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Failed Movie Adaptations: Now With 100% Less Bonfire of the Vanities!

May 19, 2010

Bruce Willis stars as Dwayne Hoover in 1999's Breakfast of Champions

The AV Club compiled a list of great novels turned into lousy movies and for the most part there are few surprises – Newsflash, Bonfire of the Vanities makes everyone’s list; referencing its spectacular fail has become its own trope. Nevertheless, I agree with their assessment of the film and I’ve given my reasons why before so I won’t go into again.

In addition most of these lists sound like echo chambers. Really Tropic of Cancer was bad? I am shocked by this development. Are you trying to tell me a soft core treatment of a novel by Henry Miller, which moves the novel’s events to the 60s and stars Rip Torn is bad? Wow, that’s quite a grasp of the obvious. That said, I’m not completely sure I trust your analysis, so please indulge me as I read a dozen lists – picked randomly by google – telling me the exact same thing. Folks, there is a great untapped pool of awful film adaptations. Why keep analyzing same 20 or 30 films we’ve all come to agree are TERRIBLE? Let’s have some new terrible experiences!

Breakfast of Champions
Bruce Willis, Albert Finney, Barbara Hershey, Glenne Headly, Omar Epps, Nick Nolte
written & directed by: Alan Rudolph

    Bruce Willis – a lightning rod for negative acting criticism – is not the problem here. In fact, he’s actually the most enjoyable aspect of the film, which otherwise is nothing but awful. Hands down winner of “the main thing wrong this movie” award goes to Nick Nolte who is just dreadful as Dwayne Hoover’s (Willis) cross-dressing, close talking, wildly problematically depicted sales manager Harry Le Sabre. Willis, saddled with yet another insulting hairpiece – was Carpet World having a sale – attempts to keep the film on course with his rather restrained performance as Hoover, a car dealership owner who is slowly descending into madness. Keeping Hoover company is an unlikely person – namely his dead wife Celia – who the filmmaker saw fit to resurrect so the plot could be more efficiently derailed by her suicidal behavior. Barbara Hershey is ten kinds of stinky and about eight kinds of tedious in a role best left in the grave. Meanwhile, Omar Epps – not usually given to terrible performances – does so here, but I can only assume it this is because he was not given a script and isn’t a strong improviser. Otherwise what could account for his inability to make any goddamn sense.

    You know a beloved classic is being butchered when upon seeing Vonnegut’s cameo the audience is not inclined to celebrate the event, but rather someone stands up in a crowded theater and says, “Someone arrest this man for these terrible crimes against his own work.” And by somebody, I mean me.

Drive Me Crazy
Melissa Joan Hart, Adrian Greenier, Ali Larter

    Todd Strasser – a prolific and extremely talented YA novelist – created a witty series called “Time Zone High” chronicling the lives of a group of teens from Timothy Zonin High in several novels: How I Spent My Last Night on Earth and the horribly adapted How I Created the Perfect Prom Date. Strasser’s body of work is not limited to these novels, but also includes the truly sublime pair of novels – Workin’ for Peanuts and A Very Touchy Subject which tackle the challenges of growing up male the way Blume does for gals. All this chow chow is to make you aware that prior to its WB-like transformation, Drive Me Crazy had been a wonderfully witty teen book known by a much better title. Everything wrong with this adaptation can be traced to its depiction of female characters. Female characters, who are generally featured in complex and actualized ways in Strasser’s prose are rendered flat, shrill and vapid on the screen. The character played by a pre-Heroes Ali Larter somehow has transformed from a thoughtful and intriguing juxtaposition to Melissa Joan Hart’s character, to a mean spirited, stock high school “slut” throwback last seen in films like Joysticks.

The Door in the Floor
Jeff Bridges, Kim Bassinger, Jon Foster

    To be fair, I do not like this film because of the retitled trickery which found me spending an afternoon settling down to watch what I thought was some kind of lightly traumatic film of the Unbearable Whiteness of Being genre. I must have been cycling laundry through and missed the part in the credits where it said:

    Based on the John Irving novel A Widow For One Year

    Because believe you me, had I known that I would have bypassed this film and watched The Ice Storm (wonderful adaptation of Rick Moody’s novel) instead, as it’s exponentially less disturbing than this sneaky ass, tawdry adaption of Irving’s novel. Technically, it’s based on the first third of this door stopper – my least favorite Irving novel – which by far to me is the most boring, though perfectly appropriate if one wishes to mine its riches for material to offend, disturb and traumatize its unsuspecting audience. Watching the trailer only makes me more insulted as it presents a disingenuous representation of film and has the cheek to reveal the MONEYSHOT/SPOILER too. Nobody’s stinks in this film and it looks real pretty, but in terms of being a good adaptation of a challenging, yet great novel, it’s utterly a disappointment. Yeah, that bait-and-switch trailer is all kinds of chicken fried fail.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 19, 2010 5:52 pm

    Amazing that BofC doesn’t work — Nolte seems to be acting as hard as he can in that clip 🙂

    Thanks once again Snarky, for taking ‘er easy for all us sinners. I will sleep well knowing these stinkers will never soil my screen.

  2. May 19, 2010 10:56 pm

    Nolte is having a real hard time with the concept of subtlety. Definitely acting as hard as he could. 🙂 What a terrible waste of what could have been a nice moment of stand out disaster for any number of other relatively talented actors in the film. Even in fail, Nolte must wrestle away all the credit.

    Now that’s ego!

  3. kia576 permalink
    May 20, 2010 7:00 am

    I’m not sure why I had to generate a new user name, I much prefer the simplicity of three solo letters.

    Julie Salomon’s The Devil’s Candy is a really fun book which details what happened behind the scenes during the making of Bonfire. De Palma gave the writer full access from the start of filming and continued to fully co operate once the train had clearly jumped the tracks.

    I will have to revisit Door in the Floor as I really liked it when I saw it upon its initial release. Widow for One Year is my least favorite Irving as well, which is unfair since I never even finished it. But I absolutely love to watch privileged people behaving badly in exclusive enclaves, thus my familiarity with the works of Dominick Dunne.

  4. May 20, 2010 11:17 am

    But I absolutely love to watch privileged people behaving badly in exclusive enclaves, thus my familiarity with the works of Dominick Dunne.

    HAHAHA. Seriously.

  5. May 20, 2010 12:40 pm

    can someone PLEASE add “Bridget Jones’ Diary” to one of these lists? seriously, the book was one of the best profiles of the young woman’s brain i’ve ever read (i recognize its limited perspective and problematic issues now, but this was pre-feminist enlightenment in my head) and the movie SUCKED. one of the aspects of bridget that i most identified with was the whole “only THINKS she’s fat” not actually is fat. she was obsessed with her weight, but was never more than 130 lbs at 5’4″, if i recall correctly. i was intrigued when all the news started popping up about renee zellweger gaining weight to play the character, and then MAD when i finally saw the movie. they dressed her so that she was popping out of her clothes and had rolls of fat spilling out everywhere. it didn’t fit the actual issues of the character at all.

    and this is leaving behind the crap-ass screen play that left all the charm of the original text somewhere in the toilet. i REFUSED to even think about seeing the sequel since i couldn’t imagine how they touch that book without destroying it.

  6. May 28, 2010 2:40 am

    InfamousQBert –

    I love BJD the film.
    I love BJD the novel.

    I do not like BJD the novel adapted into BJD the film. Separately, I enjoy them both. Mostly by pretending they have nothing to do with one another.

    Also, stay very far away from the sequel. VERY FAR AWAY.

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