Friday, May 30, 2014

On DVD/Blu-ray, Special "Terrible, Barely Released Remakes" Edition: GAMBIT (2014) and PATRICK (2014)

(US - 2014)

Veteran Andrew Bergman producer Mike Lobell (THE FRESHMAN, HONEYMOON IN VEGAS) began attempting to assemble a remake of the 1966 Shirley MacLaine/Michael Caine caper comedy GAMBIT as far back as 1997.  Countless creative personnel were officially and unofficially attached to the new GAMBIT at various times over the next decade plus--directors Robert Altman, Mike Nichols, Alexander Payne, Anand Tucker, Bo Welch, Richard LaGravenese, and Doug Liman, writers Aaron Sorkin, Frank Cottrell Boyce, and Joel & Ethan Coen--and time and again, the project would stall and collapse. When LaGravenese was onboard around 2009, he rewrote much of the script, and again, it didn't make it out of pre-production.  By the time filming finally started in 2011, Lobell had Michael Hoffman (ONE FINE DAY) directing, and LaGravenese's revisions were tossed in favor of the Coen Bros.' draft, which they penned during some down time between films a decade earlier.  The Coens would probably prefer to forget they were ever involved in this doomed production, which bombed everywhere else in the world in 2012, prompting CBS Films to abruptly cancel the US release and shelve it for a couple of years in the hopes that everyone would forget about it. In a move of stealth deception that almost rivaled the Baltimore Colts sneaking away to Indianapolis in the middle of the night when no one was looking, CBS swiftly and silently released GAMBIT on VOD and on just nine screens in the US in late April 2014 with virtually zero publicity--probably not the desired end result of 15 years of work on Lobell's part.

It's often said that no one sets out to make a bad movie, that they sometimes just happen.  Almost nothing goes right in the stunningly DOA GAMBIT, which tries to evoke the classic '60s caper aesthetic in a modern setting, but joke after joke after joke lands with such a dead thud that it actually feels uncomfortable watching a cast of pros flailing so helplessly. Considering the talent involved, there's no reason GAMBIT shouldn't be an enjoyable farce, but it's just a miserably dull misfire. Art appraiser Harry Deane (Colin Firth) is fed up with his venal boss, media baron Lionel Shabandar (Alan Rickman), and concocts a scheme with an art forger known as The Major (Tom Courtenay) to bilk him out of a fortune with a fake Monet. Helping them in the scam is hard-partying, trailer-park Texas rodeo gal P.J. Puznowski (Cameron Diaz), who lives with her senile grandmother (Cloris Leachman).  Diaz plays it as broadly as possible (as does Stanley Tucci as Harry's German appraising rival), while Firth tries to be Michael Caine by way of Peter Sellers, whether he's losing his trousers or stuck on a ledge or repeatedly getting punched in the face or all manner of slapstick. This is the kind of stuff that should be funny, but everything is just off--the performances, the timing--everyone just seems lost and confused, with a "let's just get this over with" look on their faces.  Everyone, that is, except for Rickman, who plays smug pricks as well as anybody and relishes the opportunity to do it again here. When Rickman is dismissively sneering at pretty much everything around him--it's possible he wasn't acting--GAMBIT has some spark.  But Rickman's pomposity and the chance to hear Courtenay say "shitbag" aren't nearly enough to carry this all the way through.  By the time GAMBIT resorts to fart jokes, it's a safe bet that everyone involved has officially given up.  (PG-13, 89 mins)

(Australia/UK - 2013; US release 2014)

Hitchcock disciple and future PSYCHO II director Richard Franklin's PATRICK (1978) is one of the cornerstones of the Ozploitation scene. Written by the venerable Everett De Roche (LONG WEEKEND, ROAD GAMES, RAZORBACK), PATRICK dealt with a comatose young man wreaking telekinetic havoc in a hospital in a twisted display of obsessive love for a new nurse.  It's rather slow and dry by today's standards, but the sight of Patrick lying in bed, eyes wide open, is one of the iconic horror images of the 1970s.  The film did only modest business in Australia, but became a surprise hit in Italy, where its original score was wiped in favor of one by Goblin and was successful enough to generate its own Italian ripoff/fake sequel with Mario Landi's PATRICK STILL LIVES (1980), which turned Franklin's comparatively restrained little horror film a sleazy gorefest best known for its infamous "fireplace poker in the vagina" scene.  PATRICK was acquired by Vanguard/Monarch for its 1979 US release, where it lost nearly 20 minutes of material to neuter it down to a PG rating and, as AIP did with MAD MAX a year later, the Australian cast was dubbed over by American voice actors.  PATRICK remains a cult classic to this day, and exploitation superfan Mark Hartley, a native Australian behind such hugely enjoyable and infectiously fun documentaries as the Ozploitation love letter NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD (2008) and the Filipino exploitation tribute MACHETE MAIDENS UNLEASHED (2010), as well as the upcoming ELECTRIC BOOGALOO: THE WILD, UNTOLD STORY OF CANNON FILMS, makes his narrative feature debut with this remake. NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD jump-started the recent resurgence of interest in Australian cult cinema and it's very probable that a PATRICK remake wouldn't have happened were it not for NOT QUITE HOLLYWOOD. Hartley's love of '70s and '80s B-movies rivals that of Quentin Tarantino, but unfortunately, the comparisons end there:  no matter how much his heart is in the right place by affectionately remaking one of his favorite films, Hartley's PATRICK is just not good, and it does no favors for vintage Ozploitation, PATRICK fans, or Hartley himself.

The plot is essentially the same:  nurse Kathy Jacquard (Sharni Vinson of YOU'RE NEXT) gets a job at a hospital run by the stern Dr. Roget (Charles Dance) and his uptight head nurse daughter Matron Cassidy (Rachel Griffiths).  Kathy is intrigued by comatose Patrick (Jackson Gallagher), who's been lying still and unresponsive since killing his mother and her boyfriend years earlier. Patrick seems to respond to Kathy in the form of reflexive spitting and transferring his thoughts to a computer monitor or via text to her phone (the lack of such technology forced him to communicate via typewriter in the original version).  Of course, in true "One Froggy Evening" fashion, only Kathy sees this.  Patrick is also able to control the minds and bodies of others, particularly those close to Kathy, whether it's her estranged boyfriend Ed (Damon Gameau) or doctor/potential suitor Brian (Martin Crewes).  Kathy can't convince anyone of Patrick's brain activity, and as Dr. Roget's unethical, electro-shock treatments on Patrick increase, so do Patrick's violent tendencies and his drive to control Kathy and the people around her. Hartley is sure to pay homage to Franklin's film by giving the new Patrick the surname of the actor who played him in 1978 (Robert Thompson), giving Ed the surname Penhaligon, after the 1978 film's Kathy (British actress Susan Penhaligon), naming a hospital "The Royal Helpmann" after the 1978 Dr. Roget (Robert Helpmann), and in casting Ozploitation fixture Rod Mullinar (the 1978 Ed) in a small role as an asshole hospital administrator. He even pays brief tribute to PATRICK STILL LIVES (Italian title: PATRICK VIVE ANCORA) in the form of an end credits stinger. Hartley frames a lot of shots in the fashion of Hitchcock and De Palma, and has a score by regular De Palma collaborator Pino Donaggio, but it's so grating and over-the-top that it annoys more than enhances. Hartley also relies too much on cheap jump scares and some really bush-league, cheap-looking CGI that makes the whole project look like an Asylum ripoff of PATRICK.  PATRICK '13 is a plodding, slowly-paced bore, with only Dance's acid-tongued villainy providing any entertainment (the way he spits "And you are prissy, meddling little bitch who's wasting my precious time, and I would dearly love for you to fuck off!" at Vinson is the highlight). He gave it a shot, but Hartley's first foray outside of the documentary realm is a resounding failure, though I have no doubt that ELECTRIC BOOGALOO will be his magnum opus. He's doing great things to preserve the memory of the B-movies that many of us hold so dear. But if PATRICK '13 is any indication, he just doesn't need to be making his own. (Unrated, 96 mins)

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