Stop remaking mediocre movies

THE GRIPE

The Gripe

The Buzz

December 23, 2005|By MICHAEL SRAGOW | MICHAEL SRAGOW,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Hollywood studios have become so desperate for material that they've begun remaking middling or just plain terrible movies - not only genre films like The Amityville Horror and Assault on Precinct 13 but odder ducks like the political comedy Fun With Dick and Jane. Too often the remakes don't improve on the original movies: They magnify the first films' shortcomings.

Fun With Dick and Jane is a socially conscious farce about an unemployed upper-middle-class couple turned suburban Bonnie and Clyde. The Jim Carrey-Tea Leoni version simply pastes a veneer of topicality to the 1977 George Segal-Jane Fonda vehicle that became a modest hit because of its star power and its concept.

There were always one or two things hugely wrong with FWDAJ. The filmmakers portrayed their characters as loony materialists: After Dick lost his high-paying aerospace job, the one antidote to poverty they could think of was armed robbery. They were too one-dimensional to identify with, and too obviously jerky to rouse satisfying sneers. Visually, the only way to put these antiheroes over was to portray them as figures from the pages of Dick and Jane school readers. Yet the movie fumbled that too - the only hint of storybook stylization came in titles inspired by old children's books.

The new FWDAJ changes Dick's employer from an aerospace company to an Enron-like corporation on the eve of implosion. It's full of broad yet savvy attacks on rapacious CEOs and CFOs as well as business-world media spin. But the characters remain a hollow man and woman. They justify their crime because they live near corporation headquarters and must compete with hundreds of other workers for the area's few remaining jobs. It comes off as a petty rationalization. Once again, the attempt to portray Dick and Jane as the grown-up kids from the readers proves woefully inadequate, even pathetic. It fades past the opening credits.

For a couple of decades, producers have been rewarding moviegoers with short attention spans. Now they're punishing moviegoers with long memories. Audiences should vote with their non-attendance and stop the cycle of mediocrity now. Otherwise, a bout of Fun With Dick and Jane may be in Dakota Fanning's future.

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

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