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They’re so vain: pop culture’s most misguided vanity projects

Michael Jackson; Morrissey; Tom Hardy; Burt Reynolds with Cybill Shepherd; Sylvester  Stallone.
Me, myself and I... Michael Jackson; Morrissey; Tom Hardy; Burt Reynolds with Cybill Shepherd; Sylvester Stallone.

30 Rick Stein’s Long Weekends
Considering Rick Stein is so charming and watchable, it doesn’t matter what he’s doing as long as he’s on screen. So Long Weekends was probably an easy pitch. “What if Rick travels around, eats delicious food then talks about how nice it is?” Yep, done: 10 episodes and a book, please. Next up: Rick Stein Reviews Motorway Service Stations, which we’d also cancel plans to watch. IS

29 At Long Last Love
In which writer, producer and director Peter Bogdanovich writes, produces and directs a loving homage to the glorious Hollywood musicals of the 1930s, but botches the job thanks to a bizarre insistence on casting Burt Reynolds and his then-girlfriend Cybill Shepherd, neither of whom could dance or sing. A film so bad that Bogdanovich printed apology letters in newspapers. SH

28 Garth Brooks’s Chris Gaines
Country’s answer to Bowie – 90s zillion-seller Garth Brooks – put a lot of creative effort into the Ziggy he used to market one album of pop-rock material. Mascara-underlined, dark-haired smoothie Gaines came with a full backstory: Brooks even shot a video for his alter ego’s teenage pre-fame band. Double-platinum was a flop by Brooks’s standards at the time, but in Lost In You he did manage his only US Top 40 single. GH

27 Real Rob

Wardrobe malfunction: Rob Schneider in Real Rob.
Wardrobe malfunction: Rob Schneider in Real Rob. Photograph: Netflix

To everyone else, Rob Schneider might be “that guy from the Adam Sandler films”, but apparently Rob himself thinks he’s a Hollywood star so fascinating, he needs two sitcoms based on his life. The first, Rob, was cancelled in 2012 after eight episodes, but Real Rob – currently on its second series on Netflix – stars his real-life wife Patricia and daughter Matilda, and is also created by, produced by and written by (you guessed it) Rob Schneider. IS

26 Vanilla Ice’s Cool As Ice
In 1991, at the peak of his powers, Ice was seduced into playing a mall-rat Brando in a personality vehicle that saw him taking on the role of wild seductive interloper in a dorky small town. But the real-life kids had already moved on. The film grossed less than a quarter of its costs. GH

25 Paradise Alley
If you see Sylvester Stallone’s career as a process of egomania course-corrected by incompetence, then Paradise Alley is a thing of beauty. Written, directed by and starring Stallone, Paradise Alley is a numbskulled period-based wrestling counterpart to Rocky. Worse still, he actually sings the theme tune. Note: Sylvester Stallone sings like Nick Knowles in anaphylactic shock. SH

24 Pitbull’s vodka

Crunk’s not dead: rapper Pitbull performs in Clarkston, Michigan, August 2016.
Crunk’s not dead: rapper Pitbull performs in Clarkston, Michigan, August 2016. Photograph: Scott Legato/Getty

Mr Worldwide would like you to know that he can ball with the Sean Combses of this world, too. Which is why he bought into his own vodka brand, Voli 305. These days, Fergie is also an equity partner, and the sorta-rapper was last seen pushing his presence on a vodka-themed Voli cruise. GH

23 The Orville
Seth MacFarlane seems like the ego-free, humble type, so it’s a total shocker he has ended up in a star vehicle like The Orville. Created and written by Star Trek fan MacFarlane, the sitcom sees him live out his boyhood dream of being the captain of a spaceship. Series one cameos from the likes of Rob Lowe scream “I’m kind of a big deal”; Jon Favreau directs the first episode; and Liam Neeson and Charlize Theron appear, too. IS

22 Kat and Alfie: Redwater
Shane Richie and Jessie Wallace were incredible in EastEnders as permanently squabbling Queen Vic landlords Alfie and Kat, so it was confusing when their spin-off saw them sent to a Irish seaside village to hunt for a son Kat had never mentioned before. Talk of a second series has gone very quiet, and Richie and Wallace will both return to Albert Square this year. Probably not mentioning the fact their characters seemingly died at the end of Redwater. IS

21 Under the Cherry Moon

Party like it’s $1.99: the late Prince in Under the Cherry Moon (1986).
Party like it’s $1.99: the late Prince in
Under the Cherry Moon (1986).
Photograph: Alamy

Where Prince comprehensively proved that nobody is a genius at everything. After sacking the director midway through production, Prince haplessly took the reins of this 1986 monstrosity, which is best described as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels after being kicked in the face by a horse. SH

20 The Lowe Files
Rob Lowe’s new show sees everyone’s third favourite Brat Packer hunt ghosts and investigate underwater alien bases with his sons John Owen and Matthew. During filming, Rob claims he was attacked by a sasquatch and almost died. Pity the poor exec who thought that meeting was about casting Lowe in a gritty drama, only to have to enthusiastically nod through a 20-minute lecture on how Rob actually saw Bigfoot. IS

19 Morrissey’s The List of the Lost
Coming on the back of a breathlessly reviewed autobiography, Morrissey’s 2015 debut novel provoked a very different kind of exhalation from critics: laughter. “At this, Eliza and Ezra rolled together into the one giggling snowball of full-figured copulation, screaming and shouting as they playfully bit and pulled at each other in a dangerous and clamorous rollercoaster coil of sexually violent rotation.” Etc, etc. GH

18 The Ranch

The clothes maketh the manchild: Ashton Kutcher (left) in The Ranch.
The clothes maketh the manchild: Ashton Kutcher (left) in The Ranch. Photograph: Greg Gayne/Netflix

After Two and a Half Men (the Charlie Sheen-less reboot) ended, who was desperate to see Ashton Kutcher play another manchild put in an uncomfortable situation? No one. Aside from Netflix, it seems, which has made four – yes, four – seasons of The Ranch, Ashton Kutcher’s sitcom which also employs his That 70s Show mates Wilmer Valderrama and Danny Masterson. Pity poor Mila Kunis, who probably has to politely watch every episode. IS

17 Beyond the Sea
Kevin Spacey writes, directs and stars in a biopic of Bobby Darin. He sings all the songs, despite not being able to sing. He plays Darin in the prime of youth, even though Darin died when he was eight years younger than Spacey at the time of production. His makeup makes him look like Jude Law’s character from AI. Terrible, even before Spacey was outed as one of culture’s greatest monsters. SH

16 Jamie’s Quick and Easy Food
The British public love him, but Jamie Oliver is starting to look like a man who can’t make a coffee without getting a telly show commissioned off the back of it. Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals? Great! 15 Minute Meals? OK, then! Only five ingredients? Let’s do it! What next: food you can make while doing a handstand? Meals cooked by cats? Dinner parties that take two minutes and only feature two ingredients sourced from the dented-cans shelf? It’s already in production! IS

15 Madonna’s Swept Away

All at sea: Madonna in Swept Away.
All at sea: Madonna in Swept Away. Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext/Channel 4

Heaven forbid Madge should make a bad film, right? But this clumsy 2002 remake directed by her then-husband Guy Ritchie drew a level of bile from critics only matched the next year by J-Lo and Ben Affleck’s Gigli. It capped a remarkable season at the Golden Raspberries, where it swept the board and Madonna picked up worst actress, plus worst supporting actress for Die Another Day. GH

14 Ballers
Essentially just a way for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to remind us that as well as being a wrestler, A-list movie star and Instagram’s most #blessed man, he was also once a pro American football player. Ballers sees Dwayne spend all day filming on yachts and rooftop bars in Miami, occasionally stripping for sex scenes with beautiful women or chatting to famous sportsmen making cameos. Are we sure this isn’t just a behind-the-scenes look at The Rock’s life? IS

13 Mariah Carey’s record labels
At the peak of her powers in 1997, Mariah followed Madonna into the label game, with Crave Records. It managed one US Top 10 hit for R&B girl trio Allure before shuttering the following year. By 2002, the bug had bitten again: new label, MonarC released Mimi’s biggest flop of the era, Charmbracelet. Last year, she was said to be having a third go with Butterfly MC records, and its only signing – Mariah Carey. GH

12 Freebass

Out of Order: freelance Freebass member Peter Hook plays with his band the Light at the Rewind North Festival, August, 2017.
Out of Order: freelance Freebass member Peter Hook plays with his band the Light at the Rewind North Festival, August, 2017. Photograph: Alamy

Right, get this. It’s a band, only with the bassist from the Stone Roses, the bassist from the Smiths and the bassist from New Order, and … the singer from 2002’s nearly men Haven. As an elevator pitch, it’s efficient in summarising why you should push the emergency call button on the elevator. A long-mooted album finally arrived in 2010, to mixed reviews. GH

11 Mr Saturday Night
A film that began as a lightweight Saturday Night Live sketch and then, under the guidance of Billy Crystal’s script, production, direction and acting, became a sprawling, over-serious, borderline melodrama about the pressures of fame. Crystal clearly wanted Mr Saturday Night to be the Citizen Kane of comedy, but it’s barely even the Findus frozen peas advert of comedy. SH

10 Taboo
Tom Hardy’s incredibly intense period drama, created and written by Tom and his dad, Edward “Chips” Hardy, might have been unintelligible (viewers complained they couldn’t understand the storyline because of all the mumbled dialogue), but it turns out everyone loves a gruff A-lister in a big hat: it’s reportedly set for two further series on the BBC. IS

9 Hudson Hawk

Die Horribly: Bruce Willis in the critically reviled crime caper Hudson Hawk (1991).
Die Horribly: Bruce Willis in the critically reviled crime caper Hudson Hawk (1991). Photograph: Ronald Grant

Bruce Willis stars, co-writes and comes up with the theme tune of this zany toilet-flush of a would-be absurdist comedy. Slapstick in a way that Faces of Death is slapstick, funny in the way that ebola is funny, you could watch Hudson Hawk a million times and still not really know what it was about. SH

8 Moonwalker
Which is your favourite bit? The part where Michael Jackson’s performance is intercut with shots of Martin Luther King, JFK and Mother Theresa? The part where Michael Jackson turns into a claymation rabbit? The part where Michael Jackson complains at length about unwanted intrusion into his life, during a film he’s made and released? The part where Michael Jackson befriends a load of homeless children for some reason? SH

7 The Life of Kylie
Keeping Up With the Kardashians has had seven spin-off shows in total, but The Life of Kylie was the worst. Instead of lifting the lid on what fascinates her fans (her chaotic love life, her surgery), Kylie Jenner based the whole show around how she wanted to be perceived: a makeup mogul who finds it like, really hard to be rich and famous. The result was akin to sitting through four hours of her Snapchat videos on loop. IS

6 The Postman

You’ve got (hate) mail: Kevin Costner in The Postman.
You’ve got (hate) mail: Kevin Costner in The Postman. Photograph: Sportsphoto/Allstar/Warner Bros

Kevin Costner directs Kevin Costner in a film where Kevin Costner plays the world’s greatest actor who splits his time between delivering Shakespearean soliloquies and literally saving all of humanity. What’s that? Not egotistical enough? Fine, it also ends with a crowd of tearful onlookers unveiling a statue of Kevin Costner. This film is three hours long. SH

5 Lil Wayne’s Rebirth
Classic Midas syndrome. At the point in his career when Wayne seemed to be free-associating platinum records in his sleep, Mr Carter decided that he would attempt to conquer the neighbouring territory of rock. At one point in his shows, he would come out alone and “play” the guitar onstage. His creative Operation Barbarossa came to a very sticky end. It’s the sixth-lowest rated album of all time on Metacritic. GH

4 Tin Machine
The strangeness of Tin Machine was the sense it was an anti-vanity project. The band would refuse interviews where they weren’t given equal air time, despite the fact that one of them was noodling 80s guitar dork Reeves Gabrels and another was David Bowie. The Dame thought he could find creative freedom by submerging his identity in a Machine. All he found was a creative rock bottom that served as basecamp for a gradual rehabilitation. GH

3 Alex James’s cheese

Brie’s so high: Blur’s Alex James, purveyor of cheeses.
Brie’s so high: Blur’s Alex James, purveyor of cheeses. Photograph: Richard Saker for the Observer

Is it actually vainglorious to produce a tasty foodstuff? Yes, if you’re Alex James, and you find that your day job – looking hot atop a droopy bass with a fag poking out of your gob – is somehow no longer good enough. In 2012, six of James’ cheese varieties (including salad cream, ketchup and tikka masala) were withdrawn from sale at Asda for being “too ahead of their time”. GH

2 Battlefield Earth
This 2000 movie could have been the new Star Wars, if it weren’t based on a terrible book by the unpleasant founder of a suspect quasi-religious organisation and forced into production as an act of open recruitment by John Travolta, who decided on a costume that made him look as if he was being skull-humped by an octopus. SH

1 James Franco’s entire directing career
Where to begin? 2014’s I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel, a film about a script meeting where James Franco plays himself? Masculinity and Me, where James Franco delivers monologues about rape? A documentary about himself called Francophenia? It doesn’t matter. James Franco may soon vanish up his own bottom. SH

This article titled "The 30 most misguided vanity projects: from Morrissey’s bad sex book to Pitbull's vodka" was written by Gavin Haynes, Stuart Heritage and Issy Sampson, for The Guardian on Saturday 13 January 2018 07.00am

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