You may have never heard of Frozen Assets, but the 1992 film did something few other movies in history can lay claim to: it made Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert regret (at least briefly) dedicating their lives to watching movies. That’s a depressingly impressive feat for the At the Movies with Siskel & Ebert stars, two of the most respected and beloved movie critics of all time.
The two legends have certainly disagreed on some major titles, and their respective “favorite films” were often very different. The two were steadfast in their beliefs, with Ebert rarely convincing Siskel to change his mind about a particular film. But, they rarely agreed on a film as emphatically as they did with Frozen Assets. Both critics hated the movie so much that there is a visceral discomfort in the way they described it in an old episode of their television show.
The so-called “comedy” was directed by George Trumbull Miller, who by all accounts was a very kind man. But with credits like Cybermutt and A Mom for Christmas, he was far from Orson Welles. In fact, Frozen Assets was so bad that it left the two critics feeling depressed and disillusioned with their profession.
Both Siskel and Ebert took turns throughout their review of Frozen Assets coming up with creative ways to call it the “worst movie ever made.” Setting aside their more dignified Statler and Waldorf routine, Siskel and Ebert go full Mystery Science Theater 3000 in their review, managing to get off more successful jokes in their barely three-minute segment than can be found in the entire movie. It’s as if the only pleasure the film could possibly offer is the joy of mocking its mediocrity.
The film stars Corbin Bernsen (L.A. Law, Psych) as a man sent from the head office of some amorphous corporation to manage a small-town bank. However, he soon realizes that the bank is a sperm bank, and hilarity is supposed to ensue. But as Siskel and Ebert noted in their scathing review, there is nothing remotely funny about this movie. “I don’t even understand why they built a place like this in a hick town like Hobart,” Bernsen’s character says at one point, before being told: “Because hicks like us also have problems with impotence and sterility and sexual performance. We’re just like you.”
The film also stars Shelley Long as the uptight manager of the sperm bank, and Larry Miller as a local millionaire nutcase (no pun intended). However, despite the talented cast, Frozen Assets failed to deliver any laughs. Siskel and Ebert were particularly unimpressed with the film’s opening scene, which featured an executive with underwear stretched over his head. From there, things only go downhill. The jokes fall flat, the characters are unlikable, and the storyline seems content to hit the same puerile note over and over (and over) again, as if punishing the audience for not finding it sufficiently funny the first time around. It’s not like Frozen Assets is “so bad, it’s good” — it’s just bad.
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Shelley Long, in particular, does everything she can to save the picture, but the material simply can’t allow it. Long was coming off the tremendous success of her role as Diane Chambers on the hit television show, Cheers. However, her movie career did not experience the same level of success, and Frozen Assets seems like nothing so much as an intentional attempt to ruin the careers of everyone involved.
Many of the movies that Long starred in during the 1990s were critical and commercial failures. Films like Troop Beverly Hills, The Money Pit, and Don’t Tell Her It’s Me were all panned by critics and did not perform well at the box office. With Frozen Assets, though, the quality fails to even rise to the level expected from a professionally made project, making Troop Beverly Hills look like The Godfather by contrast.
Siskel and Ebert were beloved for their honest and straightforward reviews, and they did not hold back when it came to Frozen Assets. They called it “one of the dumbest comedies” they had ever seen and noted that it was as “depressing an experience” as they’d ever had going to the movies.
Ebert even goes so far as to say that he hopes, in the wake of the traumatic experience of watching this movie, to be rewarded with months, even years, of simple, film-free happiness in a valley with honey and nectar. That is a pretty strong statement coming from one of the most respected film critics of all time.
Siskel and Ebert were both disgusted by the film’s crude humor and lack of wit. “This is perhaps the worst comedy ever made,” Ebert says at one point before correcting himself and revising downward. “Not even the worst comedy ever made — just the worst movie ever made.”
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Siskel agreed, saying that the film was “as depressing an experience as I’ve ever had going to the movies.” He added: “That’s 23 years of going to the movies professionally, maybe six, seven thousand pictures.”
Now, Roger Ebert despised a lot of comedy movies many people adore, including The Waterboy, Freddie Got Fingered, and Tommy Boy. He was hardly pretentious, and was actually much more mainstream and accessible than most famous film critics. Nonetheless, if a movie was dumb, crude, and simple, he would let you know. Hardly any film seemed to fit those unfortunate adjectives more than Frozen Assets.
Siskel and Ebert weren’t alone in their assessment. Overall, Frozen Assets was a critical and commercial failure. It currently holds a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics calling it “vile,” “atrocious,” and “humorless.” Frozen Assets remains a cautionary tale for filmmakers who think that crude humor and cheap gags will suffice. As Siskel and Ebert proved, audiences have a low tolerance for bad movies — once a film is deemed the worst ever made, it’s hard to shake that reputation.
There are certainly “so bad it’s good” movies, those sporadic films which are so specifically awful that they become enjoyable in their awfulness. The Room, Birdemic, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Neil Breen movies — these are bad movies, but with some friends and a few cocktails, they’re genuinely delightful in their bizarre, arbitrary incompetency. You laugh at these movies, not with them, and it’s a great time. No, the truly terrible movies are the ones you can’t even laugh at, the ones with no pulse, films which feel somehow broken from the beginning.
To put it simply, Frozen Assets is a movie that should be avoided at all costs. It may not be the single, objectively absolute worst movie ever made (that’s always debatable), but it might be the most joyless, which is bad enough.