`Chainsaw' update fails to make cut

October 17, 2003|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Why remake The Texas Chainsaw Massacre?

To make it more hip? Appeal to a wider audience? Demonstrate how chainsaw technology has changed since the original film came out in 1974?

Try none of the above. This is not a classic storyline that warrants an update. This is a movie about a guy with bad skin and a predilection for wearing other people's faces and killing people with power tools. But if you believe original director Tobe Hooper did everything right 29 years ago, and plenty of people do, why do it again?

If you can answer that, you're way ahead of me.

To call Texas Chainsaw 2003 pointless belabors the issue; after all, what was the point in the first place? But at least Hooper, with his utter refusal to make any concessions in the name of taste, infused his film with such wanton recklessness and brash energy that you knew that he, at least, was having fun. And in the mid-'70s, the whole thing scared people silly.

This time, other than men happy to stare at Jessica Biel's midriff, it's hard to figure if anyone is having fun. Or being scared.

No, that really isn't fair to Biel, who does yeoman work as one of five unfortunate teen-agers who are driving to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert when the trouble begins. Starting with their decision to help a dazed girl wandering the back roads - that's apparently the only kind of road there is in this part of rural Texas - just about everything goes wrong. There's a dead body in their van; they're forced to throw away the pot they've brought along from Mexico; the local sheriff (played by R. Lee Ermey, who should take out a patent on such roles) is a sadistic redneck jerk.

Things get worse when they stumble onto a remote farmhouse wherein lives the real star of our picture, the aptly named Leatherface (played by Andrew Bryniarski). Oh boy, do things get worse.

Now, I don't have anything against carnage on screen, unless that's all it is. Director Marcus Nispel, a veteran of TV commercials and music videos, seems fascinated with Leatherface's technique, but not much else. The saw screams, people get hung on meathooks, we meet Leatherface's family, there's a final chase, the movie's over.

Texas Chainsaw 2003 looks far better than its 1974 counterpart - that's what happens when the budget increases from $140,000 to $9.5 million. Biel acts convincingly horrified and shellshocked (although her outfit looks a tad out of place for 1973, when the movie is set). The scenery is appropriately gloomy. And there's plenty of repulsive stuff going on throughout the film - not exactly frightening, but certainly shocking.

None of which explains why one shouldn't simply go out and rent the original. In the thin ranks of killer-power-tool flicks, it's still the standard to beat.

The Texas Chain saw Massacre

Starring: Jessica Biel, Jonathan Tucker, R. Lee Ermey

Directed by: Marcus Nispel

Rated: R (Violence, language, drug use, gore, power tools)

Released by: New Line Cinema

Time: 98 minutes

Sun Score *1/2

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