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'Psycho': Play it Again, Gus

Movie Strip

December 4, 1998
Web posted at: 11:08 p.m. EST (0408 GMT)

From Reviewer Paul Tatara

In this review:

(CNN) -- Well, that was pointless.

Go figure. We colorize classic black-and-white films. We record "new" songs that consist almost solely of samples stolen from old songs. We make movies out of half-remembered, bad TV shows from the 1960s. We dress like it's the 1970s. And now Gus Van Sant has thoughtfully traced us all a new copy of Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho."

That guy who writes in to call me an elitist every time I suggest that maybe we should ponder why we're watching the movies we watch instead of just sitting there and gawking at them like a bunch of zombies had better stop reading right now. You can't really review the new "Psycho" (one set of quotes around the title hardly seems sufficient); all you can do is wonder why the hell all these talented people took the time -- and spent the money -- to make it.

This is a reproduction, virtually shot-by-shot, of Hitchcock's original, with the actors doing the best they can to move like the original actors and deliver their dialogue in precisely the same manner. You don't even feel like you're watching people act; it's like you're watching people pretend to be actors.

We've now officially entered the laziest period in the history of American popular culture (driven, as it is, by continuous winks and nudges), and if that doesn't bother you, then you fully deserve the fatty soul you're bound to get from all the re-hashes.

Go rent the original

I won't waste a lot of space telling you what "Psycho" is about. Suffice it to say that a desperate woman steals some money, stops off at a hotel as she's fleeing her boss, and gets stabbed to death in the shower by a nut case who thinks he's his own mother. If you've seen it before, you certainly don't need to see this version. And if you haven't seen it, you should go rent the original anyway. Isn't that painfully obvious?

I mean it. I'm on my knees, begging you -- don't encourage these guys. I feel like Eisenhower warning everyone about the military/industrial complex. Hollywood is definitely keeping an eye on this one, and if it winds up making a pile of money, game over. Done. We'll be getting reheated silliness like this for the rest of our lives.

There are two or three flashes of additional footage added to Van Sant's mimicry (for instance, some rolling thunder clouds are inexplicably cut into the shower scene montage), but those small, rather useless gestures just made me feel like I was eating a 40-year-old McDonald's hamburger with an extra squirt of ketchup added to make it "different."

Anne Heche plays Janet Leigh playing Marion Crane. Vince Vaughn plays Anthony Perkins playing Norman Bates. You also get Julianne Moore, William Macy, Viggo Mortensen, Chad Everett (!), Robert Forster, and a crew of others basically playing dress-up.

It's a real shame to see such a solid cast doing something so thoroughly misguided. They're all "good," if that's the word you want to use, but good at what, exactly? I've read ludicrous comments from Van Sant, Vaughn, and Heche as to why they felt the project was worth their time and energy, but they sound a lot more like excuses than actual reasons.

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Not even a cover version

Vaughn has suggested that the movie is the equivalent of a musician doing a cover version of somebody else's song, but he (just like everybody else who participated) conveniently ignores the meaty part of that kind of artist-audience interaction. The interest of a cover version is in hearing what the new artist -- with his own precise world view and performing skills -- brings to the tune. You don't sit down and duplicate a recording note for note, then expect everyone to applaud you for the duplication.

It's been said of Los Angeles that there's "no there there." Well, in this instance, there's no Van Sant in his own movie. On an artistic level, I consider this absolutely cowardly.

What this movie actually is, when all is said and done, is a beautifully orchestrated sham. It might have been fun to make (just like "Cannonball Run" was), but it's really just a roll of the dice to find out if enough people will wander into the theater to see it out of sheer curiosity. Remember, no matter why the customers sit down, or what you actually deliver for their trouble, you still get to keep the money.

Movies should matter more

I felt a wave of sadness while I watched "Psycho" that I won't be able to shake for a while. That's because movies (as a form of communication as well as entertainment) matter to me. And they should matter to you, too.

When did we grow so terribly embarrassed by self-expression? Why has the concept become so quaint? Post-modernism has infiltrated our culture to the point that there's hardly any culture left, or any people who want to nurture the creation of new and exciting works of art.

Yeah, yeah. I know. Right now a lot of people are getting all huffy because I'm disgusted by something that's just supposed to be a lark, but we have an entire generation of Americans coming up right now who have been nurtured on nothing but knowing, ironic larks. We can't get truly involved in anything for fear of exposing our own longings and fears. We're a society of chickens.

We want only to pretend, and are systematically breeding out the exhilaration of true belief and creativity. "Psycho" is just the most recent, and most obvious, example of our downward spiral. Our collective heart can only beat ironically for so long, then it stops beating altogether. Have the gumption to insist that it not wither away.

"Psycho" is "Psycho," only in color. That one of the few new additions is a shot of Norman masturbating as he watches Marion through that hole in the wall makes perfect sense when you consider the film as whole. Van Sant should re-construct "Drugstore Cowboy" next time. He'd be better off. Rated R. 105 minutes.

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