Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Funny Games

1 star

Since I saw
The Dark Knight trailer right before this film, here’s a riddle for ya:
q. What’s the only thing worse then making the film
Funny Games?
Re-making the film Funny Games!
Admittedly, I never saw Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke’s 1997 film about two well-mannered young men who brutally torment a wealthy family in their vacation home. But I am assured that I don’t need to. This latest version is a frame by frame remake, with different actors and, of course, now conveniently in English! Maybe Haneke just didn’t want some American hack to get his hands on his film. (Fair enough. Have you seen
City of Angels?). But more likely, he was so in love with his material, he just couldn’t resist bringing it to a larger audience.
Now, as a general rule, I hate films that are trying to do any of the combination of the following:
1. Disrupt the comfortable lives of the bourgeoisie. (Meaning, of course, both the characters and we, the oh-so-cozy audience.)
2. Blare punk rock music to prove how anti-establishment they are.
3. Scold us, the audience, for secretly craving violence on screen.
Funny Games hits the above trifecta while managing to not even get the details right. Maybe 10 years ago, a film about psychological torture with mostly off-screen violence would have flown, but today’s horror films are all about torture procedural, baby! The camera no longer discreetly turns away before the little boy is blown to bits—it lingers lovingly over the ensuing blood, the pulverized guts, and the gaping hole in his skull. (Hey, if you’re going to criticize our culture’s craven taste in entertainment, at least show us how truly disgusting we are.)
As for using punk rock as a sign of anarchy? They’re playing the Sex Pistols on the oldies station. Need I say more?
At least I understand why the actors got on board. It’s juicy, acting class stuff. Tim Roth is a model of emasculated self-loathing as the hapless husband. Naomi Watts suffers mightily as we watch her air of entitlement turn to one of feral desperation. And Michael Pitt is smug and droll as the smarter half of the preppie psycho duo (the disconnect between his good manners and his homicidal nature is where the film derives its sense of “humor.”).
But they all get demerits from me. Two years ago, Haneke directed the genuinely intriguing
Cache. It dealt with similar themes—how perspective shapes reality and how material wealth gives us a false sense of moral superiority. He’s regressed here, and it’s no wonder why. The film is 10 years old. It feels 10 years old. And it should have stayed on the shelf (next to Funny Face and Funny Girl?) where it belongs.

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