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IMG: Gersh Kuntzman
Give Remakes a Rest  
A new version of the classic 1979 comedy ‘The In-Laws’ opens this weekend. Our columnist says that with this film, Hollywood’s nasty case of remakeitis has finally become terminal  

    June 2 issue —  It’s official, everyone: Hollywood is out of ideas.

Evidence, of course, has been mounting for years, what with all the remakes (“Mr. Deeds”), sequels (“Men in Black II”) and lame ideas from TV (“I Spy”) that they’ve been churning out.


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       I THOUGHT 2001 was a low watermark for Hollywood’s unmatched creativity. In that year, studios remade and sequelized movies as well as revived lame TV shows resulting in beauties like “Rush Hour,” “Rollerball,” “Ocean’s 11,” “Planet of the Apes,” “Dr. Doolittle,” “Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles” and “Josie and the Pussycats.” I’m seeing the same movies so often now, I feel like I’m Bill Murray’s character in “Groundhog Day” (oy, I hope I didn’t just give some producer the idea for “Groundhog Day 2”).
       This year, there have been—and will be—plenty of remakes, sequels and lame TV revivals: “The Italian Job,” “2 Fast 2 Furious,” “Dumb and Dumberer,” “The Hulk,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “X2,” “Spy Kids 3-D,” “The Matrix Reloaded,” “The Matrix Revolutions” (two sequels in one year!), “Bad Boys II,” “Legally Blonde 2,” “Terminator 3” and, my favorite, “And Baby Makes Three 4” (OK, I made up the last one—or did I?). By my count, there will be 21 sequels or remakes released this summer.
       Included in that number is a remake of a 1979 comedy called “The In-Laws.”
       Now, if someone wants to remake something like “Swept Away” because he wants to put his wife in it, be my guest. You want to remake “Father of the Bride” because you feel that society has changed so much that the movie needs to be revisited? Hey, it’s your call. I’ll just spend my $10 elsewhere.
       But when you remake “The In-Laws,” you’re not merely offending my sense of creativity; you’re going right after my religion. This isn’t merely one of the best comedies ever, it’s one of the best movies ever.
       “I get more comments about ‘The In-Laws’ than any other movie I ever did,” director Arthur Hiller told me. “I thought my tombstone was going to read, ‘Here lies Arthur “Love Story” Hiller,’ but now I realize it will read, ‘Here lies Arthur “The In-Laws” Hiller.’”
       Hiller didn’t seem too pleased that his classic has been remade (after all, he directed the original version of “The Out-of-Towners,” but we all know what Hollywood did to that when they remade it four years ago): “Ten years ago, they wanted me to do the remake of ‘Born Yesterday,’ but I turned it down. I loved the original so much that I didn’t want to ruin a classic.” But Hiller’s decision to turn down the project didn’t stop the project. They just got a director with lower standards. “The In-Laws” is an equal affront.
       In case you’ve been living under a rock (or under the misguided notion that “Deuce Bigelow” is a great comedy), the original “In-Laws” tells the story of Vince Ricardo (Peter Falk), a reckless and hapless CIA agent whose son is about to marry the daughter of neurotic New York City dentist Sheldon Kornpett (Alan Arkin). On the eve of the wedding, Ricardo gets Kornpett involved in an international plot to bankrupt the United States (although it’s never clear whether Ricardo is trying to prevent it from happening or hastening it to happen). Along the way, Kornpett’s luxury car gets repainted (“There are flames on my car! There are flames on my car!”), he is groped by a hand-puppet, he learns about whole new species of animals (“Beaks? Flies with beaks?”) and gets shot at repeatedly (“Serpentine, Shel! Serpentine!”). And yet the wedding comes off as planned—plus a surprise visit from the Paramus Symphony!
       The movie is quirky and unique—and not the kind of thing that lends itself to a remake. No wonder when I saw the preview for it last year, my first reaction was, “That’s it, they really have run out of ideas.” My second reaction was to throw a Goober at the screen.
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       Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any great ideas, either. I couldn’t write a successful Hollywood comedy feature if you gave me six large with a percentage of the gross. My brain never seems to develop those high-concept ideas (“It’s like ‘Die Hard’ but on a drilling platform!”). When I do have a good idea—like that TV series centered on a broken-down tabloid hack with a heart of gold—I usually guzzle six cups of coffee and write feverishly for eight hours before collapsing in a heap of self-doubt, self-pity and self-abuse. When I read back the 15 pages of frenetic text, there’s usually only a single, solitary line of worthwhile prose, a line so good that I usually steal it and dump it in a column like this, never to be heard from again.
       But so what? I’m not in Hollywood, where people are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to be “script doctors” for screenplays that really only need the services of a good “script mortician.”
       I noticed problems with the remake of “The In-Laws” even before today’s opening. This movie has seven producers and executive producers. Seven producers! You don’t need seven producers for a remake; all you need is an intern to do the Xeroxing! Call Jayson Blair. He’s great at copying.
       Nat Mauldin (“Downtown”) is credited with the remake’s screenplay. But it turns out that Mauldin’s script—which is a remake, I’ll remind you!—had its own script doctor, Ed Solomon (“Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey”).
       The movie itself is one wrong note after another. First of all, the Ricardo character—played by Michael Douglas—is now a bona-fide action hero, rather than the ne’er-do-well that Falk created. And Arkin’s role—now played by Albert Brooks—finds himself physically abused repeatedly, rather than just psychologically tormented by Ricardo. Even the banana republic leader with the hand puppet has been replaced by a swishy French arms trader who seems to hail from the planet Stereotype.
       Part of the charm of the original was that the audience never knew if Ricardo was an actual CIA agent, a rogue agent, or a criminal mastermind—and in the end, it didn’t matter. In the remake, he actually has Bond-like gadgets, guns that work, and, horrors!, an airplane that flies on auto-pilot (yes, gone are Billy and Bing, the Chinese pilots who were so beloved that “if Chiang had ever made it back to the Mainland, they would have been installed as anchors on the evening news”).
       I’m not going to say the movie wasn’t enjoyable, but if you’re going to remake a classic, you’ve got to provide more than an agreeable two hours in air-conditioning. So I called Andrew Bergman, the writer of the original movie, to get his opinion of what Mauldin, Solomon and the seven producers did to his masterpiece.
       “On the record or off the record?” he asked me. Bergman was in a difficult position. As the writer of the original, he doesn’t want to trash a movie whose very existence is a tribute to him. So he would only say that he was “pleasantly surprised” and “flattered to be able to see myself remade in my lifetime.” And that was the off the record stuff!
       But, savvy reporter that I am, I could tell that Bergman was just busting to let loose, so I asked him why Hollywood is so hurting for ideas that they’re remaking lousy 1970s TV shows and even lousy movies (yes, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is coming next year).
       “Hollywood is risk-averse,” Bergman said. “More than ever, this business is about earnings per share in the stock market. They are terrified of flops.”
       “They” must know what they’re doing: Last year, seven of the top 10 (and four of the top four) grossing films were remakes, sequels or the first installments of what are expected to be long-running franchises. There’s gold in them thar garbage.
       But that doesn’t help Bergman. Even though he began his career with “Blazing Saddles” and wrote “The Freshman” and “Fletch,” said he can’t get financing for his next comedy, “Joe’s Last Chance,” which has Arnold Schwarzenegger as an aging hitman hired to go to Mexico to kill an embezzling lawyer played by Cedric the Entertainer during what turns out to be the climactic weekend of a reality show.
       “I wish the studios were still interested in character-based comedies,” Bergman said, bemoaning his stalled project. “It’s actually kind of ‘In-Laws’-esque.”
       He did mean the original, right?

Gersh Kuntzman is also a columnist for The New York Post. His Web site is at
       © 2003 Newsweek, Inc.
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