Riding high from the plaudits hurled at the Affleck/Damon scripted Good Will Hunting, Gus Van Sant dove straight into his next project with the same experimental attitude he tacked such future projects as the highly esoteric Elephant and Last Days. However, that project proved to be one of the most derided and unnecessary remakes in the history of movies, a bewildering experiment that recreated Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal Psycho almost shot for shot with a sparkly modern cast with only minor tweaks to update proceedings to be more in synch with 1998. Not only is this infamous tale of Marion Crane experiencing the kind of motel experience you’ll rarely see on Yelp now in bright, vibrant colour, the amount of money Marion steals is adjusted for inflation and at one point Julianne Moore utters the fateful line “Let me just get my Walkman!”.
Whether Mr. Van Sant’s endgame was to bring a legitimate classic to the attention of jaded 90’s kids too ignorant to “waste” their time on a black and white movie or he just wanted to put himself in a cameo where a Hitchcock lookalike is giving him a bollocking, he regrettably failed, leaving the world with one of the most confusing cinematic “covers” I’ve ever seen.
Resisting the not unreasonable urge to simply cut and paste the synopsis from my earlier review of the orginal Psycho (although I don’t see why I shouldn’t, it’s not like I get fucking paid for this), I guess I’ll just spell out the story once again… Marion Crane (now played by a ridiculously elfin looking Anne Heche) swipes some money from her work and high tales it off to be with her lover but after a struggle with her morals during the trip, stops off at the Bates Motel for a fateful sleep and a shower. After chatting to the young and decidedly “off” owner, Norman, Marion is apparently slain by Bates’ deranged and hugely overprotective mother and we then shift focus as the nervous son desperately tries to dispose of the body and fend off enquiries from private investigator Arborgast and Marion’s boyfriend and sister…. blah, blah, blah; wouldn’t hurt a fly blah, blah, blah; end credits.
Definitely to be filed under “what the fuck was people thinking “, Van Sant assembles a killer cast who, despite including such weighty names as William H. Macy and Viggo Mortensen, look noticably out of place like they’re there to perform a parody of Psycho for a Saturday Night Live skit – only no one’s remembered to put any jokes in.
The lion’s share of the cast go through the motions, some faithfully retread the characters while others add slight twists but surely the most harmful addition to the film was the stratospheric miscasting of it’s main role. Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates was a disarming, polite young man who initially appeared to be more of a victim than a killer, Vince Vaughn, on the other hand, is a baggy eyed, six foot five jittery motormouth whose unnerving giggle alone raises enough red flags to have anyone reaching for the mace in their handbag within seconds of meeting him. Don’t get me wrong, I like Vince Vaughn and he’s good at what he does; but what he does isn’t play Norman Bates…. oh, and did anyone really need a scene of Master Bates masterbating?
Aside from having to endure watching Vaughn passionately thrash his little Norman, Van Sant crams even the smallest parts with recognisable faces which ends up being more than a little distracting – it’s always welcome to see Robert Forster (especially cast as that guy who explains everything at the end) but why the fuck does Flea from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers work in Sam Loomis’ store…?
Question raising cast aside, even following Hitchcock’s template almost to the letter proves to be a further undoing for Van Sant, who even manages to botch cinema’s most infamous stabbings, which, despite the red blood, visible stab wounds and random Lynchian subliminal cutaways to stormy clouds and – for some reason – a cow, has all the impact as it would have if “mother” had come after Marion or Arborgast with a beany baby panda.
By the time we’re treated to that shot of Norman’s mother looking more dried out than white dog poop and Vaughn is finally subdued while wearing a blonde wig and dressing gown it all dangerously veers into unintentional parody and it really hits home how much better a “remake” the five seasons of Bates Motel were compared to this monumental waste of time and talent – not bad for Vera Farmiga and the big eared kid from Charlie And The Chocolate Factory…
As a final note, I’ll fully concede that maybe my one star review is a tad harsh considering all the proven talent on display here, but my true issue isn’t with the cast, Vaughn or even Gus Van Sant; it’s with the very notion of recreating an existing film (Psycho or otherwise) shot for shot that I find so abhorrent from a creative standpoint, no matter what the original goal was supposed to be.
Whatever the point the director was hoping to proof has been lost in the mists of time and the only thing we have left to show for it is a different kind of memorable shower… a shower of shite.