Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What's Steve Martin's Deal?

When you hear the name Steve Martin, what comes to mind first? Most of us probably think of The Jerk and then follow that up with Planes, Trains and Automobiles. While these are both justifiably deemed modern comedy classics and in their day were considered innovative and original, I've noticed something about Martin. Has appeared in more non-pornographic remakes than anyone in the history of cinema. Martin's illustrious career has featured him as lead actor in 30 films. Of those, 14 have been remakes or sequels to remakes.*

It wasn’t always this way. Martin’s first film, “The Jerk,” scored big with audiences and put him on the map as a lead comedic actor. In 1981, Martin reprised Bob Hoskins’ part in a remake of “Pennies From Heaven.” It was his second leading role, though the movie flopped with little fanfare. From there, he was the centerpiece of several quirky, but largely uneven comedies including Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, The Man with Two Brains, and All of Me. Along came ¡Three Amigos!, panned by critics but a significant box office success.
Martin's prolific run of remakes began to ramp up in the summer of 1987 with Roxanne, a modern day version of Edmond Rostand's oft-filmed play, Cyrano de Bergerac. The inspired choice drew rave reviews and did pretty well at the box office. A year later came Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Michael Caine, a successful remake of the 1964 Marlon Brando/David Niven film, Bedtime Story. Father of the Bride (with Martin in the Spencer Tracy role) followed in 1991. Then, from 1994 to 1999, five consecutive Martin vehicles reprised old, familiar territory: A Simple Twist of Fate, Mixed Nuts, Father of the Bride Part II, Sgt. Bilko, and The Out-of-Towners.

Recent "covers" include Cheaper By The Dozen (and its sequel) and the new Pink Panther, which brings us up to date. That's a whole lotta remakes. The only two movies currently slated for Steve Martin the actor are The Pink Panther 2 (please let that simply be a working title - I'll offer up "The Regurgitation of the Pink Panther" if they need ideas), and Topper, a remake of a 1937 Cary Grant film.Are all these remakes a good idea? Going by the IMDb ratings, of his top ten films, only two fall in the remake category. Seven of his nine lowest are remakes. The work for which he's most revered and successful is almost exclusively of the original, made-from-scratch variety. Perhaps more damning, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels was the only remake that bested its original counterpart. The average drop in rating is a whopping 1.66. Translation - most of these are not building upon the original work, but have an established concept and require less imagination, creativity and effort. Surely, nearly all remakes fall short of the original pieces, but must we then question why he continues to do them?

I come not to bury Mr. Martin, but to try to understand. Surely there must be some behind-the-scenes Hollywood business playing a role in this phenomenon. When remake projects come up, do industry powers automatically think that Martin should be the centerpiece? Is he turning down six remakes a year? Clearly Martin is the one making choices, and clearly the guy's gotta eat. Yet there must be some sort of fascination for him. He must be cognizant of these trends - it's not like he is unaware of the original films' existence.

I also have to wonder why nobody's mentioned this before. When Topper comes out in 2010, will the public (or at least the critics) finally be on to Martin's trend? Will they care? Better yet, does it even matter? My urge is to question the man's work ethic, but as I said above, clearly something else is going on. I'm about as excited for Topper as I am for The Pink Panther Comes Back All Over Again. At least we'll always have The Jerk. Maybe in 2011, Martin can remake that one. That's a project I can get behind.

*I didn’t count Little Shop of Horrors to goose up the numbers since he wasn’t the movie’s star, though it is another remake. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid was not considered a remake. It’s one of the 30, but a spoof, not a remake.


Scene-Stealers said...

He vascillates between dreck (all of the above) and interesting stuff ("Shopgirl," "The Spanish Prisoner") like everybody else does, but his dreck is stinkier than most, and he never gets any shit for it. He's still edgy. Remember his Oscar-hosting year? He certainly wasn't wearing his family-friendly "Cheaper by the Dozen" hat that night. He must do these remakes because they're easy money. That's the only thing I can think of. Although taking on Peter Sellers couldn't have sounded like an easy project, so who knows?

Jonas said...

I agree with the other comment, Shopgirl was really quite good. I guess that kind of movie takes a lot of work and acting in the remakes is simply for fun?