Pop Culture

Heartbreakingly bad remakes

Perhaps the only justification for remaking “Around the World in 80 Days” is the realization that we live in more violent times in 2004 than we did in 1956, and therefore a gentleman needs a manservant with some martial arts expertise.

In Michael Todd’s original Academy Award-winning extravaganza, the Mexican megastar Cantinflas played Passepartout, major domo to David Niven’s unflappable and chronically punctual Phileas Fogg. The pair encounter various perils throughout their journey, but Cantinflas doesn’t extricate them from these sticky wickets by kicking a few heads in. Cantinflas, known as “the Mexican Charlie Chaplin” during his heyday and yet lauded by Chaplin himself at the time as the world’s greatest comedian, uses charm, wit, common sense, dumb luck and his own good nature to help he and Fogg escape trouble.

That isn’t good enough today, which is a juicy indictment of why Hollywood now chooses to assault the senses rather than tickle them. So many classic films have held up over the years precisely because they weren’t geared toward audiences with attention spans of three seconds or less.

This weekend, Disney treats us to a new, updated take on “Around the World in 80 Days,” although as you might expect, this one is jam-packed with special effects and butt-kickings. Rather than focus on Fogg as in the original, this remake centers on Jackie Chan, whose Passepartout is a Chinese thief who steals a rare gem and then hooks up with Fogg (played by British comedian Steve Coogan) as he tours the globe to win a wager.

My memory of the Jules Verne novel is cloudy, but I believe Passepartout was French, and I know it was rare indeed to find a Frenchman who had a black belt in the late 1800s. So don’t expect this to be faithful to the original text.

“Around the World in 80 Days” isn’t the only remake tampering with an established and respected work. Recently, the studios have been spitting them out like sunflower seeds.

So many great movies to ruin, so little timeEarlier this year we saw “Walking Tall” and “The Ladykillers,” updates on their originals in bombastic style to accommodate our more garish times. “The Stepford Wives” opened last week,  an exercise in production design bereft of any post-feminist social commentary that made the original — although a trifle in Hollywood annals — at least somewhat relevant.

Coming on July 30 is Jonathan Demme’s take on “The Manchurian Candidate.” I’m pulling for this one to be pleasing because Demme is a smart cookie, but he’s still messing with a classic. Directed by John Frankenheimer, the original’s creepy, off-kilter tone mixed with the elements of brainwashing and assassination gave it a special niche in movie lore, especially with its proximity to John F. Kennedy’s murder. This one can only succeed as standard thriller fare, with none of the historical underpinnings.

Later this year, Jude Law will play the Michael Caine part in “Alfie,” a remake of the 1966 gem about a womanizer who questions his way of life. And while “Ocean’s Twelve” is not technically a remake, it’s a sequel to a remake, a rather obnoxious offshoot unique to present-day Tinseltown.

The only reason to remake a movie is if the original was a good idea that was somehow poorly executed. Redoing a classic can only invite ridicule and put aficionados in a foul mood. With that in mind, here’s a look at 10 remakes that should never have gotten beyond the pitch meetings:

“Psycho”Alfred Hitchcock, an impresario of suspense and terror, made everyone lock their bathroom doors from the inside before taking a shower. Starring Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins, this 1960 white-knuckler  set the bar exceedingly high. So of course, Gus Van Sant got the bright idea to do a shot-by-shot remake in 1998 starring Anne Heche and Vince Vaughn. A two-week stay at the Bates Motel would have been more pleasurable than this.

“Lolita” Here we go again. It’s hard to believe that anyone would watch a Stanley Kubrick picture and think, “I can do better than that” (aside from “Eyes Wide Shut,” that is). But apparently that’s what Adrian Lyne, king of the contemporary erotic melodrama, was thinking when he ignored Kubrick’s adaptation of the Vladimir Nabokov novel and made his sexy-sleazy, witless stinker in 1997 with none of the satirical brilliance of the 1962 original that featured James Mason and Peter Sellers.

“Planet of the Apes” Okay, so the 1968 Charlton Heston starrer doesn’t stand next to “Grand Illusion” or “Citizen Kane” in the cinematic pantheon. But it worked beautifully as a campy thriller, it spawned four successful sequels in the ’70s, and it has gone on to become a cultural landmark. The Tim Burton-directed remake in 2001 suffered from a wooden performance by Mark Wahlberg in the lead, an overemphasis on special effects and action, and a painfully formulaic script.

“Get Carter” The 1971 version, directed by Mike Hodges and starring Michael Caine, stands tall as the finest in the British gangster genre. It has influenced countless filmmakers and it transcends its era. Alas, the 2000 remake featuring Sylvester Stallone is a cruel joke, an annoying and brain-dead festival of brutality. They should burn the negative, if they haven’t already.

Billy Wilder helmed the 1954 edition, with a glowing cast headed by Humphrey Bogart, William Holden and Audrey Hepburn. It was done with elegance and heart. The 1995 remake was directed by Sydney Pollack, who is no hack. Of all people, he should have delivered at least a reasonably enjoyable facsimile. Instead, the combination of Harrison Ford, Julia Ormond and Greg Kinnear produce a flat and uninspired effort. The original is a minor classic; the remake is a major disappointment.

“The Thomas Crown Affair”Steve McQueen was already a Hollywood icon by 1968 when he played the lead in this caper drama, directed by Norman Jewison, and Faye Dunaway was emerging as an actress of consequence. This film is stylish, cool, smart and engaging. The 1999 remake, directed by John McTiernan, is none of those things. It’s a bore. There is zero chemistry between stars Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo, and the production is just one big nefarious scheme gone awry.

“Cape Fear” The Martin Scorsese remake in 1991 worked at the box office, but it fails because of a narrative miscalculation. Robert DeNiro and Juliette Lewis are splendid. The problem lies in Nick Nolte’s dysfunctional husband and father. Because he himself is such a dirtbag, there is little character transition from the beginning to his final showdown with the villain. The 1962 original worked far better because Gregory Peck starts off as a pillar of virtue and by the end has lowered himself to Robert Mitchum’s level to seek justice.

“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”
The 1974 original went on to become a slasher classic, thanks to low-budget ingenuity and director Tobe Hooper’s keen understanding of the elements that make horror work. Last year’s remake by commercial director Marcus Nispel was an excessive gorefest that could easily have been made by teenagers on drugs.

“Mr. Deeds”The producers figured if the script calls for a modern-day Gary Cooper, look no further than Adam Sandler. The producers were wrong. Frank Capra’s 1936 delight, “Mr. Deeds Goes To Town,” told the story of a small-town tuba player who inherits a fortune and then has to fight off opportunists. It was as joyful as its 2002 offspring, “Mr. Deeds” is bumbling and stupid.

“The Jackal”
In 1973, Fred Zinnemann turned Frederick Forsyth’s best-seller “The Day of the Jackal” into a chillingly realistic assassination thriller that had little in the way of action but was rich in anticipation and the promise of action. The 1997 remake by Michael Caton-Jones, with a hefty cast led by Bruce Willis and Richard Gere, is a bloated, by-the-numbers trash can of a movie with too much of everything.