There’s something about American remakes of foreign films that just doesn’t work. Some stellar films have come out of Europe and Asia, only to completely lose their zing on an American screen. Is it our directors? Our actors? Our script doctors? Because Hollywood really seems to be the place where good foreign films go to get terrible.
The Vanishing (1993)
The original thriller The Vanishing (1988) and the American remake (1993) were directed by the same Dutch filmmaker, George Sluizer, so one would expect the movies to be of similar quality. Not so. Both films follow the terrifying and captivating tale of a man who begins receiving letters from the person who kidnapped his girlfriend years earlier. But whereas the first movie—known as Spoorloos in the Netherlands, where it was released—is effective because of its unsettling final scenes (no spoiler), Sluizer wrote a typical Hollywood ending for the remake, which starred Kiefer Sutherland, weakening what was originally a powerfully harrowing film.
Death at a Funeral (2010)
Neil LaBute’s Death at a Funeral (2010) was a remake of Frank Oz’s 2007 British film by the same name. Though LaBute kept almost all of Oz’s script about a funeral that turns into a fiasco of exposed family secrets and tensions, he lost the heart of the original film because of his casting choices. In the 2010 version, Chris Rock and Martin Lawrence—who are more used to playing in-your-face comedy roles—lacked the emotional subtlety to convey the rich characterization and interpersonal ties that lie beneath the farce in the original.
Dinner for Schmucks (2010)
Francis Veber’s Le Dîner de Cons (“Dinner for Cretins,” or “The Dinner Game,” in the United States) was nominated for six César awards (the French Oscars) and won three of them in 1999. But the 2010 remake starring Steve Carell and Paul Rudd was a flop. The premise of both films involves an ambitious executive who is searching for an unknowing simpleton to become the champion idiot at a mean-spirited dinner party. Admittedly, the remake does offer some laughs, but in general it’s a greatly diluted version of the French film, with the scathing humor of the original watered down to predictable comedy tropes. Carell’s and Rudd’s antics made audiences wonder whether we were the idiots for paying to see a genius French movie fall flat on an American screen.
Funny Games (2008)
Funny Games, a psychological thriller written and directed by Michael Haneke, is a shot-for-shot remake of the 1997 Austrian film of the same name, also made by Haneke. The only difference is that the more recent version is translated into English, is set in the United States, and has a different cast of actors. Oh, there’s one more difference: the remake just isn’t that good. Joshua Rothkopf, from Time Out New York, called the film “a sour project that defines anti-imaginative.” The Chicago Sun-Times gave the film only half a star. And the Times of London ranked Funny Games twenty-fifth on its list of the 100 Worst Films of 2008. Even with the same director, script, and cinematography, the American screen turned this great movie bad.
Roland Emmerich’s 1998 Godzilla bears virtually no resemblance to the 1954 Japanese film of the same name on which it is based. Instead of the destructive, radiated dinosaur in the original movie (who breathed atomic fire and stomped on buildings), Emmerich’s version of Godzilla was more iguana-like than monstrous (no fire breath, no stomping). Emmerich essentially lost the basis of the metaphor that forms the Japanese film, which is that Godzilla represents the atomic bomb. Film critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, who were both lampooned in the 1998 Godzilla, gave the film caustic reviews. And at the 1998 Golden Raspberry Awards, Godzilla was nominated for five Razzies: Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, Worst Supporting Actress (it won), and Worst Remake or Sequel (it also won).
Taxi (2004), directed by Tim Story, is a remake of a 1998 film of the same name by French director Gérard Pirès, with a script by Luc Besson. Both versions have a pretty simple plot that revolves around several car-chase gags, but the French version has much more style and energy than the American one. Jimmy Fallon is clumsy and goofy in his role, and his humor often falls flat, whereas Samy Naceri gives the French film a cool, suave, zippy feel.