Take Anaconda, for example. Arguably the birthplace of more recent crap fare like Sharknado. Except, this was a real movie, meant for the theater, meant to be taken (relatively) seriously. It's inherently ridiculous, but hey, so is Jaws: The Revenge and that was born out of one of the greatest thrillers ever--the original Jaws. There's a thin line and a slippery slope between a movie that should be taken seriously and a movie that exists to entertain the simpler-minded in its audience, and/or to make some quick cash for a very cynical version of Hollywood.
The cast alone here suggests something more serious. It's not A-listers. But, it's not all has-beens either. Eric Stoltz, Jennifer Lopez, Jon Voight, Ice Cube, Owen Wilson, Kari Wuhrer. And the setup--a documentarian headed into the Amazon--is far more... highbrow isn't the right word, but it's far "better" than an ex surfer saving the world from freak weather.
The music is almost too happy and excited (reminiscent of Cutthroat Island). The dramatic arrival of Voight is a little much. His accent and Hollywood-obvious "dangerous" are overdone. But, this is aiming for B-movie. And there have always been B-movies, always monster movies and disaster movies that really just aren't that good. But, 1) older ones have that forgivability factor because the effects weren't available to make things more real, and 2) they also don't have to be good. If they can just avoid being inherently stupid and offensive, they can be entertaining for the same reason that I say I don't (strictly) go to movies--the escapism thing. You can watch a bunch of attractive folks deal wth a giant snake and it draws you out of your life. Action and adventure, or the science fiction paranoia of, say, big radioactive creatures from '50s films--it offers up something to distract, or to focus (depending on the film). Something like Anaconda also offers up the exotic. Not just attractive actors but also attractive locations. And a decidedly unattractive situation.
And despite some things I've said previously, why shouldn't we seek out a movie that has obvious flaws, that embraces its flaws even? Why shouldn't we look for something fun, even if it isn't perfect? Not every movie can be some pretentious indie. Not every movie should be.
Anaconda isn't even that bad. It takes its time, it builds up the mystery, lets Voight chew up the scenery. There's the cold open with Danny Trejo, of course, and there's the title, so we know what's coming. But, the film does not rush into things. Forty minutes before the titular snake kills Mateo.
What works in a movie like this, or so many bad movies I've enjoyed over the years, is that there can be a guarantee of entertainment. Like a relationship. You get familiar with the film. You know what to expect, and it delivers. (To be fair, my distaste at the recent Sharknado 5 was because what it delivered with the mindless action and inane cameos from mostly has been celebrities just doesn't appeal to me. There is an audience for it, obviously. But, I want something more.) I recently came up with an idea for what to do with this blog next month, and it's all about familiarity. For me. Movies I grew up with. Movies I watched all the time as a kid. Movies that I could come back to time and time again because they were steady, they were giving. No matter what was going on in life, the right movie could make it all go away. Or add to it; it's not all escape. A nice thoughtful movie doesn't need to pull you out of life but instead make you weigh it, make you measure life and see it for all that it is. Groundhog Day is that for me, obviously. But, so are so many other movies. Old movies, new movies, good movies, bad movies.
As long as they offer comfort. Or discomfort when things are too comfortable. Time for thought when life needs measure. Mindless action when life is too full. It's not just one thing. But it has to be something.