‘Straw Dogs’ remake misses the point

By: Bill Thomas, Staff Writer


No one wants to be a member of the knee-jerk anti-remake crowd, but it’s hard to remain optimistic when so much of what Hollywood delivers these days is as disposable and pointless as this recent update of Sam Peckinpah’s controversial classic, “Straw Dogs.”

“Superman Returns” co-stars James Marsden and Kate Bosworth reunite to play David and Amy, a married couple getting into deep trouble in the Deep South. She’s a strong-willed sexpot who left her small-town roots behind to chase success as an actress, returning home now for the first time in years. He’s an effete city-boy screenwriter accompanying her in the hopes that the peaceful country setting will provide the quiet he seeks to concentrate on finishing his latest script.

The fly in the ointment is Charlie, an ex-boyfriend of Amy’s who doesn’t take kindly to the thought of his former flame walking around on the arm of an ineffectual intellectual.

Alpha male territorialism and red state-versus-blue state tension gradually escalate into all-out war when Charlie and his camo-clad Larry the Cable Guy-clone compatriots attack David’s home. To protect his household, his woman and his principles, David must get in touch with his dark side and, in a twisted way, prove himself a man.

Naturally, any movie whose success rests predominantly on the shoulders of James Marsden’s acting abilities… is screwed.

That said, it isn’t the picture’s lackluster performances — even James Woods seems to be phoning it in — that are its most glaring weaknesses. It’s the dumbing down of the deeper themes at work beneath the bare-bones plot that damages this retread the most.

While Peckinpah’s original was a caustic, lyrical meditation on violence, manhood and sexual politics, writer-director Rod Lurie’s version is a ham-fisted, distressingly generic siege film. If a story’s basic plot is inherently minimalistic, then it’s the subtext that needs to shine. Sadly, the thematic meat of the original “Straw Dogs” is jettisoned here in favor of an impatient pace, as if Lurie were saying “C’mon. Let’s get to the good stuff.”

The “good stuff,” as he evidently sees it, is the brutality. Perhaps trying to trump the notoriously nasty Peckinpah, Lurie relishes in his depictions of bloodshed. He makes an effort to outdo his predecessor’s downbeat ending, but the bleak tone of the remake’s final moments has not been earned by the 90 minutes preceding them.

The multidimensional complexity of the 1971 version is distilled down to a serviceable, but forgettable action-thriller exercise illuminated only briefly by the lingering ghosts of the original’s potential. Characters are rendered caricatures. What was once inferred from between the lines now beats us over the head with blunt obviousness. Ambiguity is extinct. In short, Lurie’s grim gravitas is superficial. His insight, inept.

Audiences seeing this version of “Straw Dogs” without having seen its forebear are likely to be satisfactorily entertained, but unimpressed. It does little to communicate what made the original so special, and it doesn’t add anything new either. It begs the question: what’s the point?

Rating: 1.5 stars out of 5