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Don’t make me over

Analise Lipari | Sunday, February 8, 2009

This upcoming weekend, Steve Martin’s latest film, “The Pink Panther 2,” will be out in theaters.

Yep, you read that correctly. “The Pink Panther 2.” In the strange, alternative universe known as Hollywood, people actually make sequels of remakes of other films.

If you don’t remember the first “Pink Panther” remake, I wouldn’t worry too much. As much as I love Steve Martin, I love the purity of the original “Panther” series just as much, if not more. Martin’s 2006 remake of the classic Peter Sellers films just didn’t work – Sellers’ Clouseau was a case study in wry, bumbling, physical comedy, but Martin’s faux Français accent never holds up. More than 40 years after the original film’s cinematic release, the remade version eventually grossed around $80 million.

And the remake machine lives on.

It’s an impulse that filmmakers and studios seem to find inexhaustible: The move to redo old material again and again, often to the point where the remake’s connection to the original is almost unrecognizable. “The Pink Panther 2” is only the most recent example of the remake machine giving audiences another retread. If viewers laughed at Martin’s Clouseau, it’s to his credit as a veteran comedian. But too many unfunny, un-dramatic and un-compelling remakes have graced our cinemas to let one semi-success make up for years of bad movie memories.

There have been some high-profile movie remakes in recent years, not all of which gained their reputations for good reasons.

Some remakes are, to be honest, just shockingly bad. Gus Van Sant’s 1998 version of “Psycho” is but one painful example. A shot-by-shot repeat of a Hitchcockian classic, Van Sant’s film swapped out Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins for Anne Heche and Vince Vaughn, and left audiences wondering where all of the suspense went.

The 2007 Ben Stiller bomb “The Heartbreak Kid” was also a remake, taking a classic Charles Grodin/ Cybill Shepherd black comedy and giving it the Farrelly brothers (“There’s Something About Mary”) treatment.

Few may remember 2002’s “Rollerball,” but that film’s violent take on its extreme subject matter lacked the subtlety of the 1975 original. If we can, let’s not look back on Jude Law’s 2004 remake of “Alfie.” While I haven’t seen the 1966 original starring Michael Caine, I’m almost certain it was more winning than Law’s tiresome trek through the role.

And while the original “The Wicker Man” isn’t exactly straightforward filmmaking, it’s hard to watch the recent Nicholas Cage remake without cringing.

Then, there are those remakes of films you loved the first time around. Sometimes they’re underwhelming, sometimes they’re overwhelming, and sometimes you have to ask: Why was this made?

While “You’ve Got Mail” wins some points for its ability to make e-mail into somewhat compelling film fodder, the sweet, quirky source material, 1940’s “The Shop Around the Corner,” doesn’t deserve to get lost in the remake shuffle. 1995’s “Sabrina” is a similar example. While the new version starred Julia Ormond, Greg Kinnear and even Harrison Ford – whose film ventures I will always support – the Billy Wilder-directed original is a perfectly cast comedic confection.

Occasionally, the remake does its subject one better. It’s a rare retread indeed that succeeds in eclipsing its source by raising the material to a whole new level. Brain DePalma’s 1983 film “Scarface,” for example, took a lesser-known Al Capone flick from 1932 and turned it into one of the most iconic drug warfare-flicks ever produced.

And while its source material, “Internal Affairs,” is seen as an achievement in its own right, it was Martin Scorsese’s take on the story, “The Departed,” that finally won this erstwhile directorial bridesmaid his due at the Oscars.

In the end, you never know how a remake will turn out. Good, bad, or ugly, only one thing is certain: no matter what audiences may do, the remake machine will keep on running.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Observer.

Contact Analise Lipari at alipari@nd.edu