When talkies came in, studios started to give each smash-hit story a second shot with sound. A decade later, they began filming everything all over again, in Technicolor. Now that foreign films have become caliente, they're redoing every offshore hit in English.
It's no joke. Not only is Ron Howard remaking the overrated French mystery about race and class, Cache, but Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella intend to turn this year's best-foreign-language-film Oscar-winner, Germany's The Lives of Others, into an English-speaking movie.
These films can work only if they rethink the milieus completely. That's what Martin Scorsese did with the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs. In The Departed, he set it down ruthlessly in the fractured mean streets of Boston. The deterioration of neighborhood traditions fit the Hong Kong story of twisted allegiances. The Departed rocked.
Without similar creative courage, we get transplants that don't take, like last fall's bland Americanized version of the great Italian comedy-drama The Last Kiss. The hallmarks of foreign films may be nuance and subtlety. But for Yankee filmmakers to recapture these qualities, they need to be audacious and commit themselves to extreme makeovers.