Breaking news from Hollywood, Denzel Washington and Antoine Fuqua, the star and director of “Training Day” and the upcoming “The Equalizer,” will collaborate on a remake of “The Magnificent Seven.”
Two things about this, and they’re conflicting. Why remake a classic, and one of the great guy movies of all time? Up until the Seven reach the peasant village, it boasts one of the highest quotients of QLPM (Quotable Lines per Minute). Leave it alone. Remakes were a particular pet peeve of the late Gene Siskel, who used to ponder that if Hollywood was so hellbent on remakes, they should at least remake bad movies and improve them.
Then again: “The Magnificent Seven” itself is a remake of an Akira Kurosawa masterpiece, “Seven Samurai,” also the source material for the highly entertaining Roger Corman production, “Battle Beyond the Stars,” which scored the casting coup of Richard Thomas, George Peppard and Sybil Danning.
Studios like remakes. As with sequels, they remove some of the heavy lifting from marketing with presold stories and familiar characters. Trouble is, so many, like the Farrelly brothers version of “The Heartbreak Kid,” “Switching Channels” (“The Front Page”) and “Just Go With It” (“Cactus Flower”), are awful.
“The Magnificent Seven” is an exception, and so are these. So let’s throw positive vibes Fuqua’s way with this sampling of remakes that at least equaled, or in some cases, topped, the originals.
Airplane!: More of a spoof, really, but “Airplane!” hews so closely to its inspiration, “Zero Hour”, (including the line, “Guess I picked the wrong week to quit smoking”) that it plays more like a cracked remake.
Casino Royale: The original “Casino Royale” was literally a joke, a satire of the James Bond franchise. This remake gave the franchise a new lease on life and, in Daniel Craig, arguably its best Bond since Connery.
Cousins: This Americanized version of the French romantic comedy “Cousin Cousine” features a winning couple in Ted Danson and Isabella Rossellini.
The Departed: If you haven’t seen the 2002 Hong Kong film, “Infernal Affairs,” give it a shot. Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning remake gets its juice from a dream-team ensemble, including Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Alec Baldwin and Vera Farriga.
The Fly: The original is an essential science fiction film and David Cronenberg’s remake is its own animal, thanks to Jeff Goldblum at his Goldblumiest as the scientist working on “something that will change the world as we know it.”
His Girl Friday: In Howard Hawks’ quintessential screwball comedy, “Bringing Up Baby,” Katherine Hepburn explains to Cary Grant that all the havoc she caused was a result of her “trying to keep you near me, and I just did anything that came into my head.” In Hawks’ remake of “The Front Page,” a gender twist—recasting star reporter Hildy Johnson as a woman—affords editor Grant endless opportunities to do anything that comes in to his head to stop his ex-wife (and best reporter) from remarrying.
The Italian Job: It doesn’t exactly blow the bloody doors off, but the appealing cast drives this entertaining remake of the original British caper
The Man Who Knew Too Much: Who better to remake Hitchcock than Hitchcock? What does the 1956 version have that the 1934 version doesn’t? Jimmy Stewart, for one, as the innocent American embroiled in international intrigue, not to mention Doris Day somehow singing her signature song, “Que Sera Sera."
Ocean’s 11: Yes, we miss the Rat Pack swagger, Sammy’s “O-E-Eleven,” and the ironic twist ending, but Clooney, Pitt and company aren’t chopped liver. Unlike the original, Steven Soderbergh’s remake is all about the heist. Way cool.
The Parent Trap/Freaky Friday: Two remakes of Disney family favorites and both starring Lindsey Lohan. Smartly updated, cleverly written and indelibly acted, especially scene-stealing Jamie Lee Curtis’s getting her freak on in “Friday.”
Star Wars: Not exactly a remake of “The Hidden Fortress,” but it adds to the already immense fun of Akira Kurosawa’s 1958 adventure to spot the parallels between the two films, including the two peasants who would be transformed into C-3PO and R2-D2.
Your turn: So many remakes, so little space. What are your favorites?