As the poet A. E. Housman elegized, the only way to preserve an unmarred reputation is to die young, if only metaphorically. But it’s hard to quit while you’re at the top of your game, particularly when money is involved. Which is why Molly Ringwald stars in The Secret Life of the American Teenager. And how casinos make money. And how the sequel… and the prequel… and the threequel were born.
Some we can’t complain about; many of our favorite superheroes peaked in their second movies, and the world would be a very different place had J.K. Rowling not stuck around for a round two. But then there are the Molly Ringwalds and the reckless gamblers — and the productions that might have been remembered more fondly had they called it quits instead of persisting with these slapdash, often pitiful, in many cases straight-to-DVD and made-for-TV follow ups, below the jump.
S. Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale (2009)
At best, this straight-to-DVD sequel to David Kelly’s 2001 masterpiece Donnie Darko is bad fan fiction. The movie — which Kelly had nothing to do with and went t0 great lengths to make sure everybody knows that — also doesn’t have much to do with the original Donnie Darko. Other than a common bunny mask here and there, Samantha Darko, and the returning theme of alternate reality, the two movies are about as affiliated as Jon Stewart and Jon Bon Jovi. On several occasions, S. Darko tries to expand on the movies’ nominal relationship by alluding to some connection between Donnie’s ultimate fate in Kelly’s film and the strange events that take place in the Utah town Samantha’s failed road trip lands her in. But it never goes on to make that connection, which is the haphazard treatment that most of the other dead-end plot lines receive, too; time travel whimsically saves and kills a few people, characters’ actions don’t turn out to be as efficacious as we expect, and we never find out why a few bizarre phenomena occur. This movie evokes one immediate reaction in viewers: What?! But most come to their senses with a wiser follow-up reaction: Wait, don’t answer that.
Romy & Michele: In the Beginning (2005)
In 2005, ABC Family produced an original movie prequel to everyone’s favorite high school reunion, showing, if nothing else, that people can change a lot in a mere seven years. Like, a lot-a lot — like Katherine Heigl to Mira Sorvino and Alex Breckenridge to Lisa Kudrow a lot. Three years after their high-school graduation, Romy and Michele are still broke, losers, and not in LA, as they’d like to be. So the two pick up, move to LA, and do the same thing there that they would in their hometown of Tucson, which is to say that they act really ditzy while wearing trashy hooker clothing. It’s the same bubbleheaded duo we got in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997) except without the original, lovable characters or the hilarious reunion backdrop — which might explain why it only screened on cable and why you’ve never heard of it.
Splash, Too (1988)
Riding off the tails of Ron Howard’s 1984 Splash, starring Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah as his mermaid lover, the Disney Channel’s original movie sequel, Splash, Too, aired on TV four years later in two parts. Howard’s original plot was a pretty closed one, leaving us no expectation for a sequel, and in fact almost eliminating the possibility of one from the get-go; the end of Splash gives the interspecies lovebirds (fish?) an ultimatum: Allen (Hanks) could either stay in New York and say goodbye to Madison or go live in the sea with her, never to return to New York. That didn’t deter Disney too much, though, whose writers brought Madison (now Amy Yasbeck) and Allen (now Tod Waring) back to the big city to save a family business and a dolphin in danger. The movie’s tagline tells it all: “Four years ago, a man and a mermaid swam away with your heart. Look who’s back making waves.”
Bambi II (2006)
If you’re like us, you probably don’t remember very much about Bambi except that it was both a great film and contained one of the most scarring scenes in any children’s movie — the murder of Bambi’s mother. Maybe it’s for this reason that a whopping 64 years after Bambi’s release, Disney felt the need to deal with all the harm it did to America’s children and make Bambi II, a midquel in which a stunned Bambi deals with losing his mom. Or maybe not, considering that Bambi II is an equally heartbreaking coming-of-age tale in which the Great Prince of the Forest, Bambi’s birth father, reluctantly assumes guardianship over Bambi only because no other does are available at the moment, while the young deer comes into his own with the help of his friends.
Home Alone 4: Taking Back the House (2002)
Home Alone 4 or, more accurately, Home Alone 1.5, is set in between the 1990 and 1992 classics, but we wouldn’t recommend watching them in that order — or watching Home Alone 4 at all, really. The film makes very little sense as an interquel, as its plot involves the divorce of Kevin’s parents and his father Peter’s remarriage to a wealthy woman named Natalie, while in Home Alone 2, Peter is still happily married to Kevin’s mother Kate. But if logistics were this made-for-TV movie’s only problems, it would have been better received than it was. Marv is back in the game, after Home Alone 3 (1997) — a much better offshoot — featured a different robber team. But Marv isn’t really Marv, as an insulted Daniel Stern, the actor who originally played the part, turned down the role. Obviously, Kevin isn’t really Kevin either, as Macaulay Culkin was of legal drinking age by 2002.
Ace Ventura: Pet Detective Jr. (2009)
In Ace Ventura: Pet Detective Jr., Josh Flitter stars as a young Ace, Jim Carrey’s son, with an impulse to solve the mystery of some disappearing pets and to absolve his jailed mother, who has been wrongly implicated in the string of thefts. Why isn’t an absent Ace Sr. helping out his son and wife? Because he disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle. While this convenient cover-up for Jim Carrey’s conspicuous absence makes the movie nothing short of a travesty, it deserves a pat on the back for choosing not to hire some B-grade stand-in to replace Carrey and for the tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment that the only purpose the name Ace Ventura plays here is to lure the franchise’s old fans under false pretenses — though that hardly seems necessary, as the TV movie’s adolescent target audience wasn’t even alive when the Ace Ventura movies debuted. All this is not to imply that Ace Ventura: Pet Detective Jr. is not a bad movie; it is. If you were a fan of Pet Detective (1994) and When Nature Calls (1995), don’t even think about watching the kiddie spin-off. But if you’re a kid, or are watching with one, go for it.
My Summer Story (1994)
There’s a reason you haven’t heard of My Summer Story, the 1994 sequel to A Christmas Story (1983), originally released as It Runs in the Family — when you make a sequel to a kids’ movie over a decade later, there’s no way you can use the original cast. But even though it belongs on DVD and not in theaters, it’s worth seeing on DVD. While it’s angering to think that a character as endearing and nostalgic as Peter Billingsley’s Ralphie can be callously re-cast, Jean Shepherd’s narration doesn’t lose its touch this time around, and Kieran Culkin actually makes for a pretty decent Ralphie.
Legally Blondes (2009)
You’ve probably heard of Legally Blonde: Red, White & Blonde, the 2003 sequel to 2001’s Legally Blonde. You’ve probably watched — and, let’s be real, loved — it. The one you probably haven’t seen is its direct-to-video 2009 spin-off threequel, which, despite being produced by Reese Witherspoon, the original legal blonde herself, has an unfortunate, juvenile plot concerning Elle Woods’ British twin cousins and is only very tenuously tied to the storyline of the MGM movies. The younger Woods are victims framed as villains in a teenage bully’s scheme with twists and turns in every direction that land them in their high school’s student court. The only aspects of the originals that survive are the pink wardrobes and the punting dogs. It does get an A for presumptuous enthusiasm, though; the movie clearly leaves off on a purposeful cliffhanger, making way for a fourquel in which a new brunette bully threatens to rise…
The Birds II: Land’s End (1994)
Only 31 years after Hitchcock’s timeless classic The Birds (1963) came this TV sequel by Alan Smithee. The movie, which somehow successfully enlisted Tippi Hedrin, the original’s star, to play a minor role, takes place on Gull Island and is a botched version of the same old story — without any of Hitchcock’s love narrative or genius. In place of all that, The Birds II: Land’s End gives us more violence and more gore. We have corpses with pecked-out eye sockets, birds attacking sharks, and, our personal implausible favorite, people fighting birds. What’s not quite nice but at least honest about this sequel is that no one’s pretending to like it, not even the director; Smithee is a time-old generic pseudonym for directors who are, presumably, too embarrassed to stamp their names on their shameful final products. Thank God Hitchcock didn’t live to see this.
The Jerk, Too (1984)
Navin Johnson, the beloved simpleton from Steve Martin’s The Jerk (1979), is also the star in its sequel The Jerk, Too — but the character loses something in his metamorphosis from Steve Martin to Mark Blankfield. Both films are armed with slapstick, though the clichéd 1984 pie-in-face scene doesn’t really stand out next to its rival, the classic 1979 can-shootout scene. Martin was involved in both productions, though more heavily in the original, and it’s apparent that he gave up on the latter, rumored to have been intended as a TV show pilot that never took off.