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  Funny Games (2008)

Starring: Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbett, Devon Gearhart

Directed by: Michael Haneke

Produced by: Chris Coen, Hamish McAlpine, Hengameh Panahi, Christian Baute, Andro Steinborn

Written by: Michael Haneke

Distributor: Warner Independent Pictures


    If there’s one thing that writer/director/provocateur Michael Haneke’s remake of his 1997 film, Funny Games, did for me, it was prove just how much of a masterpiece the original was. Based on that line, one might reasonably assume that I didn’t like this update. I did. The main problem with the new Funny Gamesconcerns its relevance. It is a shot-for-shot, line-for-line (translated from German to English) remake of the original film – kind of like if Gus Van Sant’s Psycho had been made by Alfred Hitchcock in 1970. The only surprise in store is the fact that the movie isn’t boring for those who have seen its predecessor. Indeed, the American version of Funny Games loses hardly any of the power of its source, but is there any reason for it to exist? The original is widely available on DVD, and it would likely be just as sellable as this one if its distributor were to re-launch an ad-campaign and stock the shelves of Circuit Cities with copies.

      Sure, it’s kind of interesting to see the lead roles filled by Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Brady Corbet, and Michael Pitt. The four provide interesting takes on the characters, even if they don’t exactly deviate from what the original actors did. Much of the punch of the new Funny Games lies in the audience’s need to accept that household names must confront the horrors presented by the twisted plot. There’s something more shocking about the material for the American viewer when they must watch Watts and Roth grapple with two psychopathic killers torturing them, even more so when those killers are Pitt and Corbet. In fact, to a certain extent, this does work to enhance the movie’s themes about media-violence: do we superficial American consumers find ourselves sympathizing more with the film’s protagonists (or even its villains) because we “know” the actors who play them? (Yes, a few of us knew who the late, great Ulrich Mühe was when we saw 1997’s Funny Games, but most Americans wouldn’t recognize him.)

     Still, as much as the new Funny Games has going for it based on the mere idea that it exists as an American product, Haneke never really uses this to make statements that extend beyond surface-value. Everything I’ve mentioned thus far seems to fall within the obvious direction that the film could’ve been taken in, as does Haneke’s choice to make the film’s central gimmick (one of the killers addresses the viewer directly throughout) more pronounced for American audiences. Even if Haneke imbues this Funny Games with enough of a fresh touch to make an argument for its existence, there’s nothing that can really be gained from watching it that can’t be from doing the same with the original. Yes, viewers may come to realize a thing or two about how violence is viewed in America versus in Europe based on their relationship with each movie (how’s that for a little meta-on-meta?). But is this really a substantive enough reason for an entire picture to exist? The original Funny Games worked because it transcended experimentalism and formed a truly horrifying experience unto its own. When viewed within a cultural context, Haneke’s new take on the story can’t boast the same. In fact, the characters still let off more of a European vibe than an American one, anyway. It must have something to do with those white short-shorts that Corbet and Pitt wear.

     If I were to have not heard of the original Funny Games and ended up seeing this one because of its broad theatrical distribution, then I’d probably be grateful for its existence. Because the two pictures are practically identical, there’s really no definitive edition that those experiencing the story for the first time need to watch. Then again, if I were an ordinary viewer who knew nothing about Haneke or Funny Games, then would I know about the remake, either? Probably not, and in this exact paradox lies the reason why this otherwise good film may just be utterly insignificant.

-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews

Review Published on: 3.18.2008

Screened on: 3.15.2008 at the Edwards San Marcos 18 in San Marcos, CA.


Funny Games is rated R and runs 112 minutes.

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