It’s another remake. An anemic one at that.
Sam Peckinpah did the original Straw Dogs. He’s one of the pioneers of slow-motion, blood-splattering action techniques and other gruesome ways of showing violence to his characters.
During the gun fights in some of his flicks you can practically see the bullets entering the body of whoever is getting violently killed at that particular point in time.
Some think Peckinpah was a genius. Others because of the gruesome violence depicted in some of his his films, do not. I’m in the genius category. Most of his movies contain deep, interesting characters thrust into uncommon dilemmas.
That brings us to this version of Straw Dogs. Here, we get Rod Lurie rewriting and directing Peckinpah’s original work based on a book by Gordon Williams. Lurie, while no Peckinpah, does manage to hook himself to interesting projects: Resurrecting the Champ in 2007 and The Contender and The Last Castle in 2000 and 2001.
This one — while good — is not as interesting as his earlier stuff.
Lurie changes Peckinpah’s location from rural England to small-town Mississippi. Instead of a mathematician, David Sumner is a Hollywood scriptwriter and his gorgeous wife is a semi-famous TV actress. The ex-boyfriend is their first contact. He and his beer-swilling pals repair the roof on a barn on her estate.
The good ‘ol boys from Mississippi have nothing but disdain for the mild-mannered, citified Sumner and pure, unhidden lust for his gorgeous wife.
While violent in all the right places, it — and the original film’s deep themes — are somewhat sanitized. James Marsden does David and a sweat drenched, hotter than a muggy Mississippi day Kate Bosworth is his wife, Amy. The ex-BF is Alexander Skarsgard — Stellan’s kid — and James Woods does the mercurial-tempered ex-football coach.
Talk about stretching. Marsden — a fine actor — is usually found in non-action, comedy flicks such as the awful Hop, the close to as awful remake of Death at a Funeral and the excellent Enchanted. He’s decent in the role but not soft enough to truly be believable. The lame confrontations with the bad guys — who are cliche but not badly so — don’t come off as anything other than fluff to fill space until the last reel’s payoff.
Bosworth, on the other hand, employs no bra and the skimpiest of outfits this side of actual nudity to drive her character. It works. What doesn’t is how Lurie pens her. She’s wonderful, sweet and nice -- the perfect wife until getting to Mississippi. He has no clue about the ins and outs of that society, and she never really fills him in.
James Woods tears it up as the alcoholic coach whose temper sets off the confrontation with David and Amy at the film’s end. Woods — stuck doing straight to DVD projects, video game voice-overs and some TV — is a brilliant actor with the ability to light up a film. He’s always been an outstanding villain and his performance alone makes this worth seeing.
The bottom line: Lurie’s plot plods along longer than need be before true tension builds. He does, however, manage to make the final act work.
Mr. Movie rating: 3 1/2 stars
Rated R for mature themes, language, violence. It opens today at Regal’s Columbia Center 8 and at the Fairchild Cinemas 12.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.