The Hunt For The Worst Movie Of All Time: Powder

I have actually seen this week’s movie, Powder, before. In fact, I’ve seen it multiple times. When I was in college, back in 1963, the dorms had a closed circuit movie channel that came with your University subsidized cable subscription. They played different movies all week, but each week was the same for that month. So whatever was playing at 8PM on a Thursday at the beginning of October would play every Thursday at 8PM until November. (I know how months work!) For some reason, Powder just happened to be playing at the exact time every week for a month when I decided to watch a movie on the dorm movie channel. I’m still not sure how many times I’ve seen Powder, but it’s too many times. I remember telling myself at the time that even though it was a terrible movie, it was worth watching repeatedly because I would somehow get something out of it one day. That day has finally come. The prophecy was true!

Powder begins in a flashback with a woman being rushed to the hospital after being struck by lightning. She dies in childbirth and the baby has albinism so the father says “that is not my son” and he runs away. Cut to present day where the Sheriff of a small town has found Powder living in a basement, and even though Powder is just a bald-headed guy with extremely white skin (you’d think the color was painted on with cheap stage paint!) the Sheriff almost throws up basically, and then Mary Steenburgen is so impressed that he can read books by himself that she takes him to live in a state run home for background actors from some made for TV S.E. Hinton adaptation. It turns out that Powder has magnetic powers and also can read minds and his IQ test says he’s a genius (even though IQ tests are based mostly on cultural intelligence and he’s lived in a basement, but OK) and everyone hates him so much, except for Jeff Goldblum. That goes on for about two hours, all the superpowers and hatred, and then Powder tries to run away from the school because he almost kills a guy by kind of exploding his magnetic energy or something but is an accident and he brought him back to live using his hands as cardio paddles or whatever, but he runs away, and the cops are like “nooooooo,” but Powder needs to be free, and he runs into a field and gets hit by lightning and explodes.

The thing about this movie is that it’s bad, sure, but it’s almost not that bad. ALMOST. Mary Steenburgen is a good actress, and Jeff Goldblum is at the very least always amusing to watch. It’s like Jeff Goldblum is stuck in a permanent Jeff Goldblum impersonation. It’s got a little bit of that Hallmark-y “opening stupid people’s eyes about their own intolerance” thing going on, which is always kind of forced and overly blunt, but Hallmark is a multi-billion dollar corporation so what do we know about anything? I also find it a little hard to believe that everyone including full-grown adults would really be that disgusted and intolerant of someone who just had very white skin, but there is all kinds of hatred out there! What a world we live in! Although for as good of actors as Steenburgen and Goldblum are, this scene still makes me LOL.

Jeff Goldblum: What’s my motivation?
Director: You’ve just opened a new bottle of Herbal Essences.
Lance Henrikson: How about me?
Director: You’re having an orgasm, but the bad kind.
Mary Steenburgen: I’ll just think of something mildly amusing I heard earlier today.
Director: You’re a pro, Mary. I couldn’t do this movie without you.

But Powder gets very, almost unbearably bad, when you learn about the history of its director. Now, I do believe to some extent in the necessary separation of an artist from his work, and I would even be willing to extend the title of “artist” to the director of Powder for the sake of the argument, except that the “artist” in this case, Victor Salva, was convicted of child molestation. Not only that, but the 12-year-old boy who he molested (and videotaped himself in the act of molesting) was an actor in one of his previous projects. Yikes. Suddenly the movie takes on a whole new tone. It’s difficult NOT to read to much into that. The movie asks us to believe that Powder is a special, unique, wonderful, beautiful being who can’t share all his gifts with the world because they’re too afraid. But it’s not true that all differences should be celebrated. There are some people who are different and it’s not unfair to fear them. People like Victor Salva. And then there’s this scene:

Better change out of that tank top, Jimmy! WHAT IS THIS LINGERING ON A SUPPOSEDLY ADOLESCENT BOY’S NAKED BODY FOR NO REASON SCENE? We all have to go to jail now, sorry. Similarly, there’s a moment in which Jeff Goldblum discovers that Powder’s parents never touched him because they were scared of his powers, at which point Goldblum, who is with this teenage boy alone in an empty cafeteria, reaches out his hand and begins to caress Powder’s head. That would never happen unless the school was located outside the Lawsuit City limits.

It should, of course, be pointed out that Powder is played by Sean Patrick Flanery, star of Boondock Saints, and the upcoming Boondock Saints 2: All Saints Day. Water always find its level, and a Worst Movie nominee always leads back to Boondock Saints.

Next week: Elizabethtown. As always, please leave your suggestions in the comments or in an email. And if you haven’t done so already, please consult the Official Rules.