It never fails with French flicks. Somebody somewhere always feels the uncontrollable urge to remake them as English-language productions. 99% of the time, the attempted reconstruction of movies hailing from the land of baguettes and Jacques Cousteau into English are usually made by Americans — who commonly cut out most of the humor, heart and style of the originals and replace them with overworked clichés and assailing soundtracks. Said remakes almost always stink to high heaven, as well. Several notoriously unpopular (amongst some circles, at least) examples include 1983’s Breathless, a tepid re-working of the 1960 French New Wave classic, À Bout De Souffle; 1993’s Point Of No Return, a near shot-for-shot reshoot of 1990’s Le Femme Nikita; and the 2001 comedy Just Visiting, which was a terrible reworking of 1993’s Les Visiteurs (The Visitors).
Why do we remake these movies? Why can’t we just enjoy the oft-superior originals? Well, kids, the popular theory extends to the prevalent conception that Americans are too lazy and/or stupid to read the subtitles that accompany foreign films.
Some claim that the words move far too fast for the average gringo brain to follow. Others boast that we simply can’t read to begin with. Or maybe it’s that we simply hate the French (or, “The Frogs,” as members of the older-generations still refer to them as) because we secretly envy their multi-tasking talents to sit through American movies that are subtitled in French. To add further insult to this belief, I ask you to look at how popular many dubbed releases of foreign-language movies were in American box offices up until the upper-class artsy-folk started complaining that “dubbing ruins movies” in the late ‘80s or so. From then on, these cinematic imports were escorted with the dreaded “words at the bottom of the screen” that the lower-class, not-so-artsy-folk grumble about to this day.
Occasionally, though, we Yanks get it right — and actually produce a worthwhile remake. Sadly, these films usually go by unnoticed in America (to say nothing of the rest of the world), who prefer to hail movies like 2010’s Dinner For Schmucks as a work of genius — when it was, in fact, a stale and unpalatable remake of France’s 1998 comedy, Le Dîner de Cons (The Dinner Game). It’s odd, to say the least, but nowhere near as odd as when our cousins across “The Pond” in the Great Britain (that little island shaped like an oven mitt) decide to remake a French flick.
Generally, the Brits (or “Limey Bastards” as the older folk in America still call ‘em) are more than content with watching French-made movies (subtitles and all — and in the cinemas even!); preferring to manufacture their own versions of popular American reality TV series and game shows rather than desecrating something holy (or at least really neato) like the fine 2006 French thriller Tell No One (Ne Le Dis À Personne) which is being remade in the States, incidentally).
But then, you never know what to expect in this day and age. Case in point: Wild Target, a 2010 British remake of the 1993 French black comedy, Cible Émouvante.
While it’s hard for any one man to fill the shoes of French actor Jean Rochefort, the always-fabulous Bill Nighy (no, he’s not the “Science Guy,” dammit!) takes the lead here as Victor Maynard, one of the country’s top assassins-for-hire. Raised practically from birth by his like-minded mum and dad (the latter of whom was also a professional killer), Victor has been at it for so long that he doesn’t begin to realize how lonely and empty his life is; that is, until his infirm mother (Eileen Atkins) points out that he’ll be 55 soon (the same age her deceased hubby was when Victor was born) and inquires why he’s been single all these years. She also asks her beloved son if he is gay or not — a notion that even Victor has never pondered over, since he’s essentially been married to his work all these years.
Enter the femme fatale — or, in this case Emily Blunt, who plays Rose: a free-spirited, city-dwelling thief and con-artist. Rose has just pulled off a “bait-and-switch” job with a Rembrandt self-portrait on nefarious real-estate tycoon named Ferguson (Rupert Everett, looking just as fine and sexy as he did back in the ‘90s).
As you can imagine, Mr. Ferguson is very angry. He wants Rose dead. And so he hires Victor to execute the job. Unfortunately, Victor’s initial attempts to dispatch the quirky young woman prove unsuccessful. And then, the worst feelings any hitman could ever experience crash into him: fondness and desire. Deciding to protect the light-fingered lass instead of killing her, Victor and Rose attempt to escape Ferguson’s bodyguards, only to meet up a young stoner named Tony (portrayed by Ron Weasley himself, Rupert Grint — who spends a fair amount of time being half-nekkid).
Our unlikely trio take it on the lam, fleeing from Ferguson and Co., only to be pursued by Victor’s own replacement: the diabolically-sadistic snuffer-outer, Hector Dixon (the great Martin Freeman — sporting a deliberately ridiculous hairdo and the pearly-whitest teeth this side of a Crest Whitestrips commercial). Amid their tryst of uncalled-for bonding, Victor sees potential in young Tony as an assassin, while experiencing an equally-imbalanced feeling of attraction towards both of the younger people. Will our improbable heroes get out of this precarious hit-gone-wrong with their lives (or at least limbs) intact? Will Victor figure out if he’s happy being alone or not — and whether he’s attracted to Rose or Tony if he isn’t? Will Victor’s nitpickin’ mum approve of his decision, regardless of what it is?
Honestly, if I were to compare a British remake of a French flick to that of an American one, I would definitely give Wild Target a favorable review. Hell, I give it a favorable review anyway, because it succeeded in doing what so many other remakes of French flicks fail to do: entertain me. Sure, the movie has its own flaws (Rupert Everett’s character doesn’t get any proper “closure” for a “villain,” a few plotholes cause a couple of bumps in the road, etc.), but its cast — from the cool-and-collected Bill Nighy to the very hammy charms of Martin Freeman — more than compensate for these minor blunders. Apart from looking hotter than one of Tony’s smokin’ blunts herself, Ms. Emily does a fine job as the film’s one-and-only heroine (well, unless you count Victor’s mum), while it’s nice to see l’il Ron Weasley doing something other than following Daniel Radcliff around for a change (he follow his Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows co-star Nighy around instead!).
Wild Target makes its US home video debut via Fox Home Entertainment on both DVD and Blu-ray. The DVD release boast a very nice anamorphic widescreen transfer (by Standard Def standards, that is), with the film presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The 5.1 English Dolby Digital soundtrack comes through just fine, with optional English (SDH) and Spanish subtitles accompanying. There are a few lines in the film (mostly toward the beginning) that are spoken in French in which English subtitles automatically pop up.
The only special feature to be found here — aside from the usual amount of trailers that play as soon as the disc boots up — is a brief three-and-a-half-minute, non-anamorphic featurette entitled “On Target With Emily Blunt,” wherein the film’s female lead discusses the project. I believe this clip was borrowed from the UK video release, but, for some reason, the remaining interviews with the film’s cast and crew are nowhere to be seen here.
In short, although Wild Target definitely has a slight “remake” feel to it, it’s a rather fun film nevertheless. Oddly enough, I’ve read that most of the Brits that watched this remake didn’t care for it because it wasn‘t as good as the French version. Ironically, I sense Wild Target will most likely be ignored by a lot of my American brethren because it’s British.