Will Smith's 'Annie,' 'The Wild Bunch' and Jerry Lewis in the return of Remake This!
Okay, Hollywood, are you seriously going to make me reactivate my "Remake This!" column?
I'm sitting in the living room of my condo at Park City right now, enjoying the view of the snow that blankets Main Street, preparing a review for the micro-budget "Septien," and as I check out the news today, all I see is remake after remake after remake, and honestly? Makes me wanna holla.
First of all, if I hear one more person invoke the name "True Grit" as a way of defending the idea of remaking "The Wild Bunch," I'm going to lose my mind. "True Grit," let's remember, was a novel before it was a film, and one of the reasons the Coens wanted to adapt that book was because they felt like the original film had missed much of what made the text special. Sure, it was a sacred cow because it won John Wayne an Oscar, and there are many things to like about Henry Hathaway's original film, but there was also room for a different version that embraced the language and the tougher nature of Mattie Ross. I think the Coens did a wonderful job, and they deserve all the praise they've gotten for their work on the script.
"The Wild Bunch" is totally different.
It is the fever dream of an artist who had spent much of his career dealing in the Western form already, and who built to this one final apocalyptic vision of the Old West that is still one of the craziest, strangest, most hyperviolent Westerns ever made. It's a film that retains its power to shock and upset precisely because of that personal scent of madness that is so essential to the movie. It is pure Peckinpah, and it's not the story of "The Wild Bunch" that made it a classic so much as the way that story was told, the particular expression of that voice. It was a movie of its moment, too, just as "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" was or the way "Bonnie and Clyde" was. These were movies that were reactions to a particular vibe in the culture, and when you judge them, you need to judge them in that context. Peckinpah was soaking up the horror of his era and reflecting it back through what was, at that time, one of the primary Hollywood genres.
Remaking "The Wild Bunch" is so wrongheaded I'm surprised any serious filmmaker would even entertain the idea. I can tell you that my esteem for whoever takes that assignment will bottom out immediately. There's no winning that fight. If you are determined to do something that is the equivalent of "The Wild Bunch," start from scratch. If you just roll Peckinpah's corpse over for the name recognition value and try to build something from a movie that personal, we're going to end up with something that's no good for anyone. This is a truly grotesque idea.
"Lethal Weapon"? Not so much. I think the first film's a cool little action film, and I really like the original script by Shane Black. If you're a writer, you owe it to yourself to track that script down and study the way he put it on the page. It's impressive. I personally wouldn't want to remake it, because I think it's just a buddy cop movie, and in the years since the first film came out, the franchise itself became a parody, and there have been so many variations and riffs that I'm not sure there's much meat on the bones. Still, I don't really consider it sacred ground, and I can see what Warner would want to figure out a way to do it. I'll be curious to see what the just-hired writer Will Beall will bring to the table, and how Warner sees the film. Is this going to be some giant $100 million tentpole? And if so… why? Beall's hot right now because of his "Gangster Squad" script, and he's an actual former Los Angeles cop, so you can't question his ability to tell this sort of story. Just the reasoning behind anyone telling it at all.
Borys Kit at Heat Vision did a solid rundown of all the ideas Warner is floating internally, and not many of them are new. It's just that an executive shuffle at the studio means that they're taking a fresh look at all of this stuff and trying to see what they can develop. "Westworld" is one of those things they've been threatening to remake for at least a decade now, and "Oh, God" is something the've been actively pursuing recently. Will any of these ever make it to the screen? There's no guarantee right now, but it's still depressing to read about the time and money being spent on them.
That's nothing, though, compared to my growing annoyance with Will Smith. Overbrook Entertainment, his production company, has been around for a while now, and I remember meeting with his partner James Lassiter years ago as a writer, and they were talking at that point about their vision for the company. It was exciting, and it was driven by a desire to find strong voices and fresh ideas. Now that Will's had one mega-hit with one of his kids remaking "The Karate Kid," it appears all of that is out the window. Variety is reporting that Overbrook is now developing a remake of "Annie," with Jay-Z supervising the soundtrack and with Willow Smith supposedly set to play the title character. Keep in mind… I don't care at all about the race switch. I gave the Jaden version of "Karate Kid" a solid review because I think it was a solidly told version of the story. But if Will's whole game plan now is to find properties to remake for his kids, I admire his generosity as a dad and I sincerely wish we didn't have to sit through the gifts he's giving them. I always thought there was something hilariously goofy about a rapper using "Hard Knock Life" as a sample, but that thing was a juggernaut, and no doubt Jay-Z is already imagining how much coin they'll make off of an entire album of that with Willow Smith in front of it.
Finally, there's word that Jerry Lewis is getting more aggressive about mining his older material, and I'm frankly surprised it's taken this long. "The Nutty Professor" was so successful, and the Lewis films are all so high-concept, that it's always seemed to me like his catalog had enormous potential. He's working with Artificial Intelligence Entertainment and Social Capital Films to develop "The Bellboy," "Cinderfella," and "The Family Jewels." "The Bellboy" is one of those Lewis films that is a bare-bones excuse for gag after gag after gag after gag, almost like a live-action cartoon, with long stretches that rely purely on visual humor. "Cinderfella" is sort of wretched, and exactly what it sounds like. And "The Family Jewels" is not just bad by Jerry Lewis movie standards, but bad by war crimes and genocide standards. An awful movie about a little girl trying to choose a new father from among her uncles, all played by Lewis. I'm not sure why those two are in this batch of titles when there are so many better films to pick from like "The Patsy" and "The Errand Boy," but we'll see what they do with the material and who they sign to each of these.
Looking at all of that, I can only hope that the people who have announced these things do something worthwhile here, and that everyone involved with any discussions about remaking "The Wild Bunch" fall into a giant hole. I'm sure in both cases, I'm going to be disappointed.
Now back to "Septien" for me...