What's up with all the 1980s love currently spilling out of multiplexes?
Sure, Hollywood and marketers of all sorts have long mined nostalgia as a powerful enticement tool in the marketplace. But is 20 years enough time to generate sufficient yearning for a period whose mainstream culture is best represented by the rise of stupid action movies and/or creatively bankrupt sequels (see the career of Sylvester Stallone for examples of both), acutely disposable Pop music (see everything from Hair Metal to Milli Vanilli), ludicrous clothes (see Miami Vice) and the presence of a two-term president whose nefarious policies laid the groundwork for our current economic meltdown?
As a child of that era, I have mixed feelings about the recent surge in ’80s nostalgia. Hot Tub Time Machine is the perfect example. It works only because of its barrage of ’80s touchstones (nods to John Cusack's early cinematic efforts, Poison's “Talk Dirty to Me,” neon-colored clothing, Crispin Glover and various teen-centric movie cliches of the period, to name a few), which to viewers who were not adolescents or early teenagers during the era will likely go unnoticed or unappreciated, leaving them to suffer through a shoddy narrative that does little to live up to the promise of the movie's hilarious title conceit.
MacGruber suffers from the same problem — only those who were weaned on stupid TV shows like MacGyver and the previously mentioned action movies are likely to “get” its often esoterically based satirical qualities, none of which are enough to justify the movie's existence.
This week gives us two more movies based on nostalgically driven guilty pleasures: a remake of Karate Kid and an “update” of The A-Team, an early-’80s TV hit that was so quaint that it never allowed the death of its many band guys — a new crop of which popped up with each new episode — no matter how baldly they were beaten up or how many times their cars flipped over and burst into flames.
The TV show's biggest draw, B.A. Baracus as played by Mr. T, is apparently no fan of the updated movie version.
"People die in the film and there's plenty of sex,” T said recently after attending preview screening. “But when we did it, no one got hurt and it was all played for fun and family entertainment. These seem to be elements nobody is interested in anymore. It was too graphic for me. I've no doubt it will do big business at the box office but it's nothing like the show we turned out every week.”
I'm not sure which is worse: That the producers of the new version betrayed the source material's roots, or that the original forever altered an entire generation's perception of violence as “family entertainment.”
THE A-TEAM — Not to be crass, but it seems as if the recently widowed Liam Neeson has been slumming it lately (see Clash of the Titans). Now he's taken on the role of Hannibal in this update of the 1980s television series about a group of former Special Forces soldiers who have been discarded for a crime they didn't commit. Joe Carnahan (Narc and Smokin' Aces) directs a cast that also includes Bradley Cooper as Face, Quinton Jackson as B.A. Baracus and Sharlto Copley as Murdock. Jessica Biel and Patrick Wilson are also on board an endeavor that's already been dissed by the original B.A., Mr. T. (Opens wide today.) — Jason Gargano (Rated PG-13.) Review coming soon.
HARRY BROWN — Purely for the reliable pleasure of Michael Caine's company, I came ready to praise what threatened to be another miserabilist drama of life and death in Broken Britain. But director Daniel Barber's lame handwringing about the root causes of youthful alienation forms a thin veneer over the real purpose of this self-important piece of rubbish — to hold us hostage to the director's bottomless appetite for spurious depravity. (Read full review here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — Ella Taylor (Rated R.) Grade: D-plus
KARATE KID — Last week we had the live-action adaptation of a comic-book dog voiced by Owen Wilson; this week we have a remake of a movie that was only watchable the first time because of its unintentionally goofy, earnest charms — the age-old story of a meek, insecure kid (played here by Jaden Smith) whose life is turned around by a sage, old-school karate master (played here by Jackie Chan). I've run out of disparaging remarks when it comes to Hollywood's cynical recycling machine, so I'll leave it at this: Rent the original. (Opens wide today.) — JG (Rated PG.) Review coming soon.
PLEASE GIVE — Writer/director Nicole Holofcener (Walking and Talking, Lovely and Amazing and Friends with Money) is back to drop another urbane, talky comedy (with a touch of drama) that's likely to deliver the kind of nuance/insight that typical studio movies of this ilk (as well as recent Woody Allen efforts) avoid or can't get right. Catherine Keener, long a Holofcener muse, and Oliver Platt play a married couple who run a furniture store in Manhattan. Word is that Holofcener uses this simple setup to delve into everything from the ethically sketchy selling of “vintage” items to the travails of contemporary parenting. (Opens today at Esquire.) — JG (Rated R.) Review coming soon.