Cover Story: Summer of Retread

Will this year's perennial crop of remakes mean hot box office?

Peter Mountain

Johnny Depp headlines Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

As the Hollywood machine embraces fewer fresh ideas, the summer movie season sees a glaring up-tick in remakes. And why not? They're safe, easy product for the popcorn-munching masses — i.e. perfect for the teen-friendly summer season.

So knowing full well that these revisited films will never win an award — at least none from sources other than MTV and Nickelodeon — and likely won't make a critic's top 10 list at the end of the year, the only fair way to anticipate the 2005 versions is to disclose what we know is new, say what aspect of the original we hope it kept and speculate how the new will compare to the old. And away we go...

Honeymooners (Opens June 10)
What we know is new: Ralph's skin color! The '50s TV classic featured all white leads, including Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden and Art Carney as pal Ed Norton. This time out, the cantankerous Kramden will be played by Cedric the Entertainer.

What we hope is kept: The famous line, "To the moon, Alice!" Then again, domestic abuse jokes stopped being funny about 40 years ago.

Will it stack up: It could. After all, its source material was loose enough to allow for a complete reinterpretation.

Batman Begins (June 15)
What we know is new: Everything, and that's good. No Joel Schumacher. No Tim Burton pop-goth bravado. The players this time out seem to want to pay respect to the Batman: Year One comics and throw out everything else.

What we hope is kept: The highbrow, actorly approach to a comic book movie that only Val Kilmer ever nailed in the first installments. Christian Bale should do well.

Will it stack up: For sure. The bar has been lowered so far that director Christopher Nolan (Memento) should completely over-deliver. A franchise is reborn.

Herbie: Fully Loaded (June 22)
What we know is new: Sassy Lindsay Lohan delays adulthood once more with this family-friendly remake from Disney about a car that drives itself.

What we hope is kept: At least they resisted the urge to use the new VW Beetle.

Will it stack up: For its core audience? Probably. For the rest of us? We'll just smile through it politely.

Bewitched (June 24)
What we know is new: It's not just a movie remake of the TV show Bewitched. It's a movie about remaking the TV show Bewitched. Clever, huh?

What we hope is kept: The cute nose twinkle Elizabeth Montgomery did so well. We're thinking Nicole Kidman can top it.

Will it stack up: If it does, it's all because of Will Ferrell. The man can make anything funny.

War of the Worlds (June 29)
What we know is new: That magic that only Steven Spielberg can bring to alien flicks. This time, though, the ETs kill people and don't like Reese's Pieces. Oh, and someone named Tom Cruise stars.

What we hope is kept: Considering how cheesy the eponymous '50s film is, not much. But we trust that Spielberg is going to nail mass hysteria and global attacks pretty well.

Will it stack up: We're thinking this is the surest remake in the hopper this summer. A palpable hit.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (July 15)
What we know is new: A dark edge. Director Tim Burton said he wanted to be more faithful to the novel than the '70s Willie Wonka film, and that means edge. And no musical numbers.

What we hope is kept: That perfect charm that Gene Wilder brought to the original. It'll be tough, but if anyone can do it, it's Johnny Depp.

Will it stack up: Jury's out. The trailer is flat-out bizarre. But will the film end up bizarrely flat?

Bad News Bears (July 22)
What we know is new: There's almost no way this remake gets a PG rating this time out. If it does, it's a big red flag that the filmmakers toned down the crude humor that made the original so endearing.

What we hope is kept: The aforementioned crude humor. You have to cut Richard Linklater some slack, though. After The School of Rock, he could make this work.

Will it stack up: Billy Bob Thornton seems like a perfect replacement for crusty Walter Matthau, so this could be a hit.

The Pink Panther (Aug. 5)
What we know is new: Steve Martin tackling Peter Sellers' iconic role of Inspector Clouseau. Not that Martin hasn't attempted remakes before (see Sgt. Bilko), but this one seems riskier than the rest.

What we hope is kept: That perfect tone of adult silliness that original director Blake Edwards nailed. New director Shawn Levy (Cheaper by the Dozen) better grow up fast.

Will it stack up: Martin's comedic talents notwithstanding, this will bomb.

The Dukes of Hazzard (Aug. 5)
What we know is new: While Seann William Scott and Johnny Knoxville make a good Bo and Luke, respectively, will Jessica Simpson be sufficient eye-candy in a pair of Daisy Dukes? Also, we're a little weirded-out by Burt Reynolds as Boss Hogg.

What we hope is kept: The General Lee. As is. No updating. No Confederate Flag blurring. Just let the classic live on.

Will it stack up: In retrospect, the TV show was pretty dumb. So if the movie is even halfway entertaining, it'll be a step in the right direction. ©

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