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A paycheck’s a paycheck: Seven unapologetic hack directors.

A paycheck’s a paycheck: Seven unapologetic hack directors. (photo)

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Depending on your proclivities and where you live, here are the three most important directors with movies opening Friday: Andrea Arnold (whose “Fish Tank” opens in New York), the Hughes brothers (formerly of “Menace II Society” and long past their sell-by date, whose “The Book of Eli” opens wide) and Brian Levant.

It’s Mr. Levant, director of “The Spy Next Door,” who primarily concerns me, and I’m maybe using a different sense of the world “important” in his case. Aside from the remarkable fact that his movie involves Jackie Chan sharing co-star credit with George Lopez and Billy Ray Cyrus, and that it’s currently rocking zero percent approval on Rotten Tomatoes — this alleged comedy looks like one of the worst hack works to recently straggle into theaters.

You might look at a movie like “The Spy Next Door” (whose tagline — “Part spy. Part babysitter” — has been amended by some anonymous wag at my subway stop to “Fart spy. Fart babysitter.”) as just another kids’ movie by some anonymous hack. But anonymous hacks grow moss among us, garnering the careers owed to others through sheer persistence. Below, seven of the worst offenders.

Brian Levant (“Problem Child 2,” “The Flintstones,” “Snow Dogs”)

After doing sitcom-writing time on “Mork & Mindy” and “Happy Days,” among others, Levant took his skills to the big-screen, debuting with “Problem Child 2,” a continuation of the series that combined divorce guilt with “Bad Seed” tendencies. For wrangling the massive technical challenges of “The Flintstones” (a movie with an oddly high effort:value ratio), Levant got a reprieve of sorts — everyone loves a good sport — only to make the legendarily leaden “Jingle All The Way,” a time capsule of holiday shopping madness and not much else. Aside from the below, Levant’s last credit was the direct-to-vid “Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins,” picking up the franchise from arch-hack Raja Gosnell (see below). Some choice moments from “Snow Dogs”:

Shawn Levy (“The Pink Panther,” “Cheaper By The Dozen,” “A Night At The Museum”)

Levy — who graduated Yale at 20 after a decent career as a late-teenage actor — is clearly not a dumb guy, which makes his highly profitable ventures into cynical film hackery all the more woeful. Whether mutually building his investments with Steve Martin in debased ventures or marshaling the children’s FX to run on time, Levy seems to show a commitment to nothing more than paying the bills. It would take only a modicum of effort to make these products even a little less insulting, but I suppose that’s asking too much. In revenge, here’s Levy as child actor, in the apparently indelible “Zombie Nightmare.”

Dennis Dugan (“Problem Child,” Adam Sandler’s career)

Hacks breed hacks: Levant inherited “Problem Child 2” from Dugan, who similarly broke into features with the first installment. But — like Levy — Dugan was also an actor. Before directing the Adam Sandler landmarks “Happy Gilmore,” “Big Daddy,” “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry” and “You Don’t Mess With The Zohan” (not to mention “Beverly Hills Ninja”) — Dugan did his time in ’70s and ’80s bit parts, mostly on TV. A rare film part was in 1976’s “Norman… Is That You?,” in which Redd Foxx discovers his son is probably gay and definitely living with the ultimate fruitcake in San Francisco. Dugan is that fruitcake, entrusted — in the words of Roger Ebert’s contemporary review — with little more than “[swishing] around whipping up Prune Flambe Surprise and packing his hostess gowns.” No wonder “directing” Adam Sandler seemed like a better option.

Peter Segal (“Tommy Boy,” “Anger Management,” “Get Smart”)

Peter Segal seems to have the unique ability to turning even the most promising casts into garbage — Steve Carrell, Alan Arkin and Dwayne Johnson were recent casualties in “Get Smart,” and somehow Jack Nicholson held his nose long enough for a paycheck on the uninspired “Anger Management.” So many improvisers, so few results? It’s awfully dispiriting. Here’s Segal’s opening sequence from “Naked 33 1/3: The Final Insult,” which is kind of funny as a sloppy parody of “The Untouchables” (I wonder if Segal knows Brian De Palma was taking on “Battleship Potemkin” in his stairway shootout) and as a ’90s compendium of hot topics: disgruntled postal workers, illegal Mexican gardeners and — hot damn — a clearly Islamic terrorist being shot just as a gag.

Donald Petrie (“Mystic Pizza,” “Miss Congeniality,” “Welcome To Mooseport”)

Another workaday actor turned director, Petrie never got the kind of name-billing Dugan did. As for his directorial skills — let’s turn to Scott Foundas’ appraisal of the recently failed Nia Vardalos comeback vehicle “My Life In Ruins,” which he described as directed “in a manner of speaking.” Subsequent failures include Gene Hackman’s last-ever thespian turn in “Welcome To Moosewood,” the Christopher Lloyd-starring reboot of “My Favorite Martian” and the uber-drecky “Miss Congeniality.” Fortunately, his reputation lies safe in the hall of chick flicks with “Mystic Pizza.” To counterbalance that, here’s a trailer for a particularly disreputable-looking movie he had a small role in: “H.O.T.S.,” aka “T&A Academy.”

Raja Gosnell (“Scooby Doo,” “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” “Big Momma’s House”)

Gosnell came up the hard way, editing his way from “Teen Wolf Too” to the relative heights of the worst parts of the John Hughes factory — “Only The Lonely,” “Home Alone 2,” ‘Mrs. Doubtfire” — before getting to forge his own bold path starting with “Home Alone 3.” I remember seeing the trailer for “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” and thinking “Huh, CGI talking dogs. Must be a Raja Gosnell movie.” And, no joke, the director of the first two live-action “Scooby Doo” movies (see how it all comes back around?) turned out to be the director of “Chihuahua” indeed. Here’s one of the more painful looking assignments from his editorial years, a buddy comedy with Christopher Lloyd and Gregory Hines:

Brian Robbins (“Ready To Rumble,” “Norbit,” “Meet Dave”)

Robbins actually made it through 114 episodes of “Head of the Class,” the ’80s ABC sitcom about a class for gifted students, of which he played one, alongside future Mike Tyson bride Robin Givens. After a stint hosting a “Pictionary” game show, Robbins turned to a second career in directing, with people to defend virtually every part of his career. Kenan and Kel enthusiasts love “Good Burger,” ex-high-school football players love “Varsity Blues,” and author/New Yorker critic Richard Brody is an advocate for the much-reviled “Norbit,” though he concedes Robbins “doesn’t do much more than stage-manage the riotous proceedings.” Here’s a trailer for “C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud,” which — as it proudly announces — stars “Brian Robbins from ‘Head of the Class,’ Gerrit Graham of ‘Police Academy VI,’ Robert Vaughn, Bianca Jagger, Larry Linville of ‘M*A*S*H,’ and many other popular stars.”

[Photo: “The Spy Next Door,” Lionsgate, 2010]

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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