Movie-ing on Up
Some small-screen-to-big-screen transformations are meant to be. Others, not so much...
James Cameron was “King of the World” via Titanic, but had not yet released Avatar when the Entourage series debuted in 2004. And the alpha male of Entourage’s Hollywood posse — Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) — was a movie star courtesy of the fictional Cameron superhero film Aquaman. (Meanwhile, Vinny’s luckless brother, Johnny Drama, played by Kevin Dillon, reflected the lower-rent life of TV stardom, having played Tarvold in a series called Viking Quest).
Events onscreen continued to reflect and even inspire the real-life movie world like a funhouse mirror. After Vinny starred in an ill-fated indie film about drug lord Pablo Escobar, no fewer than three actual Pablo Escobar movie projects were green-lit.
The late, great Canadian actor Maury Chaykin might have played the role of his life as “Harvey,” a crude and powerful indie film studio head so clearly modelled on Oscar-whisperer Harvey Weinstein that I had to look three times to make sure it wasn’t actually him.
And of course, the show itself was modelled on the entourage of co-creator Mark Wahlberg, with Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) as the alter ego of real-life super-agent Ari Emanuel.
Other transitions from the small screen to the multiplex weren’t necessarily as smooth. Herewith, some best and worst TV-shows-turned-movies:
The Brady Bunch Movie (1995)
Maybe the best of the bunch. Making the Bradys a 1970s family living in the 1990s amped up the campiness of the original. Shelley Long was born to play Carol Brady, but Gary Cole steals it by repeatedly riffing Mike Brady’s idiotic sermons. (“Cindy, you know by tattling on your friends, you’re really just tattling on yourself. … You’re just telling them you’re a tattletale. Now, is that the tale you want to tell?”)
Starsky & Hutch (2004)
Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson carried on The Brady Bunch’s riff of satirizing what the ’70s took (sort of) seriously. And casting Snoop Dogg as Huggy Bear was a stroke of genius.
The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad (1988)
Few people actually watched the short-lived, screamingly funny series Police Squad! So few know that the movies changed virtually nothing from the original format of slapstick-plus-Leslie-Nielsen and his brilliant deadpan.
Star Trek (2009)
The beauty of J.J. Abrams’ decision to change the timeline via a time-travel plot was that he could make the Star Trek he wanted, without any nerds whinging: “That couldn’t happen because of what Kirk did in Season 2, Episode 9.” All bets were off, the canon was dead. And the casting was top-notch (Simon Pegg as Scotty remains my favourite).
21 Jump Street (2012)
Another artifact, this one from the ’80s, a show that was supposed to be a serious drama in its original incarnation and is fodder for laughs in the new one. Because who takes the ’80s seriously? Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill had surprise chemistry.
The Equalizer (2014)
Really just a kick-butt Denzel action film loosely wrapped in a premise from the ’80s. Another case of a director, Anton Fuqua, ignoring almost everything about the original and making the movie he wanted to make.
The Addams Family (1991)
You can’t go wrong with a great Morticia and Gomez, and Anjelica Huston and Raul Julia didn’t disappoint.
Mission: Impossible (1996)
Wait, what? Jim Phelps is the BAD GUY? And yet somehow it worked.
Jem & The Holograms (2015)
Debuted on 2,400 screens and took in $1 mil. Geez, a live-action movie for tweens, taken from an ’80s cartoon whose original fans would all be about 40 now. Hard to figure.
Dark Shadows (2012)
What is it with Johnny Depp hiding behind deathly pale makeup? This was almost the low point of his career — almost, because The Lone Ranger hadn’t come out yet.
Here’s an idea. Let’s make a comedy starring Nicole Kidman. Don’t worry, we’ll cast Will Ferrell as her leading man, and HE’LL make it funny. The twist: Kidman plays a witch who’s playing a witch in a movie version of the ’60s sitcom Bewitched. Talk about over-thinking.
Lost In Space (1998)
Here’s another great idea. Let’s take one of the campiest sci-fi series ever made, and make it deadly serious. Gary Oldman seemed to think he was playing Iago instead of Dr. Smith.
Wild Wild West (1999)
Will Smith’s only outright bomb – until After Earth.
The Avengers (1998)
No, not that one. This was a reprise of the ’60s spy series, with Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman as John Steed and Emma Peel. Failed on almost every level to capture the “Britishness” of the original, and is considered by many among the worst movies of all time.
Sex and the City 2 (2010)
The girls vacation in Abu Dhabi and take on the Muslim world!
Dishonourable mentions: Miami Vice (Colin Farrell was in rehab for part of it), Fat Albert (live action starring Kenan Thompson), The Mod Squad (Claire Danes, Omar Epps, and Giovanni Ribisi as Julie, Linc, and Pete).
Jim Slotek is a writer and columnist with the Toronto Sun.