The easiest way to get a "green light" for a movie in Hollywood these days is to steal someone else's old idea. That old idea, however, must be updated. With Hollywood there's just one formula: cinematic remakes of vintage TV shows or old movies are almost always made sleazier -- more sexual, more violent, more obscene and more cynical -- than the original.
According to Hollywood's calculations, today's young audiences will be disappointed if there isn't an over-the-top raunchy moment every two minutes or so. This is the mandate to be "modern," to avoid the stench of appearing -- watch Hollywood squirm here -- wholesome.
The latest controversy concerns the forthcoming movie remake of "The Dukes of Hazzard." Actor Ben Jones, who played "Cooter" in the original TV show, and was last famous for serving three terms in Congress as a Democrat from Georgia, has drawn a crowd of media by urging parents not to let their children see the new "Dukes" movie.
In a letter to fans on his website, Jones says he has not seen the film, but has read the script and talked to people on the set. He stresses: "Frankly, I think the whole project shows an arrogant disrespect for our show, for our cast, for America's families, and for the sensibilities of the heartland of our country."
Early commercials for the film remind viewers that the stars are Seann William Scott (the sex-obsessed Stiffler character of the "American Pie" movies) and Johnny Knoxville (the so-called "mastermind" of MTV's idiotic "Jackass" series), not to mention once-upon-a-time wholesome Christian pop singer Jessica Simpson as Daisy Duke. (Her new movie-plugging video for "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'" fits right in with every other stripper-chic spectacle on the MTV assembly line as Simpson shakes her booty in an itty-bitty bikini just like Britney Spears and growls about pushing her tush.)
Jones admits he was miffed that the remake specialists wanted nothing to do with the original TV cast, but "what bothers me much more is the profanity-laced script with blatant sexual situations that mocks the good clean family values of our series. Now, anybody who knows me knows that I'm not a prude. But this kind of toilet humor has no place in Hazzard County." Even the movie commercials are full of sexual jokes, with double entendres from Lynda Carter and Willie Nelson's Uncle Jesse regarding a plate of muffins she's carrying.
The cable channel CMT (Country Music Television) has been running reruns of the original "Dukes" series since February, and Jones insists a new wave of youngsters is enjoying the program. "They love the positive values of our show, its wholesome friendliness, and the fact that Bo and Luke are heroes who always make the right moral choice. How can the producers of this film be so cynical, so jaded, so out of touch with America's heartland as to trash a great family show in this way?"
This is not a rhetorical question. It is a statement of fact.
In 1976, "The Bad News Bears" was a funny movie about a team of Little League misfits, but it was also in its day raw in its language and child behavior. So how to "update" that? As the Los Angeles Times notes, the remake "has nearly as many four-letter words as it does bats and gloves." Amazingly -- and this is truly reprehensible -- it's also rated PG-13. Hollywood is not only peddling raunch to children, it is disguising the raunch in its parental advisories.
The Times story was almost comical in describing how the Motion Picture Association of America ratings gurus didn't mind the multiple vulgarities "as long as you're not referring to [sexual] penetration," said John Ficarra, a screenwriter of the new "Bears" movie. Paramount had to rework one scene "involving some potentially borderline dialogue about a crack pipe," but there was one thing the MPAA drew a bright line against: "We were told in no uncertain terms that showing the kids smoking or drinking [as they did in the original] was a guaranteed R." What foolishness will be next? Just wait until the MPAA thinks showing kids eating Twinkies is unhealthy and should earn an R.
The movie's star, Billy Bob Thornton, insists there's a message in the new "Bears" for children that is really good, that you might not be as big or as fast as the other kids, but you can still excel. Whoop-dee-doo. That message can be sent to youngsters without emptying a Hefty bag of obscenities over their heads.