Siskel and Ebert believed it was the worst movie ever made

The big picture

  • Frozen assets is a failed and largely forgotten film that was universally panned by critics and audiences alike.
  • The plot of the film is absurd and full of jokes and the direction, acting and dialogues fail.
  • The film is surprisingly sexist and mean, even for its time, with problematic characterizations and relationships.


There is something fascinating about failed art, and there is no doubt that 1992 Frozen assetsStarring Corbin Bernsen and Shelley Long, was a failure. It was universally panned by critics and audiences and was a complete flop at the box office, grossing only $376,000 on a $5 million budget. And unlike other bad movies that have since gained a cult following, such as Tommy Wiseau‘c The room (or my personal favorite guilty pleasure, The core), Frozen assets it was largely forgotten in the three decades after its release. Still, its existence raises interesting questions about what separates a bad movie from a good one The roomfrom a bad movie that’s just bad, and whether there is any value in preserving objectively terrible art.

Frozen assets

A man is hired to run a bank that turns out to be a sperm bank.

Release date
October 23, 1992

Director
George Miller

Cast
Shelly Long, Corbin Bernson, Larry Miller, Dodie Goodman

Rating
PG-13

Execution time
96 minutes

Main genre
Comedy


What are “frozen assets”?

Frozen assets is a “comedy” directed by George Miller — no, not George Miller, who gave us Happy feet and crazy Max this George Miller has a collection of much more obscure credits to his name, such as The Neverending Story II: The Next Chapter and Zeus and Roxane. The film follows Zach Shepard (Bernsen), an ambitious corporate vice president who is tasked with turning around an unprofitable small-town bank and belatedly discovers that it’s actually a sperm bank. Long plays Grace Murdoch, the doctor who runs the bank and the adjoining fertility clinic. Larry Miller also appears as Newton Patterson, an older man with a childish demeanor who quickly befriends Zach. The story takes place in the fictional remote town of Hobart, Oregon, which somehow supports both a large fertility clinic and a thriving brothel. Don’t worry, we’ll be back at the brothel.

Upon arrival, Zach somehow manages to enter the building, still unaware that this is no ordinary bank. A painfully unfunny conversation with a donor ensues, which includes jokes about how happy Zach would be to “get on all fours” and “serve the customer” himself. Zack then meets Grace, and it’s immediately apparent that the two are destined for a corny enemies-to-lovers subplot. As Zack struggles to make the bank profitable, he unexpectedly receives a call from a sperm dealer who needs 5,000 vials of sperm within eight weeks. While cradling a very naked baby (the clinic workers have slipped into the back room to watch an adult movie together, so Zack is assigned babysitting duty—I swear I’m not making this up), he haggles the price down to $80 per vial and promises delivery. Now the only problem is figuring out how to wring 5,000 sperm donations from the men of little Hobart in just two months.

The solution Zach comes up with is a fertility race: Hobart man with highest sperm count to be crowned Horse of the Year and win $100,000. To prove their masculinity and claim the prize, men must donate, donate, donate. And to increase their endowments and improve their fertility, they are advised to abstain from drugs, alcohol and sex, get plenty of exercise and rest, and stay away from tight pants. These warnings are delivered in the form of a full musical number performed by teenage cheerleaders in the high school auditorium.

Directed by George Miller Failed at any level “Frozen Assets”

Shelly Long and Corbin Bernsen in Frozen Assets.
Image via RKO Radio Pictures

Yes, the plot sounds like a fever dream, but that’s by no means the only problem with this film. An absurd plot can still make for a fun watch if the rest of the film – dialogue, acting, direction – works. in Frozen assetsnothing works. The jokes are absolutely lurid: for example, the film opens with the VP of Marketing in Zach’s Los Angeles office having a nervous breakdown. We know he’s having a meltdown because he’s sitting at his desk with no pants on, underwear on his head, and yelling into three different phones at the same time. When Zack arrives at the Hobart brothel (which he initially thinks is a high-end hotel), he meets a prostitute who wears Valentine’s earrings and informs him, “I’ve got a heart for you.”

As a director, Miller goes for the laziest option every time, relying almost entirely on plain, wide, static shots. Every scene looks like it was shot all at once, with the actors occasionally trip over lines and misquote their lines. The film also features a strangely haunting score that punctuates every movement in the first half like music in an animated film (and indeed, a composer Michael Tavera worked mostly in animation), then for some reason almost completely disappears in the second half. Even the usually talented Bernsen and Long are completely inept. Long looks and sounds like she’d rather be literally anywhere else (and given the inanity of her dialogue and character, that’s probably true), while Bernsen, who’s known for down-to-earth characters like Law of Los AngelesArnie Becker, gives a strangely exaggerated performance. Only Larry Miller seems to know what movie he’s in and is doing his best to save it.

“Frozen Assets” is surprisingly sexist even for its time

Shelley Long and Corbin Bernsen on a poster for
Image via RKO Radio Pictures

The characterization of Zack and the “romance” that develops between him and Grace are among the most inexplicable elements of the film. It is established early on that he is ambitious and selfish; he only cares about getting his promotion and openly disregards the “thousand” city he’s stationed in. He is also an unrepentant misogynist. Grace is highly educated and dedicated to her work, but Zach repeatedly condescends to her, calls her a “bitch,” treats her as his secretary, and even comments on her weight. Confusingly, she still has a crush on him. We know this because, despite the fact that the two have less chemistry than a pair of dirty socks, Grace changes her hairstyle shortly after meeting him, and as a hairdresser (Jennifer Lewis) informs us, “When a woman gets a sudden, impulsive, uncontrollable urge to change her hairstyle, it can only mean one thing.”

In fact, the entire film is strangely vile and misogynistic, even for the early 90s. A running joke revolves around a large, stereotypically masculine man from Hobart (John Bloom) with eight children who are supposed to be candidates to win the race, but who then turn out to be impotent. None of his children are actually his (the elderly sperm bank receptionist (Dodie Goodman) twice remarks that “his wife must be a nymphomaniac!”), and in a scene meant to be funny, he kicks them all out of the house as his wife pleads, “Each of these kids may have a different father, but you’re the only one they call daddy!”

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Grace’s boyfriend, a businessman named Louis (Gerrit Graham), he is first shown calculating to the last penny how much Grace owes him for the Chinese takeout he took. “You know what I love about you, Grace?” he notes. “You’re not going to have a chauvinist paying you.” “Well,” Grace replies with a wink, “I know you’ve gone out of your way to make me a feminist.” What we’re to make of this exchange is anyone’s guess. Lewis is instantly jealous of Zach, and although this is framed as another blow against him, his concerns are valid as Grace soon cheats on him with Zach.

The scene where this happens is one of the hardest parts of the movie to watch. Zack shows up at Grace’s house with a huge bottle of champagne and deliberately gets her drunk. After Grace passes out face down on the floor, Zach carries her to bed, where she regains consciousness long enough to try to have sex with him. Zack agrees to this as Grace passes out again. The next day, Zach inexplicably tells her that they I did they have sex and orgasm six times. Grace is delighted, but later, during an argument, she accuses Zach of taking advantage of her. When he reveals the truth, she accuses him of finding her too unattractive to touch her, which she says is even worse.

You may be wondering who is responsible for creating this atrocity, and that question is surprisingly difficult to answer. The script was written by Tom Kartosian and Don Klein; The only other Cartosian inscriptions are an episode from Star Trek: The Next Generation and two episodes of the short-lived 1980 sitcom When the whistle blows. Klein, who also produced the film, has no other credits at all. Fascinatingly, he dedicates the film to his father in the closing credits, seemingly a sign that this is a labor of love and not a cynical cash grab.

Critics panned the “asset freeze” upon its release

Not surprisingly, the critics didn’t care for it Frozen assets. Kevin Thomas from LA Times called it “banal,” “stagnant” and “labor-intensive,” while New York TimesStephen Holden opined: “It’s the kind of raunchy comedy that musters a certain manic energy by trying to outdo itself with bad taste and ridiculous plot twists every few minutes.” Gene Siskle unhesitatingly called it “one of the dumbest comedies I’ve ever seen… It was as depressing a movie-going experience as I’ve ever had. That’s 23 years of going to the movies professionally.” Until that Roger Ebert replied, “Well, Gene, I went to the movies professionally two or three years before you, and there was nothing I saw in that time that even came close to this in its infinite awfulness. This is possibly the worst comedy ever made… Not even the worst comedy ever made, just the worst movie ever made.

So what separates a funny bad movie from a movie that’s just plain bad? That’s a tough question to answer, in part because what we find enjoyable is so personal — and, believe it or not, some people actually like this movie. Frozen assets has a 25% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes — not great, but not zero. I saw this movie too—I even bought a VHS—and while my solo viewing was extremely unpleasant, I have to admit that if I were to watch it again with a group of friends and maybe a cocktail or three, knowing what I was getting into, I could, could actually enjoy it. Perhaps.

As part of the film craft, I think we can make the case that movies like it Frozen assets, The roomand other famous bad movies are objectively bad – avid moviegoers know good direction, good editing, good writing and good acting when they see it. To some extent these things can be measured. But on experience watching a bad movie – or any movie – is by definition subjectiveand the joy of mercilessly mocking a work of failed art, of reveling in the craziness and laughing at bad jokes precisely because they’re not funny is something every moviegoer should indulge in from time to time.

Frozen assets is available to stream on Roku in the US

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