Remake This! Why is Brian DePalma directing Jason Statham in ‘Heat’?

I don’t do a REMAKE THIS! column every week, although with the rate at which Hollywood churns through old material right now, I’m sure I could.

Instead, I try to reserve them for moments where they either stumble across the exact right piece of material or those moments where they make a decision that is so baffling it’s worth closer examination.

For example, the other night, I was working in my office and I decided to put on the Burt Reynolds movie “Heat.”  I did this for a few reasons.  First, it’s been in my Netflix Instant queue for about three months, one of many movies I added in one of those late-night moments of “Hey, I recognize that and remember absolutely nothing about it even though I’m sure I’ve seen it.”  That probably accounts for about 1/3 of what’s in that queue at the moment.  But “Heat” in particular was on my mind because of the recent news that Brian DePalma is planning to remake it with Jason Statham playing the lead and William Goldman once again adapting his own novel.

As weird as it is to say, William Goldman might be the weak link in that equation.  He wrote the screenplay for the 1986 film, based on his own novel, and although he’s disowned that film, he’s got to take some of the blame here.  Like any author, Goldman’s had good moments and bad in equal measure, and even in book form, “Heat” struck me as a sort of diet-Elmore Leonard, shapeless and shaggy and not anywhere near as much fun as one would hope.  There’s nothing authentic about the tough-guy world that Mex (Burt Reynolds) inhabits in this film.  It’s informed purely by other movies and by tough-guy books, and I don’t buy it.  It’s also incredibly episodic as shot, and there’s nothing particularly compelling to pull the viewer through what is, ultimately, fairly familiar fare.

Here’s what I don’t get.  Has Brian DePalma really burned his career down so much that this is all that’s open to him now?  I like Jason Statham, but this smells like something that was thrown together by some rights holders at some international pre-sales marketplace, without any regard for how it will actually work as a film.

When I threw the movie on the other night, I started live-tweeting the film, and here’s the full sequence of Tweets I posted as it unfolded:

I feel compelled to watch the Burt Reynolds “Heat” on the heels of the remake announcement.  Thanks, Netflix Instant!

I’m about seven minutes in and I’m remembering why I started taking drugs in the ’80s.

Burt Reynolds just stole a guy’s toupee and is mocking him.  Um, kettle, that pot is black.

Yes, my first thought as I watch the Reynolds “Heat” is also “Ooooooh, this needs a remake.”  Oh, no, wait, THIS IS HORRIBLE.

I love how so many of the films of the ’80s were apparently shot on sliced cheese.

I also love it when I’m watching a movie and 40 minutes in I still have no idea what the hell the point is. #reynolds #heat

Every ten minutes, “Heat” becomes a totally different terrible ’80s film with Burt Reynolds.  That’s impressive.

First it was drunk Burt taunting some guy about his toupee for ten minutes.  Which, admittedly, is awesome.

Then it was Burt and Howard Hesseman talking about Venice Italy for no discernible reason.  Again… awesome.

Then it’s Burt in a sleazy ’80s ‘Unforgiven” riff helping a girl get revenge on some dudes who messed up her face.

Then suddenly it’s about Burt on a gambling streak and Diana Scarwid is his dealer.

And now it’s a buddy film between Burt and Peter MacNicol.  And none of these things have anything to do with each other.

I hope this film is 27 hours long.

OMG, it just turned into “Fight Club” with Burt as Tyler Durden and MacNicol as Ed.  I take it back.  “Heat” is awesome.

It’s like they were angry at logic and narrative coherence when they made this film.

I took a little break from “Heat.”  Started it back up.  Suddenly it a mob trial between Burt and the punk kid from earlier.

I hope the next ten minutes, Burt gets either a kid or a monkey.  Or both.

Oooooh… saxophone and booze montage. Rock it, “Heat.”  Rock it.

I just passed 34,000 tweets talking about a gloriously mediocre Burt Reynolds film from the ’80s.  #consequential

Holy cow, there’s a footchase and it’s in stop-motion animation.  #notreally #wouldnotputitpastthem

There really is a footchase, though, and it went on in slow-motion for about 50 minutes.  Then Burt karate kicked a guy into flames.

This sequence is shot in what appears to be a warehouse filled entirely with steam and bookshelves full of concrete blocks.

“Heat,” all I can tell you is I’ve seen “Sharkey’s Machine,” and you, sir, are no “Sharkey’s Machine.”

The last scene with Peter MacNicol is so bad I want to yell “Cut! From the top!” and then the last shot is… just… #standingovation

It is a bad movie, no doubt about it, but my confusion about remaking it goes beyond that.  You’ve got a movie called “Heat” that has eclipsed this film completely, so when you say that title, people think of Michael Mann and Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro, and they should.  That film owns the title now.  So I’m guessing they’ll have to change this film’s title at some point, which means you have one less thing you can capitalize on in the remake.  There’s no brand recognition here, which is the entire argument that fuels the remake business.  “It’s easier to sell something that already has an audience.”  Perhaps, but this is not something with a built in audience of any size.  No one cares.

Maybe they can turn up some of the ideas from the film.  At one point, someone is talking about Mex and they point out that he rarely uses a gun, and that he is “perhaps the most lethal man alive with a bladed weapon.”  Really?  Because there’s nothing in this film that would indicate that’s true.  Maybe they’ll emphasize that more in the new film and really make it part of Statham’s personality.

But more than anything, this just sounds like a generic underworld action movie, a crime story that’s been told many times before, and I can’t imagine what is compelling to DePalma or Statham or even Goldman about it.

I guess we’ll see, but for now, this one’s got me completely stumped.