I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Abramsed: Movies I Want J.J. Abrams to Overhaul

Who didn't love last summer's J.J. Abrams version of Star Trek (2009)? It was everything Gene Roddenberry would have asked for combined with some strong Abrams themes like the daddy issues of Kirk and Spock. Some might say that Abrams's greatest talent is overhauling old ideas. The upcoming television program Undercovers is being described as a re-working of the ideas behind the decent Pitt and Jolie film Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005). I'd argue that Fringe is a play on important themes from old science fiction films like They Live (1988) and Scanners (1988).

Sometimes a movie will come out with an incredible premise, but then the filmmakers make some sort of compromise for the sake of money. The film Mean Girls (2004) was surprisingly smart, but it still mattered to include stupid falling-into-trashcans comedy (which lead me to coin the term Lohanized, where a good movie is made stupid for stupid audiences). Sometimes someone comes up with a good idea but settles on a terrible script. Sometimes it's as simple as casting a terrible actress like Jennifer Aniston in the film. I wish many of these movies with great premises could be Abramsed. I wish they could be injected with that amazing quality of fun, wonder and human drama while holding on to the original creative intention of the movie.

Here are a few films that I wish would be Abramsed:

1. Dude, Where's My Car? (2000)

I love the idea of creating a suspenseful mystery out of not remembering what happened the night before. I think it's the most fruitful story possibility I've seen in the last several years and yet I don't think anyone has ever perfected it. Memento (2000) came the closest, but this film didn't reflect the loss of one night in memory. It reflected the loss of all long-term memory. The Hangover (2009) came awfully close as well, but the mystery was completely overshadowed by the comedy. If J.J. Abrams took on the Dude Where's My Car theme, you'd have a proper balance of comedy, character development, mystery and intrigue. You could argue that he's already made his first attempt at this storyline on LOST with the mystery of Christian Shephard's Australian death.

2. Legally Blonde (2001)

Doesn't anyone else see something dark and human about a woman who gets into law school for the sake of winning the heart of a boy? This movie had everything going for it. Witherspoon had already proven her dark comedy obsession chops in 1999's Election and 2000's American Psycho. Like Mean Girls there was a Heathers (1988) vibe: who couldn't popular girl Elle Woods manipulate in pursuit of the boy she wants? But instead of Bret Easton Ellis, we got Bend and Snap. Instead of brilliance, we got Lohanned. This "pretty girl" needs an Abrams makeover like crazy!

3. The Incredibles (2004)

This was probably the best delivered film on this list, but it was still missing something. Films like My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006) and Hancock (2008) attempted to show the underbelly of what would happen when flawed human beings get incredibly abilities. They'd still be jealous. They'd still become alcoholics. It'd just be more dangerous for everyone around them. The Incredibles borders on some serious issues for a superhero family, much like the Fantastic Four comics have for years. But in the end, nothing really seemed like it was on the line. The family would certainly get back together. These films never take any risks. They always aim for the happily ever after. And in the case of The Incredibles we're bombarded with childish humor. Yes, it was a children's film, but if we keep lowering our standards of comedy we lower our expectations for the intelligence of our children, and that is a serious problem. Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl should be separated. Hancock should, in some terrifying and unexpected moment, accidentally murder someone Alan Moore style. One thing I love about Abrams is that he doesn't lower his expectations for his audiences. He feeds mass audiences theoretical physics and they ask for more.

4. The Bounty Hunter (2010)

When I saw the trailer for this film, I was filled with two equal and opposite emotions. The first was ecstatic joy. This premise is even better than Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Instead of two married spies who know nothing about the spyhood of the other, you have a divorced couple that falls on either side of the law. The second feeling was a deep sadness. The comedy in the trailer was superficial and uninteresting. Aniston simply cannot act and Butler's been phoning everything in since he played King Leonidas. J.J. Abrams wouldn't let that fly. He'd have a good script and he'd inspire Butler to his best, and Aniston wouldn't be able to screw it up because the story tells itself.

5. Knight and Day (2010)

I understand that it's a little too early to call this film a failure. As a matter of fact, I was blown away by the trailer. There are just so many ways for this film to go wrong. I don't trust a single soul working on this project the way I trust J.J. Abrams. The director James Mangold has done some great films, premiere amongst these in my mind is 3:10 to Yuma (2007), but he's never directed this sort of dark comedy. The script comes from Patrick O'Neill, who has never written a script for a major film. Cameron Diaz is just plain terrible and Tom Cruise has so much of an ego that it's easy to forget that he can at times be an impressive actor. I'm hoping this film is good, but I know it'd be better with Abrams involved. He's worked with Cruise in Mission Impossible III (2006) and is currently working with him on Mission Impossible IV (2011). He does magnificent action with interesting stories, but is also capable of the ridiculous.

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