Every remake carries with it the same bottom line: is the new one better than the first? Few are, so perhaps a fairer question is to ask if Rod Lurie’s slice of white trash Americana remake is worthy of Sam Peckinpah’s original slice of classical cult?
Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs featured a familiar plot, considerably weak acting, and some of the most infamous consecutive eight minutes ever put on film. Rod Lurie’s rehashing carries with it the flaws of the original, while boasting its strengths as well.
For Lurie’s film, notable screenwriter David Sumner (James Marsden) and his actress wife, Amy (Kate Boseworth) return to her hometown for a little R and R, and soon find themselves victim of some genuinely terrifying Southern charm.
Shortly after hiring Amy’s high school flame, Charlie (Alexander Skarsgård) to repair their barn roof, David finds himself annoyingly distracted by the construction, while his wife endures a playful bit of sexual harassment. But don’t worry, as Charlie informs just about every character in the film at least once, “We take care of our own around here.” So really, there’s nothing to worry about. Right.
Chaos soon ensues; advantage is taken, identities are mistaken, felines are rested, tempers are flared, blood is shed, all in the name of camp cinema.
Lurie, as demonstrated in his fantastic (and fantastically overlooked) The Contender, has a serious eye for cinema. His camera is sharp, purposefully focused, and hued just right. His dialogue is witty and inviting (Lurie has wisely removed a great deal of ham from the original’s script). And his work with actors almost always lends itself to determined results.
Marsden and Bosworth (mostly off the radar as of late) fit well into the roles generated by Dustin Hoffman and Susan George, with Marsden (mostly) well cast as the dweeb out of his element, and Bosworth slinking convincibly into the not-so-damsel in distress bit. And then there’s Alexander Skarsgård, whose popularity seems to be gaining by the week, delivering a cunning performance of subtle evil. It’s a meaty role, and Skarsgård sinks his teeth right into it.
While Lurie’s flick has a good amount going for it, his Straw Dogs, like Peckinpah’s, is not without its flaws. Time hasn’t done well for the story, which now feels dated and done, lacking all originality. Marsden gets a little too medieval on some redneck asses, to the point of displaying the powers of a would-be superhero. Hoffman was a frail, scared shitless dork, which is why the performance worked. Marsden is a buff, take-no-prisoners snob, which doesn’t make his initial fear all to compelling.
Was it necessary for Rod Lurie to remake an already mediocre film? Sure, why not. For better or worse, it does the original justice by sticking closely to its source material. But that bear trap, I must say, is used far better this time around. B-