Monday, April 29, 2024

12 Underrated New Line Movies from the 2000s

 by Patrick Bromley

Twelve more great movies from a great studio's Swan Song.

A few years back, I published a list of Underrated New Line movies of the 1990s. While the studio changed quite a bit in the 2000s -- they put out the Lord of the Rings trilogy and transformed in a major way before merging with Warner Bros. and essentially shuttering around 2008 -- they were still putting out interesting stuff at the start of the century. Here are some of my favorites that get slept on.

1. Sugar & Spice (2001, dir. Francine McDougall)
Cheerleaders rob a bank to help their pregnant captain. It's a silly premise, but the movie doesn't pretend otherwise; the girls learn everything they know from watching Reservoir Dogs, Point Break, and Heat. What makes this one work -- beyond its self-aware sense of humor and brisk running time (80 minutes, though the version on the DVD runs 85) -- are the performances, particularly those of Marley Shelton and James Marsden, who are incredibly sweet and simple and totally in love. A lesser movie would make fun of them for being "dumb," but Sugar & Spice recognizes how adorable and winning they both are. The movie was trying to be Heathers-esque edgy back in 2001 and the dialogue and jokes haven't dated well in many instances as a result, but 

2. Cellular (2004, dir. David R. Ellis)
A thriller that sounds fantastically stupid but proves to be smarter and better than anyone could expect thanks to a great cast, a Larry Cohen story (with a script by Chris Morgan), and direction from the promising stunt coordinator-turned-filmmaker David R. Ellis (RIP). It's Speed with a cell phone: a kidnapped Kim Basinger gets a call out to a stranger (pre-Cap Chris Evans) who can't lose the signal for fear of losing the chance to save her. I love the way the screenplay throws all kinds of phone-releated obstacles in Evans' way and then eventually just becomes a dopey action movie in the best way. Jason Statham plays the kidnapper, but the movie's real masterstroke is the creation and casting of the William H. Macy character, a career cop who wants to get out and start a day spa. Great use of the one F-bomb allowed in a PG-13 movie, too.

3. The Cell (2000, dir. Tarsem)
A wild, visionary horror thriller in which Jennifer Lopez gives one of her best performances as a child psychologist tasked with entering the mind of a comatose serial killer (a very scary Vincent D'Onofrio) in order to find a missing person. Vince Vaughn plays the FBI agent helping her out, from that period when Vince Vaughn was doing interesting dramatic work in small movies. An interesting premise and incredible visuals make this one of the most unique and imaginative films of the early 2000s. This is what New Line was once great at doing: genre movies that delivered the goods but still found ways to be a little left of center. The Cell is a lot left of center but better for it.

4. The Upside of Anger (2005, dir. Mike Binder)
I'll be honest: the filmography of comedian Mike Binder has done very little for me in the past (except for Indian Summer, which kind of rules). I had to keep my hopes in check for The Upside of Anger when it was released even though it stars Joan Allen and Kevin Costner in rumpled mode, my favorite flavor of Costner. This 2005 comedy drama, about a woman who starts falling apart when her husband runs off, is easily his best movie. The ensemble cast is great (her daughters are played by Alicia Witt, Keri Russell, Erika Christiansen, and Even Rachel Wood), but it's the burgeoning romance between Allen and Costner at his most relaxed that makes this one special.

5. Domino (2005, dir. Tony Scott)
One of Tony Scott's most polarizing movies came late in his career. The great Keira Knightley gives what might be my favorite of all her performances as Domino Harvey, a former model who teams up with Mickey Rourke and Edgar Ramirez and becomes a bounty hunter in this "based on a true story" script by Southland Tales' Richard Kelly. Scott pushes the acid style he started with Man on Fire even further here -- probably past its breaking point, if I'm being honest -- but it suits the material and adds a dreamlike quality to what is, in many ways, his demented fairy tale. The supporting cast is incredible, including Dabney Coleman, Mo'Nique, Delroy Lindo, Christopher Walken, and Ian Zeiring and Brian Austin Green as themselves. I just wish it didn't end in much the same way as a couple of other Tony Scott movies, but that's not a dealbreaker. This movie rules.

6. Just Friends (2005, dir. Roger Kumble)
Roger Kumble never really went on to have the directing career I thought he would. In fact, this might be the only other movie he's made post-Cruel Intentions that I like. Ryan Reynolds plays a former dork who was in love with his best friend (Amy Smart) in high school; he grows up to be a hotshot record exec representing a pop star (a scene-stealing Anna Faris) and returning home for Christmas hoping to impress his old crush. This is one of those sneaky-great comedies I'm always trying to champion, a brazenly silly movie with a streak of absurdity and a whole bunch of very funny supporting performances from the likes of Julie Hagerty, Chris Marquette, and even Chris Klein, who manages to score comedy points as another dork-turned-cool-guy competing for Amy Smart's heart. Roger Kumble seems to find antagonism very funny, and on that we agree. This is a movie I return to almost every Christmas.

7. Bamboozled (2000, dir. Spike Lee)
Spike Lee's second most underrated movie is a huge mess, but the good kind of mess, filled with ideas and anger. It's the kind of well-intentioned mess only a talented director makes. The third movie in the filmmaker's trilogy of movies explicitly dealing with racism finds Damon Wayans (doing a terrible character voice, a cross between an In Living Color character and Steve Urkel) as a TV executive who responds to the latent racism on television by creating the most patently racist show he can conceive of -- a minstrel variety show featuring black actors wearing blackface. Surprise surprise! It becomes a huge hit. Lee borrows more than a little bit from Network in his satire, including a fairly disastrous third act turn that introduces militant activists and pointless, easy violence. It doesn't all work -- Lee still doesn't quite get that satire needs to be pointed at something specific and not just shoot in every direction -- but there's a lot to like. It's worth watching for the closing credits montage alone.

8. Boiler Room (2000, dir. Ben Younger)
Don't just take my word for it! Listen to me and Adam Riske gush about this thriller on our podcast linked in the title. This proto-Wolf of Wall Street (only less funny) stars Giovanni Ribisi as a wannabe stockbroker who gets a job at a firm run by scammers and hustlers, played by a veritable who's-who of young male talent in Hollywood. This is a terrific drama, brought to the screen with real dick-swinging energy courtesy of its ensemble cast and writer/director Ben Younger making his feature debut.

9. State & Main (2000, dir. David Mamet)
It's hard to call a movie written and directed by David Mamet -- especially one with this cast -- is "underrated," but it's not a movie that made a lot of money and rarely gets spoken of these days. The story of a troubled Hollywood production that invades a sleepy New England town is one of the best comedies about filmmaking ever produced, PLUS contains a completely wonderful romance between Philip Seymour Hoffman (as the beleaguered screenwriter constantly being told to make changes to his passion project) and Mamet regular Rebecca Pidgeon (as a local shop owner and theater director). So many quotable lines, so many brilliant observations. Go you Huskies! 

10. After the Sunset (2004, dir. Brett Ratner)
I know, I know. Brett Ratner. Separate from the disgusting and awful person he revealed himself to be, Ratner knew how to make a good programmer. That's what After the Sunset is: a good programmer in which beautiful people (Pierce Brosnan, Salma Hayek, Naomie Harris...Woody Harrelson?) fuck around and plan crimes in a gorgeous tropical setting. It's about as breezy and lightweight as it sounds, but that's not such a bad thing. It doesn't feel much like a New Line movie, maybe because the studio was already in a state of flux by the time this one hit theaters.

11. Appaloosa (2008, dir. Ed Harris)
This Ed Harris-directed western (from a period when not a lot of westerns were being made, especially at a mini-major like New Line) is very traditional, and I mean that in the best way possible. Harris plays a marshal hired to protect a town from a murderous rancher (Jeremy Irons); Viggo Mortensen is his deputy and Renee Zellweger the woman he might love. While not as strong as, say, Open Range, it has a lot of that movie's DNA in terms of its classical approach and the relationship between the two lead actors. I appreciate how, this late in their run as a studio, New Line was still taking chances on good but less commercial projects.

12. 15 Minutes (2001, dir. John Herzfeld)
This might be the limb on which I'm the furthest out. Writer/director John Herzfeld's follow-up to his 2 Days in the Valley casts Robert De Niro as a cop and Edward Burns as a fire marshal teaming together to take down a pair of East European criminals who go on a killing spree and record the murders in the hopes of finding fame. Shot in 1999 but shelved for two years, Herzfeld's satire is blunt and obvious but never less than totally entertaining, with Edward Burns giving his best dramatic performance and some genuine surprises in the story. While the movie isn't saying anything new in 2024, Herzfeld was onto something in the way he predicted the rise of tabloid journalism, reality television, and people's desire to be famous for anything. In the best New Line tradition, it's a good movie with a lot of rough edges.


  1. ok physical media fans...raise your hand if, back in the day, you got excited when a new dvd would come out with the "New Line Platinum Series" silver banner over the top!?! MMMMmmm great flicks and bonus materials. {resisting urge to, once again, shake fist at clouds and yell about how streaming culture coincides with demise of dvd bonus features}

    thanks for the list sir! lots of great suggestions/gaps within!

    1. I definitely blind bought titles or bought stuff I wouldn't have otherwise just because it was Platinum Series. A golden age.