The Manchurian Candidate (7/10)

Copyright © 2004 by Tony Medley


That’s the question I was constantly asking myself as I sat through this 2-1/2 hour remake of the 1962 John Frankenheimer-Angela Lansbury-Frank Sinatra-Lawrence Harvey original. This has so many leaps of faith that in order to enjoy it you must follow The Beatles dictum and “Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream.”

The quick conclusion is that Director Jonathan Demme is no John Frankenheimer and Meryl Streep, despite her many Oscars, is no Angela Lansbury. Screenwriters Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris, who can’t hold a candle to 1962’s George Axelrod, give Streep, who plays Senator Ellie Prentiss Shaw, a truly ludicrous speech right at the beginning as she’s begging the party to name her son, Raymond Shaw (Live Schreiber), the Vice Presidential candidate. Lansbury was a wonderfully hateful, creepy mother in the original. Streep doesn’t even come close to portraying the menacing character Lansbury created.

U.S. Army Major Bennett Marco (Denzel Washington) was Shaw’s commanding officer in Desert Storm. Their squad was lost for three days and Shaw came back a Medal of Honor winner, which helped him into his present position as a U.S. Congressman. Marco thinks something’s amiss. Nobody pays any attention to him, but they follow him anyway as he tries to do something about it.

One detraction is that the original made the North Koreans and Chinese the bad guy brainwashers. Instead of choosing a modern convenient enemy of the United States (like Muslim fundamentalist terrorists?) around whom just about everyone could rally, Demme has chosen to make a corporation the boogey man. To give his political credentials further accreditation, he adds some oblique, sophomoric digs at President Bush’s Administration. The man takes himself, oh, so seriously. Today’s Hollywood filmmakers like Demme seem compelled to make their simplistic political points at the serious cost of entertainment values. It’s a sickness that permeates modern Hollywood, infecting lots of films, even something as hebetudinous as Anchorman. As Linda Ronstadt recently discovered, most people are paying for entertainment, not to have to be subjected to the ill-informed political ideology, however subtilely imposed, of some entertainer taking unfair advantage of a platform other folk don't have.

But the major fault of this movie is that most of the plot points just don’t make sense. For example, and without giving anything away, more than a decade after it was inserted, Marco looks at his back and finds some kind of microbe. Why did it take more than ten years for him to look in the mirror and find it? Was he waiting for Demme’s cameras to record the moment?

If you can relax and stop yourself from asking logical questions, this is an involving thriller that most people should enjoy. Although it’s another remake that should not have been remade, I wish they had devised a plot that was at least slightly credible. The reason the original was relatively successful was that it was plausible.  The believability of Demme’s version is on the scale of Spiderman and Catwoman.

November 05, 2010

The End