"IT'S NOT TV. IT'S HBO."

As network slogans go, that one's pretty accurate. HBO's original programming is indeed unlike most anything else on television, from comedies to dramas to documentaries. In fact, HBO is probably the main reason why many people splurge on "premium" cable or satellite subscriptions. But after spending many dollars and many hours waiting for the installer, your first night of basking in HBO's glow will reveal a horrifying discovery: The ultimate cable network plays some god-awful movies. Worse, it airs them over and over and over again. When you consider that HBO has at its command the entire history of film, with thousands of classic and near-classic movies to choose from, it begs the question: Why are HBO's programmers so captivated by straight-to-video Rutger Hauer movies? And why do they think we want to see them? Keep in mind that we're not talking about any of the hundred or so HBO offshoot-channels–these epics are relentlessly repeated on the one and only original HBO.

Picking the Bottom 5 movies on HBO presented a dilemma: Considering the vast number of straight-to-video titles on its schedule, it would be like shooting fish in a barrel. (Besides that, these movies often hold a morbid allure: watching has-been stars doing really awful work.) So, our Bottom 5 contenders have been limited to major studio movies that saw wide release in theaters before moving to video; meanwhile, the straight-to-video pics received much-deserved honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions (With actual HBO synopses):

Bone Daddy: Another sad Rutger Hauer "thriller," from 1998. "The manhunt is on in this thriller about a serial murderer who debones his living victims and the novelist who's out to catch him before he kills again." Hmmm. I bet deboning hurts.

The Devil's Child: An old twist on the "my child is the antichrist" genre with Kim Delaney, from 1997. "…when the previously sterile Nikki becomes pregnant after meeting a new man in her apartment complex, she discovers that her mother may have cut a diabolical deal to save her little girl's life." Some mothers just don't mind their own business.

Icebreaker: It's always nice to see Bruce Campbell get some work, but why must we pay the price? "It's peak season at the Killington ski resort, and all ski-patrol officer Matt Foster wants is to impress his girlfriend's visiting father. But when terrorists turn up and start taking hostages, his expertise on the slopes becomes a vital weapon…" Yep. America's hidden weakness: Its ski resorts!

If Looks Could Kill: Richard Grieco and Linda Hunt–together at last! "In Paris with his high-school French club, Grieco's mistaken for an undercover agent–and that's when the fun begins!" And very quickly ends within the next half-minute.

Lethal Tender: Gary Busey. Jeff Fahey. Let the psycho-acting throw-down begin! "A tough cop and a vengeful madman face off in this suspenseful thriller. The prize: Chicago's water!"

 

Multiplicity (1996)

Michael Keaton's construction worker (!) is so gosh-darn busy with work, his wife, and his one daughter, that he has no choice but to clone himself. Clone himself! Do you hear? He clones himself! Ohhhh, can you imagine the possibilities of five Michael Keatons all brandishing their unique Keaton brand of humor at once? This may be more hilarity than the human body can withstand. Nevertheless, HBO dares to risk our lives 25 times this month.

 

 

Who's Harry Crumb? (1989)

Comic genius John Candy made many, many mediocre movies in his short lifetime, and this is certainly one of the very most mediocre. As bumbling detective Harry Crumb, Candy at least got to wear lots of silly costumes and engage in slapstick. If only the hijinks had been genuinely wacky… But, just in case you may have missed seeing Who's Harry Crumb? in the last 13 years, HBO has generously slotted it 23 times over two months across four channels. Enjoy it as often as you like!

 

Terminal Velocity (1994)

This "Hitchcockian" thriller from Charlie Sheen's dark period casts good-time Charlie as rogue skydiving instructor Richard "Ditch" Brodie. Intrigue erupts when one of his beautiful students literally drops dead! And then several car chases ensue! Things explode and guns blast! As other film historians have noted (such as E!), Terminal Velocity was the last "major" movie Sheen made for many years to come as he dallied with drugs and hookers instead of filmmaking. Oh, it's a long way from Platoon, but just a short hop over to All Dogs Go to Heaven 2. HBO must be commended for giving us a small peak into this often overlooked chapter of film history.

 

Oxford Blues (1984)

Ah, who can forget the first time they saw this classic of '80s brat-pack cinema? It was a turbulent time in young Rob Lowe's life–The Hotel New Hampshire had flopped and he had yet to prove himself in the blockbuster-to-be St. Elmo's Fire. But, oh, he certainly managed to make hearts swoon with this romantic comedy set in the fiercely competitive world of British sculling. It's comforting to know that HBO isn't afraid of airing these obscure, old, art-house films about people with English accents. Also: Look for the bonus appearance of fellow brat-packer Ally Sheedy. She wears kooky clothes!

 

Son in Law (1993)

Oh, thank you, HBO! Thank you for giving us this rare opportunity to reconsider the film career of that misunderstood screen artist, Pauly Shore. Perhaps now, through HBO's vigilant efforts, the reputation of this much-maligned comedic genius will at long last be rescued from critical disdain. And what better role to prove Shore's artistry than his introspective performance as "Crawl," the party-hardy dude from L.A. who falls in love with a simple country girl? All of Shore's many talents are abundantly evident in this virtuoso display of method-acting prowess. No one–not even your fancy-pants DeNiros or Brandos–could have handled the level of complexity required in capturing the quintessential "city boy in the country" character that Shore weaves through sheer movie magic. It's a blessing from the HBO gods that they will allow us to watch Son in Law 15 times in the month of April, plus eight high-definition broadcasts to boot. You just can't get enough of the Wiez!

—April 18, 2002

 

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