Diabolique

DiaboliqueSynopsis: Two Women. One Man. The Combination Can Be Murder.

Two women, one plan. We’ll poison the creep who treats us like dirt, they agree. We’ll dump the body in a murky pool, and someone will find a surprise at the bottom. There’s a surprise, all right. When the pool is drained and cleaned, no body is found.

Sharon Stone and Isabelle Adjani pour on the femme and the fatale in a diabolical grabber of a suspense thriller directed by Jeremiah Chechik (Benny And Joon) and based in part on the classic 1955 French spellbinder Les Diaboliques. Will the women get away with bloody murder? Has someone removed the body of the victim (Chazz Palminteri) and begun playing mind games with them? Add to the mix a tough cookie of a detective (Kathy Bates) and you’ve got the ingredients for “a nail-biter from the first scene to the last” (Bob Polunsky, Kens-TV/ San Antonio).

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Diabolique 3.75

eyelights: the cast. the setting.
eyesores: the performances. the writing. the acting. the editing.

Let’s face it: remaking a classic is always going to be a challenge: fans of the original will never judge the new iteration on its own merits, and what made the original a success in its day may not translate to a new age and new generations.

Then there’s the matter of simply making a good film – which is a where ‘Diabolique’ really jabs itself in the eye with a pick-axe.

I still remember seeing this film upon its release. Still mild fans of Sharon Stone’s, despite her plummeting fortunes since ‘Basic Instinct‘ (she had two excellent films, ‘The Quick and the Dead’ and ‘Casino’ since, but a few frankly horrible ones – and more to come), a friend and I decided to see this. At the cheapo, last-run cinema.

Boy, were we bored.

We obviously made it through the whole picture, but it was a weak effort all around. We couldn’t even appreciate Stone’s on-screen presence – her lines were forced, as was her delivery, and the character’s arc made no sense whatsoever, contriving some sort of weak-kneed redemption that stripped the original’s cold-hearted incisiveness.

How a masterful film could be turned into a piece of crap is beyond me, but these filmmakers managed it.

Of course, I didn’t know it then. I didn’t see ‘Les diaboliques‘ until only a couple of years ago. I only knew then this version was nothing anywhere near the level of suspense and skill that had been at the core of ‘Basic Instinct’. There was no comparison, and again I was disappointed. After this, I only cautiously approached Stone’s work.

I decided to watch this one again only recently, having had the opportunity to pick the DVD for 1.50$ and having just watched the original again. I wanted to compare the two. I figured that, at the very least, this juxtaposition was worth the time. It might even give me a fresh perspective, help me appreciate it more.

Not quite: I almost stopped watching it after the first 15-20 mins. God, it was horrid.

Firstly there was the cast, the main draw of the film. Even though Sharon Stone, Isabelle Adjani and Chazz Palminteri have the chops, the whole lot of them stunk to high heaven – they were absolutely not in top form. As for the secondary cast, well the less said the better. Even though she appears to be sleeping at the wheel, only Kathy Bates gets by somewhat.

Then there’s the matter of the script. Oh, that bloody awful script.

Whereas the original set up its pieces properly, providing insight on all the players and then thickening the plot, this damned thing just wobbles from one scene to the next, not explaining why the characters are acting the way that they do, what the impact of their actions may be and why we should even give a crap. It basically doesn’t flow and is slightly incoherent.

The frickin’ dialogues were so fake and/or absurd that I almost laughed out loud a few times. I could see how they were trying to insert a few “zingers” for Sharon Stone, given that she is terrific at playing sexy but deeply cynical, but they were so out of place and/or uninspired that it just made the moments ache for something more. Or simply less of that contrived “cleverness”.

It also had a couple of forced attempts at lesbian innuendo, along with a little bit of weak sexuality. I never thought it would be possible for Adjani to be unappealing, but even fully naked this film finds a way to make her look unpalatable. Unbelievable. Obviously the sexuality was put in there in an effort to tap into ‘Basic Instinct’s audience (even parts of this score were pilfered from Jerry Goldsmith’s). Fine, but at least make it sexy, for goodness’ sake!

Then there is the matter of the contentious ending. I’ll give the filmmakers credit for trying to give audience who are familiar with the original a new twist. Fine. But why make it so that it is impossible to believe (ex: the guy takes a rake in the head and keeps ticking!). One has to laud them for the whole spousal abuse theme and for Bates’ final decision, but the murkier ending of the original was undoubtedly superior – it stays with you forever.

The only fascinating thing  in the whole thing really, and this is incidental, is the fact that the love triangle somehow plays off as less believable in ’90s America than it did in the ’50s French setting. Is it just because of American values, or is it because the filmmakers were completely incapable of conveying how this came to be, and what the dynamic is? Either way, I was amazed to find myself doubting this relationship, even though it seemed so believable in the original film.

All this to say that this film has very little going for it. When even the most fascinating thing about a film is not due to any skill, but rather due to failure, to an anomaly, it’s saying quite a lot. ‘Diabolique’ should have been a gripping thriller; transposed to modern days, to a more morally ambiguous time, this should have played exceptionally well. Sadly, this is one major lemon, a picture that fails at almost everything is attempts.

The only thing diabolical about it is that it was unleashed on unsuspecting masses.

Date of viewing: April 14, 2013

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