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Posts Tagged ‘crappy remake’

One of the ways of spotting a remake is that they often have much more on-the-nose titles than modern movies: names like The Magnificent Seven are really not fashionable these days, unless of course they carry significant recognition value. Such is the case when it comes to a movie like Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man. There have been so many adaptations and other productions derived from H.G. Wells’ original novel that, ironically enough, nearly everybody must have seen one: there’s the 1933 version with Claude Rains, the Soviet version from 1984, the TV show with David McCallum, Memoirs of an Invisible Man with Chevy Chase, the other TV show with Vincent Ventresca, Abbott and Costello meet the Invisible Man, the other other TV show with Pip Donaghy, The Invisible Woman, the other other other TV show with Tim Turner, and so on.

That said, the notion almost seems to have fallen into abeyance since Paul Verhoeven’s typically restrained take on the story, in 2000’s Hollow Man – the only production openly acknowledging Wells was 2003’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which still took pains to make clear that it featured an Invisible Man, not the Invisible Man – well, I suppose lawyers have to eat the same as everybody else. Whannell’s Invisible Man doesn’t actually credit Wells, which is odd given that the title character has the same name as the one in the novel, also because this is supposedly the latest entry in the very-long-running Universal Monsters franchise.

Unfortunate readers unable to afford therapy may recall The Mummy from a couple of years ago – a badly botched update on another classic tale, supposedly intended to launch a new shared universe featuring the bandaged one, Dracula, Frankenstein’s creature, Dr Jekyll, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and so on. (You may even recall Dracula Untold from a couple of years before that, which was also intended to do the same thing, before being stricken from the canon for somewhat unclear reasons.) Well, so underwhelming was The Mummy‘s reception that Universal canned the whole idea and have gone back to doing individualised stories featuring these characters. This is, therefore, not the promised update featuring (one presumes) the voice of Johnny Depp, but something rather different.

The film opens in a lovely, super-modern cliff-top house, from which we find Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) making a clearly long-in-the-planning surreptitious nocturnal departure. Apparently her boyfriend, top optical boffin Griffin (Oscar Jackson-Cohen), is an oppressive controlling nightmare, and Cecilia just can’t take it any more. So off she sneaks, in a lengthy and actually rather tense sequence.

She ends up staying with James (Aldis Hodge), a cop who’s a friend of her sister’s, and slowly starting to lose the tension and anxiety which living with Griffin has left her with. The process of her recovery is expedited somewhat when the news breaks that Griffin has committed suicide, leaving a considerable wodge of his fortune to her. Now she can start to live again, can’t she?

Well, of course she can’t. Odd things start to happen around the house – objects appear and disappear inexplicably, someone starts sending emails from Cecilia’s laptop, her drinks are mysteriously spiked with a strong tranquiliser. Cecilia’s friends and family are sympathetic, assuming that her ordeal has resulted in her becoming a bit frayed around the edges. But Cecilia suspects something else – could Griffin still be alive and much closer to her than anyone suspects…?

Griffin is indeed the name of the Invisible Man in the original novel, but that’s the beginning and the end of any resemblance to H.G. Wells – the plot is different, the emphasis is different, even the invisibility works differently (which does have a genuine impact on the story). Possibly as a result of this – and this is going to sound like a joke – the Invisible Man himself is sort of a marginal figure in his own movie, with Jackson-Cohen getting strikingly little screen-time. The focus is always on Elisabeth Moss, with the original scientific romance retooled as a fable about paranoia and stalking.

Which is all very well, but the structure of the story requires a long, slow aggregation of events before Cecilia figures out she has an unseen stalker somewhere in her vicinity. Whannell dutifully goes through with this, but the problem is that while Cecilia is thoroughly confused, for the audience there is no sense of mystery or suspense – the movie is called The Invisible Man, after all, and you would have to have your refractive index set very low indeed not to be able to work out what’s going on. There is some pleasure to be gained from watching Whannell do his thing – the direction in this movie is pretty good, with Whannell particularly keen on a shot where the camera suggestively drifts off to focus on an apparently empty corner of the room, the implication being that it is actually occupied – but the first half of the movie does feel rather laborious.

It perks up a bit once Moss finally puts two and two together, and various scenes where cast members get to do their ouch-I’ve-just-been-punched-by-someone-invisible acting ensue. The story becomes rather involving as Cecilia’s straits get progressively more and more dire: you do start to wonder if they’re planning to go really dark with the ending, for once.

Well, obviously I can’t go into details, but I regret to say that the mid-film recovery does not last. The Invisible Man does have a functional and reasonably satisfying climax – the problem is it goes on for another fifteen or twenty minutes after this, attempting to contrive a startling twist ending. To be honest, I felt it fumbled the conclusion rather badly: this is the kind of twist which just doesn’t hang together in any real way, doesn’t even make a lot of sense on its own terms, feels deeply suspect in all kinds of ways and only really serves to make the film longer and less satisfying. The rest of it is hardly brilliant, but it’s the ending which comes close to capsizing the whole undertaking.

Shame, really: Moss is quite good (although I note the proposed spin-off, a remake of The Invisible Woman, is down to be a vehicle for Elizabeth Banks, as producer, director and star), the direction is inventive, and the supporting turns are also decent. But the script just isn’t quite up to scratch. It probably scores points with the Progressive Agenda Committee for finding a way to be so female-focussed, but there doesn’t seem to have been any real consideration of what an audience’s expectations are for a film called The Invisible Man, or how such a film should function. Not quite as bad as The Mummy, probably, but Universal continue to serve their monsters very poorly.

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When I was a lad, especially prior to the home entertainment revolution, your actual classic Disney cartoons never turned up on TV: the corporation had hit upon a cunning wheeze to maximise its cashflow as far as these films were concerned. The trick was a simple one: rather than selling the films to TV networks, Disney just kept re-releasing them into cinemas on a seven-year cycle, meaning that every new generation got the chance to see them on the big screen. This continued until the dawn of the new modern age of Disney animation in the early 90s – I remember seeing The Jungle Book on its 1993 release. Things are different now, of course, with all of the corporation’s back-catalogue available on DVD. They have to find a new way of maintaining interest in these movies.

And the solution they appear to have landed upon is to remake all those lovely old cartoons as modern CGI blockbusters: a trend which started with Jon Favreau’s remake of The Jungle Book three years ago [It has been pointed out to me that Ken Branagh’s 2015 version of Cinderella predates this – A], and which is reaching full fruition this year – apart from the Mary Poppins sequel, which is not exactly the same kind of thing, we will see live action and CGI versions of Aladdin and The Lion King. First off the blocks, however, is Tim Burton’s new version of Dumbo.

The original Dumbo, released in 1941, was made in something of a hurry for Walt Disney, made economically after Fantasia proved to a glorious folly for the film-maker. The new film is twice as long as the original and basks in a budget of over $170 million dollars. The story remains very roughly similar, and concerns a rather down-at-heel circus, in the new film run by Danny DeVito. The year is 1919 and animal trainer Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) returns from the First World War, in the course of which his arm has been CGI’d off, to be reunited with his (rather charmless) children. Their mother, along with many of the other circus folk, has died from the Spanish Flu, leaving everyone dispirited and emotionally scarred. (Good stuff for the tinies in the audience, this.)

Hopes are high that a new elephant recently purchased for the circus will turn the fortunes of the business around, as the animal is about to give birth. However, the mini-elephant, when it emerges, is an unprepossessing specimen, mainly on account of its freakishly large ears, and it is unkindly christened Dumbo. However, and you are almost certainly ahead of me on this one, Dumbo turns out to have an unusual talent – when properly motivated, those ears begin to flap and the pachyderm takes to the air!

So far, so very much like the 1941 version, you may be thinking. Well, yes and (very emphatically) no, for as you may have gathered, the more charmingly whimsical elements of the story have been almost wholly excised in favour of a bunch of largely one-dimensional new human characters. Think of an element of the original Dumbo that you remember with particular vividness and fondness, and I can almost guarantee that it is essentially absent from the new one. Oh, yes, there are plenty of call-backs and allusions, but only in the most superficial way – Timothy the mouse is gone, the extraordinary alcohol-induced hallucination sequence is gone, and the musical sequence with the singing crows has also gone (presumably it has been decreed that the crows could be construed as racially provocative). In their place are clangingly delivered messages about the treatment of circus animals and (for some reason) the evil of gender roles: in almost every scene, Farrell’s daughter gets to deliver solemn dialogue about how she is going to be A Scientist and Discover Things and Do Research And Experiments Using The Scientific Method. Nothing wrong with the sentiment, naturally, but why the hell are they crowbarring it into Dumbo?

I should point out that the new film blows through virtually the entire plot of the 1941 version well within the first hour, leaving a lot of time to fill before the obligatory happy ending. It is at this point that the new Dumbo stops being just dismaying and becomes actively baffling: arriving on the scene is wealthy entertainment tycoon V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), who is opening a new theme park and needs a big attraction to lure in the punters. He initially comes across as a warm, avuncular figure, but (no real spoilers here, I think) eventually proves to be a ruthless, grasping, exploitative villain.

At which point one can only pause to wonder what on Earth the people at Disney think they are doing? Has no-one noticed the subtext of the new movie? This is a Disney film in which the bad guy is effectively a thinly-disguised version of Walt Disney, with ‘Dreamland’ presented as a thoroughly phoney and unpleasant place. It’s the worst possible advertisement for the world’s biggest entertainment brand. I can just about imagine someone like Tim Burton being amused by the idea of smuggling this kind of subversive idea into a film from the Mouse House, but this is barely subtle enough to qualify as smuggling – it’s hardly some buried subtext, more the essential message of the film. I say it again: has everyone at Disney gone mad?

Normally I would be quite amused by the extravagant way that the world’s biggest entertainment company is cheerfully shooting itself in the foot, but the execution of this part of the film isn’t really any better than that of the opening act. The characterisation is still thin (the best part probably goes to Burton’s girlfriend Eva Green, as a trapeze artist), the general tone of the film gloomy and grotesque. No-one seems to have figured out that a concept which is effortlessly charming when realised with cel animation and anthropomorphic talking animals just seems weird and slightly disturbing with photo-realistic CGI and human performers: we are clearly intended to find Dumbo irresistibly cute, but the glassy-eyed creature front and centre for much of the film comes direct from the Uncanny Valley.

I suppose one should even be slightly grateful for how comprehensively misconceived the new version of Dumbo is, for few films in recent memory are quite as worthy of this kind of self-sabotage. It’s a film which trades heavily on the audience’s fondness for the original film – fondness which is entirely warranted, I feel obliged to mention, for the 1941 film is packed with charm, imagination and pathos – but then attempts to lure them in to see something which barely qualifies as a remake, having a substantially different tone and story, and including none of the moments you remember. One can only assume the other films on the way will be better – it’s hard to imagine how they could be much worse – but Dumbo is, well, mostly just dumb.

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The world is full of mysteries – most bafflingly, right now, why anyone would think it was a good idea to make a new Transporter movie without Jason Statham, but I digress – and the secret of consistently good and lucrative film-making is one of them. Mind you, that’s only part of the story – once your film is made, it’s still got to be reviewed, and this can be just as random a process as the actual production.

Or so it seems to me, at least: I think we can safely ascribe much of Fantastic Four‘s underwhelming opening weekend to the vicious reviews it received. Not that this wasn’t deserved, of course, for we’re talking about a film which is tonally all over the place, fundamentally unfaithful to the source material, and frequently quite dull to watch. 8% on Rotten Tomatoes could be considered a harsh rating, but not by much. Guy Ritchie’s new take on The Man from U.N.C.L.E., on the other hand, currently basks in a comparatively luxuriant 67%, even though… well, we’ll get to that, I expect.

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Ritchie’s movie opens in early-60s Berlin, where playboy thief and CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is intent on extracting a young woman named Gabby (Alicia Vikander) to assist him in his current assignment. However, she is already being watched by towering KGB operative Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer). Nevertheless, Solo succeeds, and is naturally surprised when his superiors inform him that Kuryakin is to be his new partner (the Russian is not impressed either). Gabby’s father is a nuclear physicist whose discovery of a quicker way of enriching uranium could facilitate the production of nuclear warheads, and this has brought him to the attention of a Rome-based criminal syndicate. The US and the USSR have agreed to co-operate in order to find the man and bring down the criminals.

So, younger readers may be wondering, this film is about a CIA agent and a KGB agent joining forces to take on an un-named set of bad guys. So why on earth is it called The Man from U.N.C.L.E.? That’s a good question. I suspect it is because the makers of this film believe that the title The Man from U.N.C.L.E. still has some traction amongst audiences of a certain vintage and they have duly purchased the rights to it and slapped it on a buddy-buddy spy film in the hopes of luring in people with fond memories of the original.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E., should you be curious and yet too sedentary to check it out on Wikipedia, was a popular TV series of the 1960s. It was very much a post-Bond piece of entertainment (indeed, Ian Fleming was involved in its genesis), very heavy on gadgets and slick spy-fi storylines. It was very much at home in a pop-cultural landscape that included similar shows like The Avengers, The Prisoner, Mission: Impossible, and so on. All of these series were ultimately totally escapist, serving to distract audiences from international tensions rather than examine them in any realistic or rigorous way.

So why would you make an adaptation of the show which largely revolves around the political and personal tensions between the two lead characters? Why would you ditch the concept of U.N.C.L.E. as actual organisation and just make a film about a joint CIA-KGB operation? Why would you reimagine the two protagonists so thoroughly? (Or, if you prefer, stick the names of popular characters on two wholly new creations?) The film’s Solo is an amoral crook working off his prison sentence by working for the CIA; the film’s Kuryakin is by turns Soviet iceman and Viking berserker.

There is no use of Jerry Goldsmith’s famous theme from the show. You will look in vain for any sign of a radio concealed in a pen, for those little triangular badges they used to wear, or for the organisation of bad guys from the TV show which has a rather embarassing name by modern standards. As you may or may not recall, I was no great fan of Kingsman, but I will still cheerfully admit that even in its mongrelised way, it was closer to the spirit and style of the original Man from U.N.C.L.E. than this so-called film adaptation is.

Okay, so forget about the fact that this is supposed to be based on a classic TV show (Ritchie and company certainly seem to) – how does it stand up as a spy movie in its own right? Well, if your idea of a really good spy film is something made by Fellini or starring Audrey Hepburn, you’ll probably be quite happy, because once the action shifts to Rome those seem to have been the primary influences on the film. People are forever leaping into speedboats to zip about the Bay of Naples, or decking themselves out in retro 60s gear. It’s all very evocative and nice to look at, but not especially gripping.

The direction is, to be honest, a bit self-indulgent: Ritchie can’t seem to resist going for very ostentatious set-pieces that may show his talent for composition and editing but don’t necessarily hold together that well as a story (or provide the spy movie staples). At one point a speedboat chase beckons, but Ritchie opts to go for some very laid-back business with a packed lunch and the soundtrack instead. Possibly he was just trying to be ironic, but I’m not sure he’d earned that right at that point.

In addition to being more concerned with atmsophere and aesthetics than actual plot, there’s something very odd going on with the tone here, too. The best thing about the film is indisputably Henry Cavill’s performance, which strikes a very entertaining note of drolly ironic detachment, but he’s stuck in a film which mostly takes itself pretty seriously. And when it doesn’t, it fumbles as often as it succeeds: one lengthy ‘gag’ revolves around a minor character slowly being electrocuted and burning to death. Oh, my sides. (I couldn’t help recalling that, at one point in its very long gestation, this film had Quentin Tarantino attached as a possible director.)

Cavill and Hammer do their level best with the material – both of them are in the fortunate position of being actors that Hollywood seems determined to turn into big stars, no matter how many stumbles there are en route – while Hugh Grant is also okay as Mr Waverley (needless to say he has very little in common with Leo G Carroll’s character from the show). But on the whole I thought this was an underwhelming and frequently quite dull film. To be honest, I kind of felt cheated by the use of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. name on a movie which quite clearly has no connection to the show, nor any real desire to have one. This is moderately stylish but utterly vacuous; not even fun in an ironic way.

 

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I wonder if this is an appropriate juncture at which to repeat the anecdote about my TV exploding on Christmas night a few years ago? I’ve mentioned it before, but basically, what happened was this: the tube went bang and we had to spend the next few days watching a portable set. This would not be particularly noteworthy were it not for the fact that I was watching The Omen at the time (we had got to the graveyard sequence), despite the disapproval of some of the more devout members of my family. (I still think showing The Omen on Christmas night has a touch of crazy inspiration about it. Hey ho.)

Anyway – and skip on if you’ve heard this one before – the next day one of these more zealous relatives sidled up to me with the air of someone doing something of import.

‘Apparently the TV blew up last night,’ he said.

‘Yes,’ I said.

‘While you were watching The Omen.’

‘Yes,’ I said, bracing myself for the inevitable.

‘Do you not think that you’ve been sent a message?’

‘I think it’s nature’s way of telling us we need to stop renting such an old TV set,’ I offered.

This was clearly not the hoped-for response and he went off looking just as disapproving as the night before. I must confess to doing something that would probably have completely outraged him a few years later: while staying at his house over New Year I stayed up late and watched Omen 2 and Omen 3: The Final Conflict on his own set without telling him. Needless to say nothing went bang in the night (but both films were sort of schlocky and the third one is actively bad).

I will happily stand up and defend the original version of The Omen against anyone, partly because I can’t believe the supreme power of the universe has nothing better to do with its time than go around frying home entertainment systems, but mainly because it’s a really great film. These days, of course, it seems that virtually nothing is sacred (if that’s the right word in this context) and so inevitably it got remade a few years ago.

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The remake was directed by John Moore and stars Julia Stiles and Liev Schreiber. Schreiber is Robert Thorn, a young American diplomat based in Rome, whose wife (Stiles) is in labour when the story gets going. He is distraught to learn that his child did not survive, and – somewhat against his better judgement – agrees to substitute a orphaned newborn, without telling his wife.

Five years pass, and, following the mysterious death of his boss, Thorn is now the US ambassador to Britain. His son has grown up to become a slightly creepy little devil, but Thorn is willing to overlook little things like nannies committing suicide, his child going berserk when they try to take him to church, hellhounds lurking round the house at night, and repentant Satanists shouting  at him about the great evil he is mixed up in, to begin with at least. But then he is approached by a photographer (David Thewlis) who believes he has the beginnings of an answer to the mystery of his son’s real parentage…

I’m going to say some fairly negative things about the remake of The Omen, and I feel compelled to preface them by saying that this is a perfectly competent film (much better than Moore’s latest offering, the utterly hopeless A Good Day to Die Hard). The acting is fine, the script is fine, the special effects are okay and the direction is acceptable. However, watching it one is simply struck by a colossal sense of redundancy, even outright pointlessness, because this is one of the most mechanical, uninspired remakes I have ever seen.

It’s very tempting, when doing a remake, to go a bit crazy and change everything about the story and in the process lose what made it so special in the first place. It must be almost impossible to resist doing something unusual, simply to put your own distinctive mark on the film. But Moore isn’t having any of this: his version of The Omen consists almost entirely of the most memorable beats and scenes from the 1976 film, limply restaged. It’s almost like Gus van Sant’s reviled shot-for-shot remake of Psycho.

Even if you haven’t seen the new version, you could look at a list of the supporting cast and a copy of the script and guess just who’s going to be playing which part: in other words, everyone is cast wholly to type and delivers an appropriately unsurprising performance. This even extends to Mia Farrow as the Antichrist’s new nanny – stunt casting which sort of suggests the makers of this version were trying to adhere to the ‘get someone from the original to cameo to keep the fans happy’ principle but got The Omen mixed up with Rosemary’s Baby.

And it’s not even as if there isn’t room for reinterpretation in this particular story. The 1976 film is all about the men: Gregory Peck and David Warner head off to Italy leaving Lee Remick to be a victim, left in the dark. You would have thought that they could find something more interesting for a strong, smart actress like Julia Stiles (who is, after all, top billed) to do – involve her more in the investigation and the denouement. No: she just comes across as passive and weak and perhaps even a little bit stupid. Everything is as it was: the only addition is some stuff about the Vatican, who are apparently fully aware of what’s afoot but never do anything about it, while – in a choice I can sort of understand – the music cues from the first film are conspicuously absent.

Disappointing as this lack of innovation is, it’s matched by the way that this film seems to have no desire to be anything more than a mid-range genre movie trading off the reputation of a classic. The original Omen was a prestige production with A-list stars and an impressive budget – almost unheard of for a horror film at that time. The new film doesn’t have anything like the same class or ambition – it’s a competent little film, but the emphasis is always on the little. As I said, not bad, just utterly pointless.

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Hello, and welcome to another installment of what’s in danger of turning into Cinema Refurbishment World. This time our beady eye settles on the big screen at the coffeeshop in Oxford city centre, where all the seats in the balcony have just been replaced. Well, to be honest I’m not struck on the new chairs – I liked the old sofas with accompanying tablettes, and in the admittedly unlikely event of someone turning up who was prepared to be physically and emotionally intimate with me I would have enjoyed sharing a super-premiere sofa with them. As with so much else in life, not to be. Hey ho.

As it was, the first film I enjoyed (by myself) in an atmosphere smelling rather like the interior of a new car was Len Wiseman’s go at Total Recall. I myself can recall my mild surprise at seeing the cover of a movie magazine with the caption ‘Classic Sci-Fi Remake Special! Total Recall! RoboCop! Starship Troopers!‘ My friends, whether or not those movies constitute classic sci-fi is a knotty question, but it certainly constitutes a ‘Paul Verhoeven Remake Special!‘ To be honest, the 1990 Total Recall is my least favourite of the Dutchman’s excursions into SF, and I was further mildly surprised to discover it was being remade at all.

And it initially appears to have departed even further from Philip K Dick’s short story. My heart always sinks a little when an SF movie kicks off with captions and graphics setting up the backstory, but at least the backstory here is engagingly preposterous. The world has been devastated by chemical weapons (oooh) and become totally uninhabitable (ahhhh) except for two regions (phew): what appears to be an extremely small section of central London (put it this way, Big Ben’s in the habitable zone but the Post Office Tower isn’t) and an unspecified chunk of Australia. Needless to say, the United Federation of Britain (no, honestly) is oppressing the Colony (don’t get your hopes up, this is as deep as the political subtext gets).

Every day hundreds of workers from the Colony get up and commute all the way to London to work in the UFB’s factories making robocops (settle down, that remake’s not due until next year). That’s a bloomin’ long commute! you may be thinking. Yes, well, but they’ve taken a few hours off the trip by drilling through the centre of the Earth and installing an elevator. (More like a theme-park ride, really, but I digress.) Yes, twice a day people travel through the core of the planet to get to work and back. Wouldn’t it just make more sense to build the robocop factory closer to where the workers live? Ah, an elementary mistake: applying reason where it has no sway.

Amongst these workers is Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell), a somewhat dissatisfied robocop welder despite the fact he is married to lovely nurse Lori (Kate Beckinsale), to whom – the movie implies in possibly its most startling moment – he is an intimately attentive husband. Feeling an odd sense of ennui Quaid trundles off to the dodgy Rekall clinic, where memories of wild fantasies can be electronically implanted. But zut alors! No sooner is he wired up than troops are flooding the place, and he finds himself shooting them up like a good ‘un. Things get even worse when his wife starts literally trying to kill him! Is this real or has the memory implant gone spectacularly tits-up?

Well, this is a big-budget remake made by a company called Original Film, but that’s about as close to irony as the movie gets. I’m tempted to say that the 1990 Schwarzenegger Recall was a big, daft, memorable movie with a big, daft, memorable star, while the 2012 Recall is a bland, good-looking, mindless movie with Colin Farrell, but this would be rather unfair to the lad, as he does the best he can with the material he is issued. The same goes for Jessica Biel as the love-interest, Beckinsale as their well-coiffured nemesis, Bill Nighy as silly-accented plot-device character, and the rest of the cast.

This would be the place to rail against the fact that Philip K Dick, one of my absolute favourite writers, has possibly the worst track record when it comes to adaptations of anyone in history – but after Screamers, Paycheck, and The Adjustment Bureau, to name but three, this surely goes without saying (and all you Blade Runner fanboys can clear off too). Dick’s complex, quirky, deeply original and endlessly imaginative stories about the vicissitudes of modern living enter the Hollywood script machine and emerge transformed into formulaic chase movies featuring odd forms of transport and things blowing up.

And so it proves here. For much of the running time watching this movie is like watching someone else playing a video game, as it goes from protracted, complicated chase to plot-installing dialogue scene, then back to another long chase or action sequence, followed by Farrell getting another plot coupon… And the characters are so thin and the actual story so underdeveloped it’s all a bit boring. Apart from the most basic rudiments of the plot, very little from previous versions is retained (although, and what this says about the target audience I’ve no idea, the triple-breasted prostitute has been retained for no reason supported by the plot). Beckinsale’s part is considerably beefed up, for no reason I can detect – but this must have been nice for her, and also her husband, the director.

The movie pays lip service to the classic Dick themes of identity and reality being up for grabs, but it’s painfully obvious that the movie’s always going to opt for the simplest, most straightforward answer, because it’s equally obvious these moments are just inserted to try and give the film some kind of intellectual heft – the story isn’t about them the way it would be if this had been, say, Christopher Nolan’s Total Recall. This movie isn’t about the nature of identity or reality. It’s about Colin Farrell being chased around by Kate Beckinsale.

The intellectual vacuum at the heart of Total Recall extends to the basic set-up. The two main locales are called the United Federation of Britain and the Colony, but they may as well have been called Ning and Nong for all the relevance this has to the script. Everyone still has an American accent. The only effect this has is on the architecture and the basic look of the thing, which is admittedly impressive – both areas look rather more like the comic-book Mega-City One than the city in the new Dredd movie. But it’s just about appearances and design and movement rather than any kind of thought-through story.

I’m aware I’ve sort of gone off on one about a film which no-one surely had high hopes for anyway, but in every department but the art direction and production design this movie is just incredibly pedestrian and uninspired, without even Verhoeven’s mad energy  and excess to distinguish it (the 1990 film was an 18: this one inhabits the absolute top end of the 12 certificate). No-one seems to have made any effort to produce anything beyond an utterly vapid and mechanical runaround. It may be that things have got to the point where audiences simply don’t deserve any better, but I refuse to believe it – and even if we don’t deserve better, I’m damned certain Philip K Dick does.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published August 5th 2004:

Oh, dear: another classic SF thriller broken on the wheel of pointless reinvention. Isn’t this where I came in? I refer, of course, to The Stepford Wives, a thriller by Ira Levin made into a rather fine film by Bryan Forbes in 1975, and into a rotten one by Miss Piggy now.

Nicole Kidman plays Joanna Eberhart, a TV executive responsible for many cruel reality game shows: these are supposed to be over-the-top parodies but actually aren’t that far off from where TV is right now (and so aren’t particularly funny). After a disgruntled participant goes on a shooting spree, Joanna gets the shove from her network and has a comedy nervous breakdown (we don’t get to see the comedy electro-shock treatment she receives). She and her husband Walter (Matthew Broderick) decide to move to the idyllic gated community of Stepford, Conneticut.

Stepford is a place where men are men and women are domesticated: they cheerfully do all the cooking, cleaning, and washing up, all the while managing to keep their smiles perfect and their nails intact. This is, of course, anathema to a modern woman like Nicole and she rapidly begins to suspect there’s more to this place than meets the eye. But it soon becomes apparent that anyone who doesn’t fit in receives a thorough and not entirely voluntary makeover to suit the intentions of the town’s founders…

(We have reached an awkward point in this review. I would hate to spoil the central plot-twist of the Forbes version, as it’s central to the movie – which, as I say, is rather good. But I can’t really talk about the Piggy version without giving it away. So, if you know the twist, read on. If you don’t, just steer well clear of the new movie and stop reading at this point. Okay? Okay.)

The thing about the original Stepford Wives was that it was a twist ending movie: that was what made it memorable. The problem is that the nature of the twist is pretty widely known by now: ‘Stepford Wife’ has become a shorthand term for a certain kind of unreconstructed home-maker or domesticated woman. I would guess a lot of people going to see this movie already know the twist, which gives the film a major problem in trying to generate any kind of tension or surprise. And to be honest it doesn’t try to, or at least not especially hard. It actually seems a bit unsure as to whether it wants to at least try to make the surprise work, or simply to assume that everyone already knows and just wink at them about it throughout. The result is that the big revelation is a damp squib for the entire audience rather than just part of it.

That’s one big problem for the film, but the biggest is that this is supposed to be a comedy version of the story. The fact that it isn’t particularly funny is bad enough, but I find it hard to believe that anyone seriously thought that such a creepy, paranoid and grim tale could honestly be made to yield up big laughs. This isn’t a dark, witty comedy, either: it’s a broad, frothy, camp farce. And it doesn’t work. The film can’t sustain this tone – the darkness of the original story keeps oozing back to the surface in the form of some genuinely unsettling moments (Broderick’s very decent performance would be pitch-perfect for a ‘serious’ Stepford remake), before vanishing again under a torrent of chronic overacting from Glenn Close. The comic tone even demands that a new ending be tacked on, which not only undermines one of the great last scenes in cinema history (the final scene of the Forbes version is repeated here, then lampooned shortly afterwards), but makes the film internally inconsistent: at some points the Stepford wives are android replicas, as before – but at others they are just the originals, surgically modified. It’s a mess.

And at least in the Forbes version you knew who to blame: the evil old chauvinists of the Stepford Mens’ Association. Katherine Ross, who played the Kidman part in the Forbes version, was just a regular person, who really didn’t deserve to be replaced by an android. But the Piggy version wilfully messes this up: the women in this are all wild overachievers, the sort of ‘superwomen’ certain ‘quality tabloids’ in the UK constantly have it in for. The implication is that the men are sort of justified in wanting to have them replaced by proper women. But both before and after their ‘modification’ the women are just grotesque stereotypes: bitches or bimbos. There isn’t a two-dimensional character in the whole movie.

Oh, well. I suppose there are a few quite funny lines, Broderick isn’t that bad, and David Arnold’s score deserves to be attached to a rather better film than this one… but on the whole this is a real mess of a film that slimes the memory of a good one. Stick to acting, Miss Piggy.

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