Archive for Saturday, January 12, 2002

Ambersons’ remake no better than original

January 12, 2002


Film legend has it that Orson Welles surpassed his masterpiece "Citizen Kane" when he made "The Magnificent Ambersons" in 1942. But moviegoers never saw his 2 1/2-hour opus. The RKO studio cut the film to less than 90 minutes and released a condensed version that unfolds in a series of disjointed scenes. Unless you had read Booth Tarkington's novel, the movie made little sense.

Now director Alfonso Arau ("Like Water for Chocolate") has remade "The Magnificent Ambersons" (7 p.m. Sunday, A&E;) using Welles' original script. Most curiously, Arau has dispensed with the third-person narration that Welles delivered in the original film.

Lifted almost verbatim from Tarkington's novel, these wry observations are essential to the story. Instead, Arau dutifully presents every bit of dialogue contained in the novel. The result is a film that manages to seem stilted and overwrought at the same time.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers ("Velvet Goldmine") is dreadfully miscast as George Minafer, the spoiled-and-impetuous son of Isabel Amberson (Madeleine Stowe). Meyers plays this turn-of-the-century brat as if he were auditioning for an MTV video or one of Baz Luhrrmann's rococo musicals. On the opposite side of the emotional spectrum, Bruce Greenwood portrays Isabel's suitor, Eugene Morgan, with a curiously contemporary cool. Worst of all, Arau emphasizes the story's Oedipal undertones with a garish lack of subtlety.

At three hours, this "Ambersons" becomes a grueling endurance test, and a parade of odd scenes between strange characters including Gretchen Mol as the enigmatic Lucy Morgan and Jennifer Tilly as George's spinster aunt. Unlike Welles, Arau cannot blame RKO's scissors for this mess. He has managed to botch "The Magnificent Ambersons" all by himself.

l "The Jamie Kennedy Experiment" (7 p.m. Sunday, WB, repeat at 8:30 p.m.) is a very funny show that left me breathless with laughter. "Experiment" combines improvisational-sketch comedy with the old "Candid Camera" routine.

Much like Hank Azaria on the dreadful "Imagine That," Kennedy inhabits a series of strange and amusing characters. But Kennedy is no Walter Mitty. He uses these improvisations to involve unsuspecting strangers in elaborate practical jokes. In the first segment, Kennedy portrays a dim, inarticulate white rapper whose "girlfriend" introduces him to her horrified sister and mother as her fiance. The two women grow increasingly testy as he proclaims himself the new Eminem and demands that "his woman" support him while he establishes his career.

A talented chameleon who manages to evoke Dana Carvey at his best and Martin Short at his silliest, Kennedy deserves high praise for this "Experiment."

Today's highlights

l Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston star in the 1992 drama "The Bodyguard" (7 p.m., NBC).

l Costner can also be seen in the 2000 political thriller "Thirteen Days" (7 p.m., Starz), based on the Kennedy administration's handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

l The Oakland Raiders face the New York Jets in the NFL Wild Card Playoffs (7 p.m., ABC).

l Lydia suggests a faculty move on "That's Life" (8 p.m., CBS). The series returns to Saturday night.

l Emma Samms ("Dynasty") stars in the drama "Pretend You Don't See Her" (8 p.m., PAX), based on a novel by Mary Higgins Clark.

l Josh Hartnett is host for "Saturday Night Live" (10:30 p.m., NBC) with musical guest Pink.

Sunday's highlights

Scheduled on "60 Minutes" (6 p.m., CBS): complaints about herbicide use in Colombia's drug war; misappropriated tobacco money; unfrozen Cuban assets.

Brendan Fraser stars in the 1997 comedy "George of the Jungle" (6 p.m., ABC).

Peggy toils at a Renaissance Fair on "King of the Hill" (6:30 p.m., Fox).

"Seinfeld" second bananas, including Danny Woodburn (Mickey), Estelle Harris (George's mom, Estelle), Phil Morris (Jackie Chiles), Brenda Strong (Sue Ellen Mishkie, "the braless wonder"), Susan Walters (Mulva/Dolores), Larry Thomas (The Soup Nazi), Liz Sheridan (Jerry's mom, Helen) and Brian George (Babu Bhatt) appear on "The Weakest Link" (7 p.m., NBC).

Kevin James is host for the 28th Annual People's Choice Awards (8 p.m., CBS). Smash Mouth is scheduled to perform its version of "I'm a Believer" from "Shrek."

Goren asks a peculiar psychiatrist (Michael Gross) about an MD's murder on "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (8 p.m., NBC).

Syd sneaks into a terror lair on a repeat of "Alias" (8 p.m., ABC).

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