What's the worst film ever made? I only ask because this Friday the Prince Charles cinema in London will host the UK premiere of The Room, a picture widely believed by its "fans" to be the most laughably dreadful thing ever committed to celluloid.
It's so bad that six years after it was made, The Room still draws sell-out crowds to late-night showings across the US, where they yell the best/worst lines back at the screen, as if they're at Singalonga Sound Of Music.
The aspiring auteur responsible for The Room is its 40-year-old writer-director and leading man Tommy Wiseau, whose $6m budget appears to have been spent not on the movie itself, but on self-distribution and a Sunset Boulevard billboard ad. With his Spinal Tap hair, unidentified East European accent, and eerie, dead-eyed chuckle, Wiseau turns in a monstrously unconvincing performance as Johnny, supposedly the greatest guy in San Francisco. Johnny's life is turned upside down when he fails to get a promotion, then discovers that his fiancée Lisa has been bonking his best friend.
The Room's crappiness is so compelling that, rather than market it as the Greek tragedy it was so obviously meant to be be, Wiseau nowadays insists it was conceived as black comedy. The script sounds like it came straight from the Sunset Beach slush pile. Subplots about drugs and cancer disappear unresolved without warning. The audio synching is rough as sandpaper. The continuity is non-existent. And of the three utterly unnecessary softcore sex scenes set to ear-melting R&B within the first half-hour, two feature Wiseau's bare backside bobbing up and down like Duncan Goodhew and Yul Brynner racing each other at breaststroke.
Some of the most sublimely rubbish moments are YouTube hits, including Wiseau's anguished, James Dean-esque cry, famed among his cult followers: "You're tearing me apart, Lisa!"
Choosing the Best Film Ever is a straightforward task; the criterion for such a competition – spurious as it may be – is a simple combination of quality and popularity. Thus every such poll is topped by one of a handful of titles: Star Wars for the masses; The Godfather (parts I and II) for casual film buffs; À Bout de Souffle for readers of Sight & Sound magazine.
But the absolute Worst Film? The Room is incoherently scripted, appallingly acted and unintelligibly edited, yet it makes audiences happy. Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space, generally considered the Citizen Kane of bad movies, karmically inspired at least one great film, Tim Burton's Ed Wood.
One has to place these things in context. Batman & Robin, for instance, is far more malevolent in its awfulness than anything by Wiseau or Wood. Not only did Joel Schumacher's last contribution to the Batman franchise betray every serious fan of the masked crimefighter, but it cost the sort of cash ($140m) that could instead have built hospitals, or fed a substantial portion of the population of Niger.
The same goes for the movies of Michael Bay, whose name is critical shorthand for the crass Hollywood blockbuster. I haven't had the pleasure of seeing Transformers 2 (one was enough for me, if not for the Dreamworks accounts department), but Pearl Harbor was just as viscerally terrible when I saw 20 minutes of it on telly recently as it was when I sat through all three hours in the cinema.
And then there was Bad Boys II, another of Bay's moronic masterworks, and perhaps the most offensive blockbuster I've ever wanted to superglue my eyes shut in order to avoid seeing more of. BBII's explosive finale requires Will Smith and Martin Lawrence to drive a big yellow Humvee – symbol of arrogant US imperialism – through a Cuban shanty town. And I mean through it: crushing homes as they go, loosely justified by the assertion that they are "drug dealers' shacks".
Smith, in the driver's seat, yells to his passengers: "Everybody start shooting at somebody!" The villain is finally blown in half by an American landmine at the gates of Guantanamo Bay; I'm not kidding. Incidentally, BBII was made in 2003, the same year as the Iraq invasion. This is not just a big dumb fun $130m movie. It's tasteless, irresponsible twaddle and a sure contender for the Worst Film crown.
Okay, so Wiseau's modest budget would probably be enough for a few dialysis machines. But do you see BBII selling out cinema screenings six years after its release? And if The Room makes people laugh, can it really be all bad?
Tickets for the UK premiere of 'The Room' are available from the Prince Charles Cinema (www.princecharlescinema.com)