When David Mamet's play Sexual Pervesity in Chicago was adapted into the 1986 movie About Last Night, the self-absorbed Chicago twenty-somethings were played by Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Jim Belushi, and Elizabeth Perkins. In the 2014 remake, those parts are now being played by Michael Ealy, Joy Bryant, Kevin Hart, and Regina Hall and nothing about that seems unusual. It isn't that Mamet's play has changed much in the 40 years since he first wrote it, it's that some of the audience's preconceived notions of who can play what role have.Just as it happened with the reworked The Karate Kid that featured Jaden Smith in the title role made famous by Ralph Macchio, About Last Night takes a '80s story and adds some ethnic diversity to come up with something new. Well, there's a whole lot more movies from the '80s that are just sitting there waiting for just such a redo. Here are five stories that would work just as well in a more coloful version.
Molly Ringwald playing the forgotten girl on her birthday, in love with an older boy and tormented by geeks in the John Hughes classic. Everything about the story still works, including the Chicago suburban setting that was ultra-white in the '80s. Disney Channel stalwart Coco Jones is the right age to play the teenager in love, and Zoe Kravitz would make a fine addition as her attention-hogging older sister. So what if Jones and Kravitz don't look alike? Ringwald looked nothing like her onscreen family in the original. In the all-important older guy role, someone like 90210's Tristan Wilds could provide the smolder. The only real issue would be what to do with the original's exchange student, The Donger. That was a role so racially regrettable that it doesn't exactly have a place in today's world.
In Mike Nichols' film, Melanie Griffith played the secretary that secretly takes over for her out-of-commission boss (Sigourney Weaver), proves a capable business woman, and wins the affection of Harrison Ford. The Griffith character would have to be called an assistant now, but otherwise there isn't much about the story that needs to change. Use someone like Kat Graham (The Vampire Diaries) or Tika Sumpter (Ride Along) as the underling trying to get ahead, maybe Halle Berry or even Gabrielle Union as the obnoxious boss and Taye Diggs as the love interest, and update the setting from a generic New York investment bank to the entertainment idustry. What Hollywood assistant doesn't want to push the boss out of the way and take over?
Sure, people remember the soundtrack but how many people remember the story? A steel-worker by day who dances in a bar by night, all while dreaming of making it as a legitimate professional dancer, and is pursued by her rich boss. Back then she wasn't really a stripper, but now she would have to be and she'd be trying to break into something hipper than ballet. The role could also be played this time by someone that can legitimately dance, since Jennifer Beals, the original star, was famously replaced by a body double. Someone like That Awkward Feeling's Jessica Lucas would work, or else there's got to be a Janelle Monáe back-up dancer that's ready to break out.
Tiger Woods broke on the scene nearly 20 years ago, so a golf comedy set at a country club and featuring a diverse cast shouldn’t be any big deal. It's near sacrilege to many to consider remaking such a beloved classic, but a new version would be shooting for a whole new audience. After all, golfers of all colors are tired of reciting the same tired lines from the original. Start with Hart taking on the Rodney Dangerfield role of the rich guy that doesn't like the country club set. Imagine letting Hart riff on a bunch of rich people while dressed in ugly golf garb, throw in Saturday Night Live's Jay Pharoah as the wacky grounds keeper, and it just flows from there. You could have a who's who of comedy going... Godfrey, Chris Rock, Mike Epps, Katt Williams, Faizon Love… there would be a part for just about everyone. Heck, even Eddie Murphy might be convinced to do the Judge Smails role that Ted Knight made famous. That would be top notch.
Three Men and a Baby
Tom Selleck, Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg were three well-off bachelors sharing a fabulous midtown Manhattan apartment that have their lives interrupted by a baby being dropped off at their doorstep. The idea of guys taking care of babies continues to be played for laughs, most recently in the sitcom Guys with Kids. What has been missing since Three Men is the angle of the guys being rich, Type A personalities. Take Jesse L. Martin, Tyler Perry and Damon Wayans Jr., move the setting to Hollywood, make them all successful and sharing a Charlie Sheen-type playpen, and then let a baby screw up their lives. It's comedy gold.
In just about every one of Kevin Hart's scenes in Ride Along, there's a joke that is just aching to find its way out of the diminutive, rascally comic actor. Hart is a small-scale physical comedian — of the same ilk as Jack Black — who puts nuclear-degree energy into his facial contortions, anatomical outbursts, and the delivery of every gag in general. If only he had material that was crafted with the same energy.
Unfortunately, nothing else about Ride Along seems at all "hard at work." Not the script, which pads a lifeless story with lazy comedy, and certainly not his screen partner Ice Cube, whose only stage direction seems to be "frown, and be taller than Kevin Hart." So lifeless is Ice Cube that even his machismo-obsessed straight man bit doesn't really work. Instead of the virile and intimidating "bad cop," he comes off as a disapproving middle aged dad without much to show for his own life.
But the script pairs the wily, overzealous high school security guard and video game junkie Ben (Hart) with no-nonsense lawman James (Ice Cube) on the titular ride along, with the scrappy cop-wannabe hoping to prove to the force veteran that he's good enough to marry the latter's younger sister. In earnest, he's not. Ben never puts any respectable effort into learning the tools of the trade, insisting on employing his amateur style and controlling the radio despite his proclamations that he wants, and deserves, James' trust. And James is no saint either — he's irresponsible on crime scenes, violent with perps, and disgruntled to the point of being unable to work with anybody else on the force. These are not good police officers... of course, you'll say, this is a comedy. But where are the laughs, then?
They're not absent entirely, you just have to look for them. In a movie so focused with big, broad humor, it's the smaller comedy that actually lands best. Hart's background mutterings and fumblings, his emoticon-laden texts to girlfriend Angela (Tika Sumpter, whose only stage direction seems to be "smile, and never wear a full outfit of clothing"), and a bizarre repetition of the word "weird" from supporting player John Leguizamo. All good for unexpected chuckles, while jokes like Hart facing off with a pre-teen or being blown backwards into a brick wall after firing a large gun are all lazy, familiar, and flat.
Structurally, the script is a mess. Ride Along spends far too much time on set up — we get it, Hart and his soon-to-be-brother-in-law Ice Cube don't get along — and far too much time on wrap-up — there's a gigantic, dramatic warehouse shootout that, in any other movie, would be the climax, but there's plenty more to go after that — without any cohesive middle to make the movie feel like... a movie.
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Hart, who leaps at every comic opportunity like a kangaroo (wallaby would be more appropriate), is suited just right for a buddy cop comedy, but he needs something fresh with which to work — a real character, an interesting story, actually funny jokes. Even just one of these would be fine!
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Salt the propulsive new thriller from Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger Patriot Games) has been dubbed “Bourne with boobs ” but that label isn’t entirely accurate. In the role of Evelyn Salt a CIA staffer hunted by her own agency after a Russian defector fingers her in a plot to murder Russia’s president Angelina Jolie keeps her two most potent weapons holstered hidden under pantsuits and trenchcoats and the various other components of a super-spy wardrobe that proudly emphasizes function over flash.
But flash is one thing Salt never lacks for. Its breathless cat-and-mouse game hits full-throttle almost from the outset when a former KGB officer named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) stumbles into a CIA interrogation room and begins spilling details of a vast conspiracy. Back in the ‘70s hardline elements of the Soviet regime launched an ambitious new front in the Cold War flooding the western world with orphans trained to infiltrate the security complexes of their adopted homelands and wait patiently — decades if necessary — for the order to initiate a series of assassinations intended to trigger a devastating nuclear clash between the superpowers from which the treacherous Reds would emerge triumphant.
The Soviet Union may have long ago collapsed (or did it? Hmmm...) but its army of brainwashed killer orphan spies remains in place and if this crazy Orlov fellow is to be believed they stand poised to reignite the Cold War. It’s a preposterous — even idiotic — scheme but no more so than any of our government’s various harebrained proposals to kill Castro back in the ‘60s. As such the CIA treats it with grave seriousness even the part that that pegs Salt who just happens to be a Russian-born orphan herself as a key player in the conspiracy.
Salt bristles at the accusation but suspecting a set-up she opts to flee rather than face interrogation from her bosses Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A former field agent she’s been confined to a desk job since a clandestine operation in North Korea went south leaving her with a nasty shiner and a rather unremarkable German boyfriend (now her unremarkable German husband). She’s clearly kept up her training during while cubicle-bound however and in a blaze of resourceful thinking and devastating Parkour Fu she fends off a dozen or so agents of questionable competence and takes to the streets where she sets about to clear her name and unravel the Commie orphan conspiracy before the authorities can catch up with her. That is if she isn’t a part of the conspiracy.
The premise which aims to resurrect Cold War tensions and graft them onto a modern-day spy thriller is absurdly clever — and cleverly absurd. But Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay isn’t satisfied with the merely clever and absurd — it must be mind-blowing. Salt is one of those thrillers that ladles out its backstory slowly and in tiny portions every once in a while dropping a revelatory bombshell that effectively blows the lid off everything that happened beforehand. No one is who they seem and every action every gesture no matter how seemingly trivial is imbued with some kind of grand significance. The effect of piling on one insane twist after another has the effect of gradually diluting the narrative. When anything is possible nothing really matters.
But spy thrillers by definition trade in the preposterous and the principal function of the summer blockbuster is to entertain. In that regard Salt more than fulfills its charge. Noyce wisely keeps the story moving at pace that allows little time for asking uncomfortable questions or poking holes in the film’s frail plot. And he has an able partner in the infinitely versatile Jolie who having already exhibited formidable action-hero chops in Wanted and the Tomb Raider films proves remarkably adept at the spy game as well.
It’s well-known that Jolie wasn’t the first choice to star in Salt joining the project only after Tom Cruise dropped out citing the story’s growing similarities to the Mission: Impossible films. But she’s more than just a capable replacement; she’s a welcome upgrade over Cruise not least because she’s over a decade younger (and a few inches taller) than her predecessor. Should Brad Bird require a pinch-hitter for Ethan Hunt he knows where to look.