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'Of Mice and Men' remake has nothing fresh to add



(MGM/UA, rated PG-13 1992).

There's nothing wrong with the notion of remaking a movie of a classic novel, especially when the most recent cinematic incarnation is 53 years old. But any such endeavor faces a number of challenges, especially when its predecessor was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award.

Any such remake needs to justify itself to audiences. After all, if your vacuum sweeper is in fine working order, why do you need a new one?

Actor, director and co-producer Gary Sinise fails to make a sale with his new version of John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men." It's not that he doesn't have a good product, it's just that it seems unnecessary. Director Lewis Milestone's 1939 version with Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney Jr. in the lead roles and Aaron Copeland's musical score still holds up nicely.

Perhaps if Sinise would have brought something new to the story of two itinerant ranch hands in Depression-era California it might have seemed more urgent . . . but he didn't. Perhaps if Sinise had explored other aspects of the personalities and relationship of the big, strong, mentally retarded Lennie (John Malkovich) and his self-appointed protector, George (Sinise), it would have seemed more appealing . . . but he didn't.

Sinise exhibits the same minimalist approach to his acting as he does his directing, which might have been more acceptable if this were the first celluloid incarnation of George. But it pales against Meredith's more gritty portrayal in the original.

Probably the least palatable is Malkovich's rendering of Lennie. His baby talking and juvenile hand gestures leave us completely unconvinced. On the other hand, Ray Walston's performance as Candy, an aging, crippled handyman is quite compelling, and should have been a model for the others.

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