Thursday, June 13, 2013

Jump Cuts: TV Adaptations of the 2000s Edition

Welcome to Jump Cuts, a feature where I watch a handful of movies that have something in common in genre, theme, casting, etc. Today's topic: (fairly) recent films based on TV shows.

You have to look hard to find the signifiers of the 1980s “MTV cops” drama Miami Vice in Michael Mann’s 2006 adaptation, which casts undercover Miami police officers Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) as grim, determined professionals infiltrating the ranks of a major South American drug trafficker.  While the TV series played up the go-go culture and exoticism of its South Beach milieu (not to mention the garish fashions and music of the era), Mann presents a perversely morose morality play about two world-weary detectives and the ethical tightrope they walk to keep the bad guys at bay.  It’s a fascinating, stylish look at the consequences of unchecked hedonism, as if imagining versions of Crockett and Tubbs who’ve seen some shit in the intervening two decades but managed to preserve their youthful good looks.  

Yet all this amounts to a relatively minor wrinkle in a film that’s still pitched to a modern level of cinematic machismo; as the protagonists’ respective love interests, Gong Li and Naomie Harris amount to little more than mission objectives (protect the girl, save the girl, avenge the girl, etc.).  Miami Vice can’t escape its destiny, delivering a final fist-bumping, butt-rocking, bullet-spraying shootout - as well as a Farrell performance that’s sullied by his Scott Stapp haircut and a weird vocal register that’s deep in the Batman zone - but Mann’s unabashed embrace of superficiality is often intoxicating and always jaw-droppingly gorgeous.

A decidedly different look at law enforcement in Magic City, Reno 911!: Miami transplants the bumbling Nevada deputies from the eponymous Comedy Central faux-documentary sitcom (think Cops meets The Office) to Florida for some wacky vacation antics.  When a national police convention is the target of a bio-terrorist attack, Reno's finest - having been denied entry to the event - become the last line of defense against crime in Miami.  Reno 911!: Miami was released during the first run of the series that inspired it, so it's disappointing that the movie makes little attempt to vary the action beyond the same minor disturbances and cringey sexual tension featured on television.  

Reno 911! co-creators and cast members Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon, and Kerri Kenney-Silver treat the film as a roll-call for cameos by their comedy pals rather than an opportunity to push the envelope of the series' humor, with its heavy intimation of darkness and perversion.  (A funny sequence depicting the officers' awkward ballet of nighttime desperation and simulated masturbation - all in a single take! - is the exception, not the rule.)  Drop-ins from the likes of Paul Rudd, Patton Oswalt, and series mainstay Nick Swardson give Reno 911!: Miami a little extra comedic mileage, but fans of the show will likely get the same amount of enjoyment out of a weekend of Reno re-runs.

There's a certain ramshackle charm to the Will Ferrell-starring, Brad Silberling-directed Land of the Lost, based on Sid and Marty Krofft's groovy children's show about a scientist and his family trapped in an alternate dimension similar to a prehistoric Earth.  In this version, Ferrell is a disgraced paleontologist/physicist who is warped to this strange land alongside an admiring female colleague (Anna Friel) and a crass redneck (Danny McBride, obviously).  Right from the start, they run afoul of the local fauna including a cranky tyrannosaur and a shuffling race of lizard-men called Sleestaks; their only ally is an ape-like creature named Cha-ka (Jorma Taccone) who seems to indulge his nihilism as much as he helps his new friends.  

Sadly, the film never embraces the free-form weirdness suggested by its entertaining opening act, settling into a dull pattern of alternating action and comedy beats.  It's an enormously expensive lark that suffers for being too polished, for saddling Ferrell with such a lame milquetoast character, and for padding the runtime with D.O.A. gags about showtunes, dinosaur urine, and Matt Lauer.  It's nice to see Ferrell learn the value of taking risks through his adventures, but it's shame that the exceedingly safe Land of the Lost doesn't heed its own advice.

Then we have Josie and the Pussycats, which isn’t content to just poke and prod at the flimsy pretenses that support the TV adaptation sub-genre - it gleefully bites the hand that feeds it, turning a pedestrian Archie Comics spin-off into a sly satire of consumerism and the vapidity of youth culture.  Josie is actually an amalgam of three films personified by its trio of leads: ditzy Melody (Tara Reid) represents the broad comedy of the original ‘70s Hanna-Barbera cartoon, responsible Valerie (Rosario Dawson) supplies its perfunctory moral center, and the adorably spunky Josie (Rachael Leigh Cook) serves as a mouthpiece for the subversive wit of co-directors/writing partners Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan.  The duo - also responsible for the superlative teen comedy Can’t Hardly Wait - creates a delightfully daffy world where pop stars are used to transmit subliminal advertising messages to the masses, a plot carried out with villainous aplomb by Alan Cumming and Parker Posey.  

The movie’s wall-to-wall product placement is part of the joke, but like many of Elfont and Kaplan’s ideas, it simply went over the heads of most tweens who apparently couldn't appreciate a murderous turn by Carson Daly or a Backstreet Boys-eque band whose biggest hit is titled “Backdoor Lover” (one of the many earworm-y tunes on a soundtrack produced by Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds and Fountains of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger).  Josie and the Pussycats may yet have all the elements of a cult classic and a generational signpost - its audience just had to grow up first.

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely love Josie & the Pussycats. Still listen to that soundtrack from time to time.