Broderick team up to try to split up the new, happy couple. Wouldn’t you know it, they fall in love. The plot is totally inane and all of the characters are complete idiots. Aside from that, it’s really boring.

The Connection: I think it’s fair to say that none of the characters in the movie are actually addicted to love. Broderick is addicted to pain. Ryan is addicted to revenge. The other two lovers just seem happy together. The title was clearly chosen because there was nothing else to call this dumb piece of nonsense, so they named it after a song. Avoid this movie.

Yes, there are some exceptions to this rule. La Bamba, Walk the Line, Boys Don’t Cry, and Lean On Me are all at least very good, if not excellent. However, you will notice that all of these movies have something in common. They’re all biopics. So if the movie named after a song happens to be a biopic, the rule no longer applies.

The only true exception to this rule is Stand By Me, which is not a biopic, is clearly named after the song, and is an excellent movie. I have no explanation for this, but you will notice that in this case, the title would have worked even if the song didn’t exist (though it wouldn’t have been as catchy). Do not avoid this movie.

Here’s a list of some other films that you should avoid because they’re named after songs and not any good. Guess which one Patrick Dempsey is in:
MovieIMDb RatingTomatometer
Girls Just Want to Have Fun5.433
Feeling Minnesota5.217
Material Girls2.45
Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band3.625
Eve of Destruction4.50
Something to Talk About5.435
Bye Bye, Love5.816
In the Mood5.860
Jersey Girl6.342
Love Potion #95.227
Wedding Bell Blues4.940

So when Superbad doesn’t live up to your expectations, remember that it’s named after a kickass James Brown tune and you should have known better.

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