The First $20 Million is Always the Hardest (2002)
Directed by Mick Jackson
Written by Jon Favreau

Followers of the Loud Bassoon Hot Potato Toss will recognize that there is a certain subtlety required to dish out a bona fide punishing experience—selecting something "bad" is easy enough, but identifying something with layer after layer of badness takes real savvy.

And what is "bad," anyway? It's probably not what you think. An Olsen Twins movie? Nope—that's bound to be kind of hilarious. A dated videogame? Similarly, there's some camp value.

Fellow staffer Bradley A. Milton, I hereby acclaim you as the King of Pain. Only you can trawl the bowels of pop culture to emerge with the most rancid, unpleasant, enraging anti-treasures that can be found. You go down to Tutenkahmen's tomb, bypass the gilded riches, and hand me a fistful of fossilized mummy jizz.

What you have against me, I can't imagine. I find you friendly enough around the office. Perhaps it was that whole thing about me running off to Vegas with your first wife. Whatever it is: consider my life-debt paid in full.

How Milton even heard about this movie is beyond me. It's the kind of shit that shows up with a sole copy on Blockbuster's new release shelf for about a week, before being forever buried in the aisles of the comedy section somewhere between Finding Forrester and Forrest Gump (um, wait, were either of those comedies?)

Arch and self-satisfied, $20 Million attempts to be a "dot-comedy" set in the internet boom of the late 90s … except it's fiercely pro-dot-com, and it was released in 2002. Jon Favreau, of Swingers fame (and nothing else), provides a screenplay rife with contrivances and clumsy dialogue that's trying desperately to be "hip," but succeeds mostly in producing acrid blank stares. Joke after joke is deployed, your lips pucker, and you sit in disbelief that anyone involved might have thought they were doing something worthwhile.

Spiritually, it's Revenge of the Nerds crossed with Wall Street and seasoned with more Jerry Maguire than is good for anyone. Adam Garcia turns in the sort of Tom Cruise-style character that made The Color of Money and Cocktail so charming … fifteen years ago.

The story concerns a ragtag group of tech-folk endeavoring to invent the world's first $99 portable computer. The requisite "programmers are such nerds" insights are made, with bountiful focus on internet porn and compulsive behavior. Surprisingly, Jake Busey comes across as incredibly appealing—mainly because everything around him is even worse.

The beautiful and talented Rosario Dawson wastes her career here, so far above the material and the rest of the cast that you wonder whether it was done as a favor to stave off blackmail. Good as she is, her subplot is easily the most vacant and unnecessary of all. And worse, the purity her character represents (she's a "simplify your life"-type artist) is hijacked by Garcia to market his invention—and she sees this as a good thing?

When the invention is finally revealed, it's pretty cool, but not worth having sat through the preceding hour and a half. The whole belabored thing could have been done more effectively in about twelve minutes. Or, come to think of it, in a three-panel "Dilbert."

There is no rating more appropriate for this than The Finger. For good measure, I award the same rating to the colleague who forced it upon me. Milton, I will make you pay.

the finger

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Review by La Fée