The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

(Release Date: July 30, 2004)

4 Stars... Better than it had to be!4 Stars... Better than it had to be!4 Stars... Better than it had to be!4 Stars... Better than it had to be!

It's not the Original, but it's not Bad!

J.C. Mašek III... 

The Manchurian Critic!
J.C. Mašek III
The World's Greatest Critic!
There are some movies that probably should be remade! Who knows, maybe a remake of 'Manos' the Hands of Fate with all the modern special effects will be stunningly compelling and hit heights that Steven Soderberg can only dream of! I don't know about you, but I could use a good Gammorah movie right about now... But then I have a "thing" for giant flying Turtles.

  Check out these other Remakes:
  The Ring (2002)
American Remake of Japan's Ringu!
  Ring Virus (1999)
Korean Remake of Japan's Ringu!
  Night of the Living Dead (1990)
Savini's Remake of Romero's first
  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
No Texas, no Chainsaw, no Massacre!
  Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Logic is the real victim here!!!
  The Amityville Horror (2005)
It's not so good, Al!
  Planet of the Apes (2001)
Aw, man!
  Battlestar Galactica (2003)
Is it a Sequel or not?

However, topping the list of movies who should not ever be remade, (a list that includes almost every remake reviewed on this site) is a big film from 1962 called The Manchurian Candidate! The John Frankenheimer-directed adaptation of Richard Condon's political paranoia Novel is so very complete and so very historical (it was banned for 20 years) that it's almost a phenomenon all its own. What's more the elements of the film are actually so prescient that they still ring true in today's post Cold-War sensibility! A Remake of The Manchurian Candidate is a worse idea than, oh, say, Ocean's 12!

In short... I was agginnit! A remake would be unnecessary at best, and a travesty at worst. Unfortunately, nobody listens to me (as the hits on this page might illustrate), and so, a-remaking Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris did go. Is their temporally updated screenplay unnecessary? Yes, completely! Is it a Travesty?

Paranoid Denzel!

Well, in the hands of a less capable director than Jonathan Demme, it might have been. However, as it stands, it's pretty damned good. It might have been light-years better if there hadn't been a better movie of the same name released 42 years ago, but it's well acted, and certainly a better movie than, oh, say, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake! But then again, the one-angle video cassette of Class of 1989's Loyola College Prep. production of Twelfth Night during which Tim Renaldo flubbed a line and exclaimed the "F-Word" to raucous laughter (and a Boo or two), is a better movie than The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake! 'Nuff Said?

Denzel Washington takes over Frank Sinatra's (least Doo-be-doo-be-doooooo) role as Ben Marco, the Captain cum Major who is sucked into the proverbial global conspiracy with Liev Schreiber's Senator Raymond Shaw (the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life). In this version, Raymond Shaw is the Candidate of the Title (in the original, it was that character's Step-Father).

Shaw is the victim of a conspiracy of wealthy and connected brain washers to put a big business-controllable Pawn in the White House (told you it was prescient)! At the core of this conspiracy is a multi-national company called "Manchurian Global" (so they wouldn't have to change the title to The Iraqi Candidate). Because of the nightmares that Marco and his fellow Gulf War Unit Vets keep having about their barracks-mate Shaw, Marco becomes determined to find the truth about the brain-washings they may, or may not have experienced one fateful night.

Helping our sanity-questionable Hero are the lovely Kimberly Elise (as Rosie) and the much-less-lovely Jon Voight as Senator Thomas Jordan, who has his own reasons for wanting to spank Ray.

But as sure as a sunburn on a Texan nudist, there's a Conspiracy's worth of opposition to Marco's Polo! Taking up Angela Lansbury's role as Shaw's menacing Mommy is the excellent Meryl Streep, practically sweating agenda at every turn. She's good, and she's opposition enough solo, but this queen has a whole chess board in front of her, including Miguel Ferrer, Jude Ciccolella, David Keeley, Bruno Ganz, Ted Levine, rock star Robyn Hitchcock, good old Jeffrey Wright and, of course, Zeljko Ivanek.

The main issue with this movie isn't the same problem most remakes have. Most remakes mistake age for imperfection and attempt to out-do the original. While Demme and company do update the time from the Kennedy-Era Cold War to the first Iraq War and the present, they don't seem to be trying to outdo the first film.

However, what this film does is miss many of the best elements of the original, tending to dumb down the important elements for the modern audience. The black comedy aspects of the first film as well as the multiple layers of the conspiracy are given bare exposure in this slimmer film. There's not much haunting, surprising or terribly real about this film, as opposed to what it could have been, and while the acting and directing are quite, quite good, the whole ultimately amounts to an "almost-as-good" experiment in remaking a movie.

Still, there's a lot to be said about what did make it to the screen. Demme's directing and strangely claustrophobic camera angles and omnipresent close-ups (you can count Schreiber's pores) make for a much more intense and introspective thriller than most of Whoreywood is willing to give you. Oh, it's dumbed down and inferior to the original all right, but compared to most Suspense thrillers of late, it's better and more capable than it has to be. Denzel Washington in particular gives one of his best performances in years. In the irony of all ironies category, check out Al Franken as the Fox-News-Like Reporter/ Greek Chorus. Funny as hell!

I keep going back and forth on the rating for this film, but I'm going ahead and giving Four Stars out of Five for the remake of The Manchurian Candidate. It's a hell of a Paranoid Fairy Tale, and it seems especially poignant in an election year. It might not be the original, but it beats the duck down out of Paycheck for your suspense thriller buck. On the other hand, John Ashcroft won't investigate you for watching Paycheck! Makes me wonder why they made it so clear that Shaw was a Democrat. The real bad news is that anyone and everyone who bought a ticket to this film with their credit card has now been added to a CIA Watch List along with anyone who has ever checked out Condon's book from the library. Hey, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you!

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The Manchurian Candidate (2004) reviewed by J.C. Mašek III
who alone is responsible for his views
and for his being a rich person who funds bad science
to brain wash people for his own evil ends...
nah, I'm just playing... I'm not Rich!
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