When Genius Fails: The 10 Biggest Wastes of Talent

The next time you crap the bed on some important project at work, remember this: even geniuses screw up. And when they do, it's often in a huge, spectacular, terrifying way that us commoners could never have dreamed possible.

For example, we've stolen our title from the book When Genius Failed by Roger Lowenstein, a cautionary tale about a company that hired some of the most talented people on the planet, then managed to lose almost two billion dollars in a single month.

Here's more proof that even the best can fall flat on their rich, smirking faces:


Why It Should Have Been Awesome
About two years ago, Bob and Harvey Weinstein, the co-founders of late '90s Oscar factory Miramax, left to start their own production company, the profoundly titled Weinstein Co. It was an ambitious move, and the brothers needed an ambitious film to let everyone know that they meant business. After a couple of critically hailed test runs, the Weinstein's decided to put all their chips on Grindhouse, a film that featured not one, but two of the greatest living action directors (Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez), and a veritable murderers row of action movie talent.

Not to mention a chick with a fucking machine gun for a leg.

What Went Wrong
Drowning in all that carefully assembled talent, the Weinsteins failed to notice one very important thing: The project didn't make a lick of sense. It spoofed a genre of bad '70s exploitation movies known for being bad in the first place. And, "known" is a stretch. The idea for the film came about when Rodriguez and Tarantino noticed they both owned the same poster for Dragstrip Girl and Rock All Night, and decided they wanted to make a movie for all the people who had those posters, too-in other words, each other.

The Weinsteins spent the months leading up to the film' doomed release counting artfully done smash zooms and hovering crane shots to get to sleep at night, and failed to realize they were gambling their company on an inside joke between two film nerds. Not surprisingly, the film turned out to be a success with critics, who enjoyed the fact that it was 180 minutes of winking and nodding in their general direction, and a gigantic commercial failure, losing in its first week at the box office to Are We Done Yet?, a film whose logline (The Money Pit... with black people!) was a bit easier for audiences to wrap their minds around.

Guns N' Roses -Chinese Democracy

Why It Should Have Been Awesome
After 1987's Appetite For Destruction and 1989's LIES, it's easy to see why Guns N' Roses' label, Geffen, agreed to release two albums at once in 1991: Use Your Illusion I & II, which debuted at the top two spots on the Billboard Music charts. Someone at the label probably thought, "We better release these as quickly as possible, because at this rate of song production, we won't have room in our warehouses in 2007 for all the albums these guys are going to put out over the next decade!"

What Went Wrong
It hasn't come out yet and, considering the band started recording in 1994, the next few months don't look so promising, either. And, although democracy has not arrived in China since production of the still-unreleased album began, polling stations have opened in once-undemocratic nations of Indonesia and Iraq during that time. Also, Axl Rose has turned himself into a bloated, red-corn-rowed version of the Predator, managing to rival Michael Jackson for "creepy-looking-'80s-idol" supremacy.

In theory, the album could still be released and be worth the wait. It could-despite a total absence of Slash, Izzy, and with the addition of roughly a metric ton of Axl-take the music industry by storm and give Rolling Stone magazine something new to write about for the next 20 years. However, based on this performance of one of the new songs, and the fact that the most remarkable aspect of it is that Axl (right) now looks like a high school math teacher, we're going to hold our applause until we hear a little more.

Ocean's Twelve

Why It Should Have Been Awesome
The movie was fat with Oscar winners. Now, a movie starring an Oscar winner is no guarantee of success, as Jon Voight proved in SuperBabies: Baby Geniuses 2.

"But, how about a movie featuring five Oscar winners?" A baby genius might ask, using Jon Voight's baby-talk decoding system. "That's gotta be five times as good, right?" The baby genius would have a point: A movie starring George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Matt Damon, and directed by Steven Soderbergh, would be expected to be amazing. And, this isn't Ocean's Five, it's Ocean's Twelve-the movie also features Brad Pitt, Andy Garcia, Elliott Gould, Don Cheadle, Carl Reiner, Bernie Mac and Bruce Willis.

What Went Wrong
It' basically like watching an Us Weekly come to life: "Hey kiddo, you want to watch famous people cover up their emotional neediness with gobs of money, right?" The film itself is absolutely devoid of any artistic merit, featuring performances that suggest the actors are hung over, and a twist ending so pointless that you half suspect they're fucking with you.

It turns out that neither of these suspicions are all together unlikely: Soderbergh and the stars have all but admitted in interviews that the film was just an elaborate ruse to get paid to party at George Clooney' villa in Italy. When asked if there were any pranks played on the set, Brad Pitt noted, "I think the biggest joke was on Catherine (Zeta-Jones) because she actually thought we were making a movie. Being the new kid, nobody told her because she was up running lines and breaking down her character." Ha ha! You got us, too, Brad! We went in thinking we were actually paying to watch a movie. Stealing money from the masses is apparently hilarious when you're handsome.

The 2001-2003 Texas Rangers

Why They Should Have Been Awesome
The baseball Rangers signed 40-40 Club superstar Alex Rodriguez to a 10-year, $252-million contract, the most lucrative deal in baseball history for arguably the greatest player of his generation.

What Went Wrong
First, let us acknowledge the difficulty we had deciding between which Rangers team to go with, the Texas version or New York' hockey team. The NY Rangers, during the seven seasons ending with 2003-2004, frequently had the highest payroll in the NHL and featured various future hall of famers. The result? Seven consecutive losing seasons.

However, as if to prove that everything is, in fact, bigger in Texas, including colossal embarrassments, the Texas Rangers went one step further by finishing dead last in their division each season A-Rod was on the team. This means that the Texas Rangers could have saved money signing about half of the New York Rangers to their team, had them play games in skates instead of cleats, and technically not done any worse in the final standings.

The Titanic

Why It Should Have Been Awesome
Costing $7.5 million ($162.3 million, today) and taking three years to build (a quarter of a man' life expectancy at the time), the Titanic was the most talked about gigantic ship of the early 20th Century, a time when there was presumably little else to talk about. It was designed by Thomas Andrew, widely considered one of the most intelligent and gifted shipbuilders in the history of the trade (as if you didn't know that already). After attending the elite Royal Belfast Academical Institution at 11, Andrew worked his way up from the bottom in various shipyards thereby familiarizing himself with all aspects of shipbuilding. He was also the nephew of Lord William Pirrie, who was the owner of enormous-shipbuilding juggernaut Harland and Wolff. Legend has it that he once ate a trash bag full of popsicle sticks in a single night, and the next morning shit a perfectly constructed scale model of the entire Spanish Armada. Making ships was sort of this dude' thing.

To reward his work ethic, enthusiasm and almost-universal likeability among peers, J.P. Morgan, gave Thomas what at the time was known as "ass-loads" of money to build his dream ship.

What Went Wrong
Hard to say. In 1912, right before the Titanic' voyage, a deckhand reportedly boasted that "God, himself, could not sink this ship," so it' quite possible that a higher power asserted itself to put the arrogant crewmember in his place. Or it could have been the iceberg.

The Titanic, despite warnings of ice floes and being blindfolded by darkness, decided it would take it' chances with a slalom course of icebergs, always a good idea when you're so big that you have to RSVP two months in advance to make a left turn.

Not surprisingly, they eventually crashed into a humongous chunk of ice, thus transforming the ship from "Unsinkable Luxury Cruiser" to "Fodder for James Cameron' Money Cannon."

Of course none of it would have been so bad if they packed enough lifeboats to save everyone. But since the ship's talented pedigree seemingly insulated it from disaster, there were only enough for the women, children and Billy Zane. Freezing, stinging water, on the other hand, was in no short supply, and hundreds went down with it, including shipbuilding prodigy Thomas Andrew.

Billy Zane, luckily, was unharmed.

John McCain' 2008 Presidential Campaign

Why It Should Be Awesome
So you're a major political party and your President's approval rating is hovering right below cancer. How in the world do you try to get the country to vote for another Republican in 2008?

Well, luckily for you, the world's second-most famous Republican got his reputation by butting heads with the aforementioned unpopular president. His name is John McCain, and he wants to run.

In McCain you have an appealing set of contradictions: he was a congressman and senator who isn't seen as another corrupt Washington insider. He was a war veteran, but seems less hawkish than most Republicans. He looks like he belongs in a Centrum Silver commercial, but he seems more at ease on The Daily Show than some of the show' own correspondents.

As if that wasn't enough, McCain got Terry Nelson, the man who managed the seemingly impossible task of getting Bush re-elected in 2004, to manage his campaign. To the Republicans, McCain was less the front runner and more a gift sent straight from the heavens.

What Went Wrong
There is a fine line between having contradictions in a "he's his own man" sense and having them in a "sleazy two-faced politician" sense. And suddenly there was McCain, speaking at Jerry Falwell' Liberty University, despite saying years earlier that Falwell was an "agent of intolerance."

And so once more we find out that politics is a ravenous beast that eats good men and shits party hacks. McCain had to start pandering to the Christian-Republican base (right, burying his face in the president's chest) and in the process stopped paying attention to the things that made people like him so much in the first place. Perhaps McCain was managed (or over-managed) by the wrong guy. After all, Nelson had his most notable success with a president whose popularity was at an all-time low. Still others blame his startling similarity in both looks and back story to ex-Vietnam commando and disguise specialist John "Hannibal" Smith.

These days McCain is considered a long shot, especially after July 10, 2007, when Nelson abandoned the campaign. Oh, and according to the Washington Post, a co-chair for his campaign was recently arrested for "offering to perform oral sex on an undercover officer" in a public bathroom, giving McCain' campaign the one kind of scandal the party cannot tolerate: the gay sex kind.

24: Season Two - 6 p.m. - 8 p.m.

Why It Should Have Been Awesome
The talent of the cast and crew behind the series 24 has been recognized with Emmys in categories including Best Drama, Directing, Casting and, of course, Acting, where Kiefer Sutherland has been lauded for his role as Jack Bauer, the CTU agent who accomplishes so much in one day he makes 1950' James Brown look like a lazy sack of garbage. All cylinders were firing during the show's second season, jam-packed with non-stop, over-the-top explosive action. Then, between the hours of 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., something went terribly, terribly wrong.

What Went Wrong
These episodes were the exact point when most fans realized the writers of 24 were flying by the seat of their pants, apparently slapping together last-minute plot twists during desperate all-night writing sessions. Therefore, in the middle of Jack's race to save Los Angeles from nuclear destruction, we get these two episodes about Jack's daughter, Kim.

Kim gets into a car accident en route to Los Angeles. Then she wanders into a bear trap. Yes, a bear trap. Where she is menaced by a nearby cougar. Instead of eating the shit out of her helpless ass, the cougar opts to stroll off in search of even easier prey: a woman in a bear trap with no arms, lying on a plate with an apple in her mouth, perhaps. We don't even get a chance to think about Kim starving to death when, just as quickly as she stepped into a bear trap, she is rescued by some random, roving lunatic, who, after releasing her from the trap, soundly disappears. The entire, ridiculous chain of events has precisely zero effect on the story and left us half expecting to find out it was all a crazy dream Jack was having during a much-needed power nap.

For a show infamous for juggling a dizzying array of action and twisty plots, hours six through eight seems like the one time the crew took their eye off the balls and let them go bouncing haphazardly around the room.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

Why It Should Have Been Awesome
It starred Emmy winner Bradley Whitford, four-time Emmy nominee Matthew Perry, Amanda Peet, D.L. Hughley, one of the guys from Wings and was written by four-time Emmy winner Aaron Sorkin. With all the star power the show had to offer, it wasn't surprising when there was a huge network bidding war and critics anticipated Studio to be another Sorkin hit and lousy with Emmy nominations. Also, it was a show about being behind the scenes on a Saturday Night Live-esque show and, if 30 Rock is any indication, that is an awesome idea.

As if the idea behind it didn't get our hopes up enough, the first episode of the show was actually pretty damn good. Sorkin fans,
SNL fans and Bradley Whitford fans programmed our DVR' and settled in for the long haul.

What Went Wrong
To begin with, Sorkin took the Cliffs-Notes-of-As-the-World-Turns approach to plotting, cramming a pregnancy, a wedding, two crippling drug addictions, allegations of racism, an arrest, a sexual harassment lawsuit, weekly allusions to the Iraq war and a kidnapping into one short season. All that was missing was Matthew Perry getting stuck in a bear trap.

But the biggest problem was the show within the show: Sorkin is the best around at writing dialogue when the stakes are high and national security is on the line. He won Emmys for doing it on West Wing and is responsible for the line "You can't HANDLE THE TRUTH!" Unfortunately that' the only tone he knows, and when you take Sorkin characters out of a military tribunal, and put them back stage on a comedy show, they'd better be talking about the funniest damn show in the history of TV. Otherwise the whole level of screaming urgency is going to feel a little unearned.

Sorkin apparently realized this, and injected the dialogue with comments about how the media was calling the show within the show the most important thing to happen to the planet Earth, ever! Of course, it wasn't (otherwise, why not just make that show and skip the middle man.) It was more like watching the cast of Mad TV have an off night. To put it another way: How are you supposed to care about what goes on behind the scenes of a show that would ask Howie Mandell to guest host?

2001-2007 New York Knicks

Why They Should Have Been Awesome
You know how each year baseball fans bitch about how the Yankees are only better than everyone because they outspend all the other teams in the league. Well, the New York Knicks's team payroll is a ridiculous 40 percent more than the median team pay roll in the NBA. They also have Isiah Thomas, one of the greatest on-court leaders in the history of the NBA, behind every decision they make.

So why don't you hear NBA fans complaining about the Knicks' out-of-control spending each postseason?

What Went Wrong
Well, because the Knicks have posted six, consecutive losing records and have missed the postseason in every full season with Thomas at the helm. The Knicks make it this high on the list because they've put their faith in the blind acquisition of talent (Thomas has often been accused of acquiring talent like he's putting together a fantasy roster instead of an actual NBA Team) and going higher up, the Knicks front office seems to be under the mistaken impression that Thomas' on-court genius translates to an ability to run a multimillion dollar business.

To see why this is ridiculous, just compare Thomas' on-court resume, leading the Detroit Pistons to back-to-back championships in the late '80s, to his off-the-court one, which features failed stints as coach and general manager in the NBA and a short one year stretch as the president of the Continental Basketball Association. Why such a short time at the helm of the second-tier hoops league? Well, because that' how long it took Thomas to put the entire LEAGUE out of business. Having Thomas run point for you 20 years ago was like having James Bond running point on a covert military op. Thomas even earned the nickname "The Smiling Assassin" for being so deadly on the court. Given his track record in the business world, hiring Thomas as the president or coach of your team is like hiring John Hinckley as your bodyguard.

So how have the Knicks' brass responded to Thomas' management style, which the press has affectionately described as "erratic" and "rudderless?" Well, after years of embarrassing failure as president, they hired him as their coach. No, not instead of, but in addition to his role as prez. Then, in the middle of a mediocre season as the coach, they gave him a ludicrous contract extension, basically giving Hinckley a contract extension after he' not surprisingly shot you in the back, reloading his gun for him and then handcuffing yourself to his wrist.

The Star Wars Holiday Special

Why It Should Have Been Awesome
The special was filmed just a few years before the release of Empire Strikes Back and featured the original cast. The franchise was still young, George Lucas hadn't yet had time to make the shit-ton of money that would eventually cause him to totally lose touch with film goers, and the best film from the series still hadn't been made.

What Went Wrong
Oh, gosh, so many reasons. Let's see, the plot focuses on Chewie and his family (Mala, Lumpy and Itchy) as they struggle to peacefully celebrate "Lifeday," despite the oppressive Imperial Forces that wish to outlaw the holiday.

Chewbacca's family, taking a cue from the audience, apparently would rather watch anything else, so we're occasionally treated to whatever happens to be on their TV. On one channel, you can find Luke Skywalker waving and smiling. On another, you can find-you guessed it-Bea Arthur singing and dancing with a bunch of puppets (Holy shit! You guessed that?). A third channel features Princess Leia singing a "Lifeday" song to the Star Wars theme.

Look, describing any more of the plot would just be beating around the bush; if you're really brave you can check out this compilation of the highlights:

Or you could just take our word that the film is total shit. Even George Lucas, an open advocate of total shit, has said that if he "had the time and a sledgehammer, I would track down every bootlegged copy of that program and smash it." If we had a time machine and a sledgehammer, we'd go right to the source, George.

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