MOVIES ARE GENERALLY updated strictly for cash. It’s rare that some auteur or hip indie artiste chooses to adopt someone else’s vision and re-cast it as their own, if only because that would require surrendering the cache of creation. As well as forever defending the new meat from sniping purists. So it’s no surprise that a majority of remakes fail, both creatively and in terms of box office. But while a bad remake is merely a waste of nine dollars and a few hours of a moviegoer’s life, a truly awful remake is like a cosmic doubling down, an oily palimpsest that often masks the echo of something clotted and doomed to begin with.
Although in certain cases, mere failure is not enough. Over the last few decades a fledgling brand of remake has begun to assert itself, one so astonishingly pointless and unwatchable that it begs to be accepted as a art form all its own. This unruly spandrel lies at the vanguard of cinematic expression—the shock of the dimwitted new. Transcending cheap labels—Post Modern, Impressionistic, Cubist, New Wave–it virtually forces us to come up with a fresh designation. An honorific. And since the truly banal remake is often crude maximalism in its most capitalist guise–a description fitting no film series more precisely than the combined squat of Transformers I through IV (technically sequels but more accurately cynical iterations of the same bot-truck-bot motif)—I propose that any truly, groundbreakingly awful remake henceforth be known simply as “a LaBouef.”
There are those who insist that jazz is the only true American art form, but I disagree—we Americans are masters of the inert and unavailing. Connoisseurs of the futile. Maestros of the forlorn. Virtuosos of the impotent who manage to churn out thousands of reels of bland, indifferent celluloid on a yearly basis. But a LaBouef is something new and vastly more dangerous. It occupies the rarified air where Citizen Kaner would inhale deeply, had a tone-deaf hack like Paul Haggis been handed a pile of Israeli financing to make such a film. The LaBeouf exists where Do The Right Thing (Again) would be happy to share shelf space alongside Taxi Drove. Where Showgirls Redux: A Little More Left to Show can stand proudly next to Quarter After Six Cowboy and Leaving Las Vegas II: Rehab Boogaloo.
But while dozens of true LaBeoufs have squalled forth from between the spread legs of cheap-date Hollywood over the last few decades, eventually left to curl up thumb-in-mouth and sans meaning in the corners of cineplexes from coast to coast, the following twelve films are truly the best of the best, triumphs of art and will:
12. Get Carter (2000) Sylvester Stallone drop-lids his way through every scene with an inexplicable grin, his Cognac-soaked delivery meant to convey a history of pain and regret evidenced no where else in the script. He instead delivers just the sort of stiff, muddled performance the Jeff Goldblum/Musca Domestica DNA amalgam from The Fly II might have found compelling. The original Get Carter was a raw, artful, mod-suit pastiche of late sixties swinging London that spent the majority of its running time admiring all six thousand of Michael Caine’s yellowed teeth. The Stallone version strips away every last bit of style or menace, adds a goatee and a back story about a tediously uninteresting daughter, and then stumbles to an ending even the screenwriter forgot about nine seconds after Sly bitchslaps his first henchman.
Why does this film exist? Because the HGH lobby finally teamed with Armani to co-brand a new line of designer neck muscles.
11. We’re No Angels (1989) The old axiom that nothing’s funnier than a couple of ex-cons on the lam hiding in priest’s vestments in a small town on the Canadian border takes a beating in this endlessly un-clever update on the 1955 original. Despite the impressive cast, almost everyone comes off as bored and annoying, with the only even slightly perky performance being delivered for SAG-rate by Demi Moore’s uncredited left breast. As each picaresque vignette bleeds into another close call from the coppers, one is tempted to dive deep into the Bob Seger playbook and begin humming songs about long-haul truckers. We’re No Angels is a very special LaBeouf indeed, as it seemed to presage the rise of early ’90’s witlessness embodied by such things as knit caps, Third Eye Blind, and brown heroin.
Why does this film exist? To get Neil Jordan, David Mamet, Robert DeNiro, Demi Moore, Wallace Shawn, John C. Reilly, Bruno Kirby, Hoyt Axton, and Sean Penn all in one room together. And then give them nothing to do.
10. Black Sheep (1996) Strictly speaking not a remake, and in fact often pretending to be a different movie entirely than its uneven but often hilarious souffle de vie, otherwise known as Tommy Boy, this film uses the same two actors (Chris Farley, David Spade) and almost the exact same plot (minus dead Brian Dennehy and random boxes of auto parts) to forge a LaBeouffian melange that is breathtaking in its laziness, gall, and bald attempt to cash in.
Why does this film exist? To find a home for the hours of good material left on the cutting room floor from the “Flashdance (What a Feeling)” scene from the original.
9. Dredd (2012) Judge Dredd, you may recall, was the widely-hated 1995 Sylvester Stallone, Armand Assante, and Rob Schneider (?) juggernaut that pretty much every comics nerd in existence took a massive Internet dump all over the second it was released. And rightly so. Judge Dredd sucked so transcendently that one could be forgiven for presuming it was impossible to recreate, let alone improve on. And yet…In this version, some new guy method-acts his way through Dredd by scowling and pointing his gun a lot. Many, many people are shot. Numerous items blow up. Bad men are often punched. Leaden deliveries are poured into forms and cast as sculptures celebrating the death of irony, not to mention Graydon Carter’s bow tie. Oddly, both films are based on a fully-realized alternate comic book world that intelligently satirizes the Fascist police state we are no doubt about to become, a subtext that failed in any way to bleed through to Dredd’s silver nitrate.
Why does this film exist? It’s mystifying. Pure, pube-less LaBeouf.
8. Psycho (1998) Gus Van Sant decided to remake one of the most brilliant and transgressive and beautifully filmed black-and-white movies of all time. Shot-for-shot. In color.
Why does this film exist? Ego? Cocaine? Lyme disease? Or possibly because it was determined in the fall of 1998 that what the world needed now, more than anything else, was a whole lot more Vince Vaughn in a black turtleneck. Sheer LaBeouffian hubris.
7. Taken 2 (2012) This qualifies as a remake mainly because it’s a wafer-thin version of every other violent revenge fantasy slapped together since Chuck Bronson got all sock-full-of-nickles on some mugger’s ass in Death Wish way back in 1974. Aside from mustache etiquette, not much has changed since. In Taken, former CIA badass Liam Neeson ruins his marriage with frowny Famke Janssen for essentially being too patriotic. Not that being hitched to frowny Famke comes across as something worth struggling to hang onto. Then Liam’s daughter decides to go to Paris for the summer. Liam’s totally against it. He knows what kind of foul, libertine, Henry Miller shit goes down on the Left Bank after dark. Swarthy men with garlic breath and Bordeaux-stained collars would be all over her! But Famke tells Liam to take the spy-stick out of his ass, so he reluctantly agrees. And then sure enough, within an hour of arriving in Baguette City, the daughter is kidnapped by white slavers. White slavers are still around! And not the Charles Laughton kind, they’re Albanian now. Why Albanians? Probably because it’s no longer politically correct to have action henchmen be Iraqi, Vietnamese, Nicaraguan, Jamaican, or Russian. At least until we invade Tirana. In the meantime, menacingly stubbled dudes bite it, most due to the terrifying lawgiver that is Liam’s patented karate neck-chop. Of course, since Liam used to be in the CIA it automatically means he’s: the world’s best hand-to-hand fighter, the world’s deadliest knife wielder, a tech/gadget genius, the world’s greatest stunt driver, the world’s best marksman, and a great dad. So L-Nee gets busy and tortures the cheddar out of some thugs, shoots a few politico’s wives, kills innumerable sleazy pimps, ducks the many, many bullets that errantly ping about his outsized head, and eventually gets his daughter back. But not before chasing a yacht along the Seine in an Audi. While driving against oncoming traffic. Hey, here’s the thing about driving against oncoming traffic on a two-lane road: sometimes, instead of being conveniently staggered for quick swerving, there are cars blocking both lanes. Like pretty frequently, in fact. So quick swerving doesn’t really help that much. Which means Liam should have been in about nineteen head-on accidents, crushed against the product-placement steering column while French EMT’s amputate his legs and his daughter spends the rest of her life as a slave of a sheik who looks almost exactly like Dom DeLuise. Taken 2, by the way, was directed by that genius wielder of Labeouffian chops, Mr. Olivier Megaton.
Why does this film exist? The massive 3 Days of The Condor demographic suddenly became so tired of Bourne and 24 and Payback and smart torture that they’ve demanded the immediate return to an uglier, more Americaner expression of violent self-loathing as delivered in a two-hour-long cocktail of Abu Ghraib, True Lies, Steve Doocy, and Albanian Porky’s.
6. The Vanishing (1993) The terrific Dutch original (Spoorloos, 1988) is intensely creepy and demented in the sort of cool, understated and composed fashion that one might expect from a top-notch European film. The tension is raised in logical and intelligent increments, resolving in an original and psychologically stunning fashion. So what to expect from the remake? A whole lotta Keifer, for one thing. Not to mention a complete absence of any of the sophistication, nuance, or style of its predecessor. But most unforgivably, the Americanized version features a wholly different USA channel ending that serves as the high water mark for a century of cinematic cowardice, more or less unparallelled since Birth of a Nation.
Why does this film exist? To prove that most of us would be totally fine with Sandra Bullock disappearing during our road trip.
5. Meatballs II, Caddyshack II, Ghostbusters II (1984, 1988, 1989) These are pure remakes. Rule number six in the LaBeouf Handbook states that if Bill Murray stars in the first version of a movie, but does not make an appearance in the second version of the same name, it is not a sequel. It’s a potential LeBeouf. You could make the case that Mr. Murray did actually appear in Ghostbusters II, but he was so mentally and emotionally absent, not to mention clearly gorked out of his brain on laudanum, that it doesn’t count. It’s amazing that Groundhog Day II: More Andie McDowell, Less Hog hasn’t yet been crammed down the collective pipe.
Why does this film exist? Because Allen Arkush needed to helm a few more films in order for the country to reach its doctor-recommended Level of Arkush. Also, somebody had to give Jackie Mason room to stretch out his vaunted Rodney Dangerfield impression. Plus, Janine Garafalo. Or was that Wet, Hot, American Summer?
4. Swept Away (2012) This Madonna star-blimp of humanity is already considered to be one of the worst films ever made, but can it jump the species wall like a Ghanian swine virus and simultaneously be admired as a LaBeouf’s LaBeouf? Is this excruciating pile of Ritchie also a work of genius, the filmic equivalent of being stuck in the back seat of a 1983 Dodge Caravan while “Shining Star” screeches out of a cassette deck in which the treble button is permanently jammed, all the way to school, forever? Yes. Yes, it can.
Why does this film exist? Recipe: take two overexposed personalities (La Ciccone and That English Guy Director Who Made That One Okay Movie With Brad Pitt), put them in a pot and set to a low boil. Add no seasoning whatsoever. Turn to boil and fold in high quality megalomania until soft. Transport pot to remote island location, add chin stubble, unwarranted Kabbalah, a couple of adoptions, and gallons of high fructose corn syrup. Slowly brown the slab of withered gristle that is Madonna over an unintelligible script and low flame, add a love story, blanche the life out of the fairly audacious 1974 Lina Wertmuller original, cover with lard frosting and then let sit. Serves five.
3. The Thing (2011) The 1982 John Carpenter/Kurt Russell version is a classic of pre-CGI effects, tight scripting, excellent character development and tense horror masquerading as an micro-indictment of American society. Or capitalism. Or something. And it is a truly great film. The 1982 version was itself a remake of the James Arness 1951 original, not a bad film, but relegated to any given Sunday afternoon on Creature Double Feature and with few true scares. So why make it for a third time? No clue. It’s not that this latest version is bad, it’s that it isn’t anything. It has absolutely no reason for being, like a purgatory full of unbaptized Clyde Edgertons. But competence does not trump needlessness, let alone inertia. Further, the new brand of CGI is nowhere as cool or scary as the original Rob Bottin stop-motion make up effects and matte paintings. Instead of coming up with a fresh angle, the new film reproduces most of 1982 version verbatim. And the ending in the spaceship (which 1982 wisely avoided) is just another crawling-through-a-soundstage-and-screaming-at-rubber masks routine. The original ending, which is a very Beckett-inspired doomed stasis, here is transformed into some sort of implausible victory. Bleh.
Why does this film exist? Unless Kurt Russell and Keith David are a couple of shots I missed, it most certainly should not.
2. The Planet of The Apes (2001) Tim Burton has made an unbelievable string of lousy movies to augment his handful of genuinely good ones. Sure, they all boast the requisite weirdness and cool effects and unusual art direction and gonzo world-making. But there’s never any character development or forward movement. Want to squat down in a big pile of Dark Shadows or Sleepy Hollow or Big Fish or Batman Returns and giggle at the all the velvet drapery and surly midgets and quirky-insect Johnny Depp head movements? Great. Burton is your man. But why hand him the reins to such a iconic slab of camp genius as Planet of the Apes? Anyone who seriously thinks that a stubby man-boy like Mark Wahlberg has the requisite chops to live up to the excellence that is a sweaty, teeth-gritting Charlton Heston is out of their mind. This is possibly the worst remake ever remade in which Roddy McDowell and a broken scale model of the Statue of Liberty attempt to co-exist. Oh, and even the most expensive CGI will never be a match for grimy, dusty, Cheston-neck. Not to mention be-furred Linda Hunter, and the twitchy plasticine nose of Dr. Zaius.
Why does this film exist? Because every twenty years we need to be reminded that movies spawning a thousand lunchboxes, board games, and decal T-shirts will always be loathed by the forty-year-olds who once treasured them.
1. Prometheus (2012) I love Ridley Scott. Sometimes. I mean, both Alien and Blade Runner are among my favorite movies ever. But he sure has made a lot of crap. Which is to be expected from any long career. There are going to be plenty of misses and bald cash-ins and bridges burned during various power struggles and divorces and rehabs. But Prometheus is beyond a miss. It is an utterly inexplicable, stainless steel turd. Why was it made at all? Did Alien really need a prequel? And if it did, shouldn’t they have thought up a storyline before going into production? Or pompously calling it “A re-imagining”? This movie makes no sense on any level. There are so many falsehoods, red herrings, unconvincing performances, and ludicrous plot twists that it actually starts to levitate, transforming like a shimmering Avatar-effect into anti-cinema performance art. Sure, there’s a few gorgeous visuals here and there. Michael Fassbender gives the only remotely compelling performance while reprising Ian Holm’s role as the android life form. But everything else is a meaningless slag pile of science fiction cliches, broken beakers, and untethered scenes. It’s a long, aggravating, grueling dipshit of a film that fully earns its place as the best piece of LaBeouffery I’ve ever seen. If fact, it’s pure art.
Why does this film exist? Not even Ridley’s mom gives a fuck.
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