If the fall is an oasis of quality films, then January would be known as an interminable drought in the desert. This is the time of year when studios dump their most thankless endeavors into theaters, desperately trying to squeeze profits from discarded products. January 2024 continues to follow this trend thanks to its share of forgettable features.

New to Theaters: “Mean Girls”

For every mid-20s something, “Mean Girls” is an essential pop culture artifact. I spent many late afternoons rewatching the high school comedy on TV during its nonstop reruns. In a world where most high school comedies are trite after-school specials, “Mean Girls” defined its own cunning wit while intermixing keen observations on adolescent social dynamics. The film understood its zeitgeist and consistently articulated its perspective with humor and compassion.

By contrast, the 2024 “Mean Girls” remake belongs in the Burn Book. This is yet another tepid, flatlining remake that favors nostalgic gimmicks over any meaningful recontextualization.

I know most disregard remakes whenever they are announced. Personally, I saw promise in the new “Mean Girls.” Leaning into the Broadway show’s musical spin while also transitioning the material’s themes into the social media age boasted promise on paper. In some ways, “Mean Girls” flirts with imprinting a new stamp, but it ultimately feels far too content going through the motions.

Many scenes in “Mean Girls” 2024 are nearly identical to the 2004 film, except this time jazzed up with grand music numbers. Unfortunately, the music numbers are a nonstarter. Each song sounds like any artificial and overly confectionery pop song you would hear on the radio today. They are admittedly well-performed yet rarely infuse new life into the proceedings.

The screenplay is similarly beige. A bevy of self-referential zingers and modern gags rarely exhibit the sharp perspective that the original personified. It all leaves viewers stuck in a constant state of deja vu. I would say the same about the cast, who are spirited although lacking the stature of 2004’s ensemble (Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried, Amy Poehler and Lizzy Caplan, to name a few).

“Mean Girls” does not earn a seat at the “good high school movie” table. It is a thankless retread that rides exclusively off the creative fumes of its illustrious predecessor.

Also in Theaters: “I.S.S.”

On the space station I.S.S., American and Russian scientists work in tandem as they explore space’s vast unknowns. When the teams receive word about a catastrophic event on Earth, their harmonious rapport begins to unravel in “I.S.S.”

Science fiction stories are my bread and butter, with the genre’s best entries delivering cerebral explorations of social concepts. In stark contrast, “I.S.S.” showcases the genre at its most milquetoast state.

Points to “I.S.S.” for at least concocting a competent chamber piece. Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite transforms her one-room narrative approach from a restriction into a strength thanks to her ability to generate gradual unease. Her film is certainly minimalistic stylistically, though the reserved approach serves as a fitting canvas for the character-driven narrative.

“I.S.S” also benefits from its veteran cast. Sturdy character actors like Chris Messina, John Gallagher Jr. and Oscar-winner Ariana DeBose instill agency and hysteria as scientists entangled in a life-or-death situation.

“I.S.S.” soars during its unsettling opening act, but the film eventually burns up once it reaches the atmosphere. Screenwriter Nick Shafir executes a brilliant second-act twist that establishes foreboding connotations about humanity’s degradation amidst the comforts of nationalistic rhetoric. Once Shafir sets his promising narrative foundation, though, he struggles to build upon its potential.

The second half settles into the mold of a rudimentary sci-fi thriller, idly passing the time as viewers wait for each inevitable twist and turn. There is no meaningful reckoning with the political subtext lingering under the film’s surface. Instead, the narrative clumsily articulates melodramatic sentiments about finding unity amidst division. It feels like there is a better film within “I.S.S.’s” foundation that is screaming out for attention. Sadly, that version never reaches orbit.

“I.S.S.” is the equivalent of a trashy airport novel. It does an admirable job passing the time yet maintains little value aside from being a so-so distraction.

Also in Theaters: “Night Swim”

“Night Swim,” 2024’s first theatrical release, has already earned the year’s most beige horror film distinction. The inconsequential film barely registers a pulse, floating across well-treaded waters before drowning in the depths of overwhelming mediocrity.

“Night Swim” follows a checklist of modern horror contrivances. Favoring tension-free jump scares over nightmarish imagery? Check. Misguided attempts at reckoning with social conditions (in this case, addiction)? Yup. A total lack of tension and imagination? “Night Swim” jumps into each horror pitfall with the force of an emphatic cannonball.

Between these struggles, “Night Swim” showcases some promising glimmers. Stars Wyatt Russell and Kerry Condon elevate standard-issue material through their sheer gravitas, keeping the family drama somewhat afloat between macabre setpieces. First-time director Bryce McGuire also flashes potential. Even as the experience sinks to the bottom of the pool, McGuire executes a few eerie long-takes and unnerving moments that interest me in seeing more from him. Hopefully, next time, he will award himself a better script (the film is an adaptation of his 2014 short film).

While rarely painful, “Night Swim” seldom generates interest. This film will only be remembered for furthering the “January, the Home for Bad Horror Movie” trend.