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The Moment a Movie Turns Awful

I try not to turn movies off before they're over.  For one thing, it seems to take away your right to complain about it later - "How do you know it's no good?  You barely watched any of it!"  But more importantly, I feel like the movie could suddenly turn around and become amazing.  I'd hate to miss out.

Unfortunately, what with time being limited and me having to put up with the inconvenience of gainful employment, I have to follow my gut.  If a movie hasn't pulled me in by around 20 minutes, I have to turn it off.

This is a pretty good rule of thumb.  I think I read somewhere (probably Cracked, which means it's probably only 15% accurate) that the average human attention span is only about 20-30 minutes.  If you want to keep somebody engaged then you need to switch things up in that amount of time.  This is the reason that movies can't have scenes in the same location for too long and also why most TV shows tend to be around this length.

The 20 minute rule has generally served me well.  The only downside - and this is probably the pettiest thing I've said all week - is that it means I can't add the movie to my list of watched films.  I'll get that 10,000 Movies trophy some day... probably in my 50s, I guess.  Sigh....

Anyway, the real reason I wanted to talk about the 20 minute rule today is because I watched a movie earlier this week that not only failed the test, but managed to conclude one of the worst scenes I'd ever witnessed at right around 20 minutes.  It's like the director knew I was going to make a judgment call right then and he said, "This oughta put a cap on it."

The movie in question was Jacklight, an independent drama from the mid-'90s.  The first 10 minutes or so were starting to win me over; it was a bit slow-paced, but the acting was overall competent and I was kind of curious to see where it would go.  But then it looked like it was just going to be a bunch of 20-somethings complaining about life.  ("Man... wouldn't it be, like, easier if life was, like... I dunno, easy, man?  Like, isn't that weird?")

I was thinking I'd let it play regardless, since supposedly the movie was eventually going to be a thriller / mystery surrounding the accidental death of one of the characters' friends a few years previous.  I was thinking, "Wow, these characters are kind of snotty, but surely it's about to get better."

And then the water pump scene happened.

See, these five pals are hanging out on a ranch in Texas and talking about life when one of them goes out to a field to turn on an electric pump.  Except there's a cap on the top that's missing, so the pump starts spraying water up high.  Whoops!

Now, here on planet Earth, the next reasonable step would be... to shut it off.  You'd laugh at yourself, you'd put the cap on, and then you'd go dry off.  But even though the preceding chunk of the movie was grounded in awkward social tension, Jacklight decided it was time for some physical comedy.

So what happens next is that all five characters run out to the pump like a bunch of clumsy idiots and stumble over each other in a rejected Three Stooges bit while they frantically scream and struggle to put a cap on the pump, all the while shouting, "Turn it off!" and never actually turning it off.  Then one of them runs into the house to grab a wrench, but instead of looking for it carefully, he just grabs an entire kitchen drawer of junk and bounces it across the field outside, wrecking everything because he's an incompetent almost-human.  Then some peppy little music filters in to let you know that it's okay for you to laugh, and this goes on for maybe another 1-2 minutes before somebody screws the cap on.


I'm sorry, director of Jacklight.  I know your movie isn't exactly a huge hit and it's not really fair for me to bring it up on my blog just to be all pissy about it.  Who the hell am I, anyway?  I'm just some fat guy who bitches about movies while you went out and made one.

But really, dude?  Why did you think this scene was a good idea?  Wasn't your movie supposed to be realistic?  And meditative?  What value did this add?  These five people who seemed like characters a second ago all now seem like a bunch of fucking morons and I don't want to be in the same room with them anymore.

I may some day go back and finish this movie despite the 20 minute rule.  It has a 7.7 on IMDb - even though it's based on only 20 votes, that's got to be worth something, right?  In the meantime, feel free to post (or re-post elsewhere) if you can think of a similar moment that was so off-putting that you realized you had better things to do.