Switching Channels

From the Chicago Reader (February 12, 1988). — J.R.


The fourth and least successful movie version — after Lewis Milestone’s (1931), Howard Hawks’s (1940), and Billy Wilder’s (1974) — of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s by now overrated farcical play The Front Page. In fact, by following Hawks’s His Girl Friday in making the leading character a woman, this updating by screenwriter Jonathan Reynolds and director Ted Kotcheff qualifies as a remake of a remake. The setting is now a cable news network instead of a big city newspaper, and there are many smaller substitutions (e.g., a copy machine in place of a rolltop desk). But despite a lot of overstrenuous efforts, the grafting of an 80s context onto a 40s adaptation of a play from the 20s mainly adds up to incoherence; the original’s treatment of journalistic behavior and ethics isn’t so much rethought as clumsily transposed, depriving it of any polemical bite and placing it miles away from the knowing details of Broadcast News. Burt Reynolds, Kathleen Turner, and Christopher Reeve are the leads; Henry Gibson is the hapless victim slated to die in the electric chair; and Ned Beatty is the corrupt politician who wants him to fry. Michel Legrand supplies the hyperbolic music, Kotcheff is probably the one responsible for the overtelegraphed reactions, and although the story is supposed to be occurring in Chicago, the sense of place is for the most part just as uncertain as any feeling for the present. (JR)


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