You might not know it, but the upcoming Steve Carell / Paul Rudd vehicle Dinner for Schmucks is actually a remake of the 1998 French film The Dinner Game. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing — Hollywood has had some success in remakes of French movies. Here’s a look at a few that actually turned out okay.
Three Men and a Baby (1987). The 20-plus year wave of French remakes can probably be traced back to the fact that this remake of Trois hommes et un couffin (1985 — which translates to Three Men and a Cradle) happened to be the highest grossing film of 1987. It also happens to be a fun little romp and Leonard Nimoy’s feature directorial debut outside of the Star Trek world. It was followed by a sequel Three Men and a Lady (1990) and rumor has it a third film entitled Three Men and a Bride is in the works which would reunite stars Tom Selleck, Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg.
True Lies (1994). In this James Cameron adaptation of La Totale! (1991), Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a top-notch totally badass spy, unaware that his wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) — who thinks he’s a computer salesman who travels a lot — is growing bored with the marriage and finds herself attracted to a car salesman (Bill Paxton) who claims to lead a double life as a spy. A friend of mine describes this film as “two-thirds of a great movie,” and I have to agree with him, as the whole Bill Paxton subplot, with Schwarzenegger’s character downright creepily stalking his wife, never did anything for me. However the rest of the movie is one hell of a fun ride.
The Birdcage (1996). This remake of the Oscar-nominated La Cage aux Folles (1978) made my previous list of all-time great remakes, where I mistakenly called the original an Italian comedy instead of French. And if I may repeat myself here, The Birdcage is one of those comedies that gets funnier every time I watch it. Mike Nichols directs an excellent cast including Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Dianne Wiest, Gene Hackman, Christine Baranski, Dan Futterman, Calista Flockhart,
and Hank Azaria.
Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986). Paul Mazursky directs this adaptation of the 1932 Jean Renoir film Boudu Saved from Drowning. Richard Dreyfuss and Bette Midler star as a wealthy yet dysfunctional couple who save the life of a homeless man (Nick Nolte) who attempts to drown himself in their swimming pool. Little Richard damn near steals the show as their somewhat flamboyant neighbor who also happens to be able to play a mean piano and belt out a tune — a real stretch, I know!
12 Monkeys (1995). Terry Gilliam directs this sci-fi noir film inspired by Chris Marker’s unusual 1962 short film La Jetée (a film comprised mostly of still images). Screenwriters David and Janet Peoples take the original’s post-apocalyptic setting and most importantly a certain paradoxical time-travel concept (to say what it is would be a major spoiler) and greatly expand upon it — the result being a terrific science-fiction film which also made my list of great mind-bending cinema.
Sommersby (1993). Director Jon Amiel takes on Daniel Vigne’s The Return of Martin Guerre (1982). The original is set in 16th century France, but the remake shifts the period to just after the U.S. Civil War where Laurel Sommersby’s (Jodie Foster) abusive husband (Richard Here) is missing in combat and presumed dead — until one day he shows up still alive. The only thing is the “new” Jack Sommersby treats her nicely (and also strangely seems to have smaller feet), leaving the notion that he might in fact be an impostor.
Point of No Return (1993). WarGames and Bird on a Wire director John Badham takes on this remake of Luc Besson’s 1990 action film La Femme Nikita about a young drug addict convicted of armed robbery who is recruited to be an assassin for the government (Bridget Fonda plays her in the remake, taking over from Anne Parillaud who played her in the original). As remakes go it’s actually reasonably faithful to its source, though not nearly as effective, but it still stands on its own as a decent action flick.
Cousins (1989). In this adaptation of the Oscar-nominated film Cousin, cousine (1975), Ted Danson and Isabella Rossellini star as cousins by marriage who discover their respective spouses are having an affair with each other. While pretending to have an affair themselves, they discover they are becoming more than just friends. It’s certainly not the greatest romantic comedy ever made, but still a sweet little film with appealing leads who do have chemistry together.
Men Don’t Leave (1990). Paul Brickman, who had previous made Risky Business (1983), directs this comedy-drama loosely based on La vie continue (1981). Jessica Lange plays a woman who moves with her two sons to Baltimore in the aftermath following the unexpected death of her husband in this somewhat quirky often overlooked drama. Arliss Howard, Chris O’Donnell and Kathy Bates also star, with Joan Cusack particularly amusing as a nurse who the older son (O’Donnell) falls in love with.
Sorcerer (1977). Four men, each destitute for different reasons in Venezuela, take a job in desperation to transport explosives across dangerous mountain terrain so they can be used to help extinguish a bad oil fire. Okay, so suspense-wise William Friedkin’s remake doesn’t match the intensity of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s original The Wages of Fear (1953), but I must acknowledge that Sorcerer has a much better ironic ending.