The Worst of Reel Toronto
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The Worst of Reel Toronto

For its fifth anniversary, Reel Toronto assembles a true Torontonian's guide to the worst films ever shot here.

Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.

As we mentioned last week in the first instalment in our multi-part fifth-anniversary Reel Toronto–thon, the average Rotten Tomatoes score for a made-in-Toronto movie sits just a fraction above 50 per cent. In fairness, the average for movies shot in Los Angeles or New York probably isn’t much better. The difference is that those movies, for the most part, take place where they were shot.

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York is a terrible movie, granted, but at least they shot it in New York! Glitter is just as horrible and it’s also set in New York, but it has an extra layer of terrible because of how transparent its fake New Yorkness is.

Our team of therapists advised us not to subject ourselves to all this again. “Remember how good Take This Waltz was? Live in that moment,” they begged us. But duty calls. Herewith, the most unabashedly horrible shot-in-Toronto movies we’ve profiled. To make this list, a movie can’t just be bad; it must also have made bad use of Toronto.

1   The Love Guru

The Love Guru deserves a special place, a very special place here. Unlike all the faux–New York movies we’ll get to in a second, The Love Guru‘s setting is actually Toronto. Even better, it’s about the Toronto Maple Leafs winning the Stanley Cup—which, sure, makes it a fantasy, but what a fantasy for Torontonians like us! And it stars (and was written by) local boy Mike Myers, who has been responsible for primo comedy in the past.

And what does it do with that all that puck on its stick? It scores on its own net and drags the whole city down with it. Oh sure, it’s clever to pretend the Scarborough Bluffs are in India…

…or to drag Kanye West down to the ACC for a pointless cameo (with Mike Myers as himself!)…

…or to desecrate Casa Loma (unless you think a sitar jam to “More Than Words” is clever).

Oh, well. If you’re strong enough, you can always take a little solace in this amazingly unlikely image. Even if the lockout ever ends, this might be the closest you come to seeing it. Now that’s scary.

2   Glitter

Glitter is generally regarded as one of the worst things to ever come out of Hollywood. It was such a dramatic failure that Mariah Carey had to step out of the spotlight and get treated for that most severe of celebrity maladies, “exhaustion.” Worse, “extreme exhaustion,” according to People magazine, which is like Encyclopedia Britannica when it comes to such things.

It does make minimal effort to pretend it was really shot in New York, mostly through hyeper-kinetic montages of the skyline. Yeah, it doesn’t work. As you can see above, they sullied the Opera House…


…and Copps Coliseum in their quest for perfect awfulness.

3   Short Circuit 2

If you’re not old enough, you don’t remember the first Short Circuit, let alone comprehend the second, which was shot here. The former was one of those surprising sleeper hits (and it starred Steve Guttenberg!). It was a rather charming, if silly, mid-’80s movie about a robot that becomes sentient after being hit by lightning.

And the latter? The first mistake was going forward with a sequel even though the two stars (Guttenberg and Ally Sheedy) decided to stay out. Then they set the film in New York but didn’t spend so much as a cent to use some stock skyline shorts or otherwise pretend the movie was really shot in the Big Apple. We appreciate the footage of ’80s Toronto, but does anyone who’s ever been to Times Square think that this opening scene, outside the Eaton Centre, passes muster? Come on!

This film doesn’t try at all! If you’d ever been to New York (or even read a book about it, or seen a movie set there) you’d know that a landmark building like this is nowhere to be seen…

…ditto for this…

…and for the huge overcompensation they used to pretend Queen’s Park is in the United States.

4   Anything Starring Eugene Levy

Euguene Levy has made good movies. And TV? Dude made some of the best TV ever! He’s got a shelf full of awards! But the Hamilton native seems to have this thing about taking cinematic gigs that are close to home, but that are just consistently awful. How could we pick just one?

We were happy when Levy got a career kick from American Pie. And we’re capitalists so we don’t begrudge him doing a sequel. But why so many? Why was each more horrible than the last?! Why bring them home with you??!! Wikipedia neutrally notes that he is “the only actor to have appeared in all eight of the American Pie films.” There are eight of them? And is that something you want in your obit?

Whether donning a toga at a Thornhill mansion…

…visiting the University of Toronto…

…or the campus of McMaster, in his hometown of Hamilton, Levy has brought some serious shame to town.

Cheaper by the Dozen 2 drags Steve Martin down into the muck, but at least it has the good sense to hang out mostly outside the city, like in these camp scenes shot at Burleigh Falls.

But they did come to town for some scenes, like this one at the Bloor Cinema.

We always like having Samuel L. Jackson around, but what genius thought a mismatched cop comedy thingie called The Man would work? Whether dining at the Kingsbrae Diner…

…failing to muster sufficient production savvy to move a garbage can in order to preserve the illusion of Big Apple–ness..

…or turning the Direct Energy Centre into an airport, there’s a lot of bad going down. Worth noting: Levy earned a Razzie nomination for the feat of producing The Man and Cheaper by the Dozen in the same year. He lost the Razzie to Torontonian Hadyen Christensen for his Revenge of the Sith performance. But Levy, at least, got to sleep in his own bed.

And New York Minute is just a vehicle for the Olsen Twins, so even the whole cast of SCTV couldn’t save it. Bringing in Andrea Martin for some filming at the Toronto Centre for the Arts couldn’t help.

They also tried to pretend Weston Road…

…and the Georgetown GO station are in New York. But none of it works.

5   Three-Way Tie: Terrible Action Movies

Again, you can’t blame us for refusing to pick just one of Exit Wounds, Maximum Risk, and Death Wish V. Three movies, all ostensibly set in the States (mostly New York, again!), all feature over-the-hill action stars in lesser works. There’s no postmodern Expendables irony here, folks. Just weak moviemaking.

Like, Steven Segal’s Exit Wounds is supposed to be set in Detroit and yet we see the CBC atrium…

…and Metro Hall.

Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Maximum Risk was shot at the classic Canary Restaurant…

…the Zanzibar…

…and tries to pretend the Yonge-Dundas area is actually Times Square.

But the real bottom of the barrel is Charles Bronson’s Death Wish V. Whether they’re pretending Knox College is a courthouse…

…throwing a guy through the window on Colborne Street…

…or asking you to believe our skyline looks anything like Manhattan’s, they’re just courting disaster from start to finish.

As you can see, there are many ways to shoot a bad movie in Toronto. Clearly, pretending Yonge Street looks anything like Times Square is a start, and doing a sequel doesn’t hurt either. But if you can work the otherwise-very-talented Eugene Levy in there too? Well, then, you’ve really got our attention.

Next Week: Cult classics and guilty pleasures.