DOWN TO EARTH and SWEET NOVEMBER
Is it a coincidence, or a frightening sign of flicks to come, that the two most high-profile movie releases this past weekend were remakes of movies that no one could have reasonably wanted remakes of at all? Sure, it's commonly accepted that Hollywood has all but run out of fresh ideas, but to be subjected to both Down to Earth and Sweet November in the same weekend seems a little harsh.
To be fair, Down to Earth is modestly amusing and has a jolt of energy in the presence of Chris Rock, and Sweet November has a pretty look and pretty stars. But the former is a remake of a 1978 Warren Beatty picture, Heaven Can Wait (itself a remake of 1941's Here Comes Mr. Jordan), which still holds up well, thank you very much. And the latter, based on a 1968 film of the same name ... well, good God, the original was heinous enough.
The lesser offender, Down to Earth, features Rock as a stand-up comic whose life is prematurely cut short, and who is allowed to return to Earth in another man's body. The movie's one joke is that this hip young African American lands in the body of an aged, chubby, ultra-rich white guy, and begins making this old dude cool, giving money to the disenfranchised and subtly wooing the woman who hates him (Regina King). I'd fill you in on the nuances of the subplots, but it's far more fun to rent the original and catch them for yourselves.
I guess there's nothing all that wrong about remaking a harmless piece of fluff for further profit, but once you get the gag, there's nothing much right with it, either. Rock is quite entertaining in the first half of the film, having fun at the expense of the silly white folks surrounding him, and he certainly knows how to deliver a punch line and make it explode with crack timing. But with the exception of Eugene Levy as a beleaguered heavenly messenger, the supporting performances aren't nearly as engaging as they should be (the characters played by Chazz Palminteri, Greg Germann, Jennifer Coolidge, and Frankie Faison were played in 1978 by James Mason, Charles Grodin, Dyan Cannon, and Jack Warden, and there's no question about which ensemble is funnier), and the direction by Chris and Paul Weitz is as slack and visually drea