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Those '70s Shows

Posted: August 17, 2003

By Kevin Forest Moreau, Head of Development

S.W.A.T. Charlie's Angels. Freaky Friday. It's 2003, and still we can't escape the shadow of the 1970s. I'm sure these properties -- with the exception of Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, the female leads of which send me to ever-higher peaks of indifference -- are very capable escapist flicks. But weren't we supposed to be through with the '70s by now? The way pop-cultural cycles go, we're supposed to be hip-deep in a full-on '80s revival right about now; our fascination with the Pet Rock decade should have ended when the millennial odometer rolled over into the 21st century.

Still, Hollywood can't keep from recycling entertainment properties from the era of Jimmy Carter and ChiPs. And it might appear that we've begun scraping the bottom of this particular barrel. I loved the original S.W.A.T. series as a kid, but was it really necessary to update the show's original characters? Does anyone really remember them? Is there a geek somewhere on the Internet right now furiously blogging his rage at the Powers That Be who cast Samuel L. Jackson as Hondo?

Maybe so, maybe no. But it's clear that this trend isn't going to end anytime soon. So in the true Hollywood spirit of jumping on the bandwagon, we here at Shaking Through have come up with our own pitches for future projects based on beloved (if perhaps not so well-remembered) properties of yesteryear. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, right? (Note: Yes, we know that not all of these series are from the 1970s; we're adhering to the spirit, not the letter, of the title of this column. So don't write in to correct us. Go with it.)

Adam-12: Seann William Scott and Drumline's Nick Cannon star as a pair of uniform cops partnered together in the titular police car. Although the two have established themselves as a familiar presence on their daily beat, becoming comforting neighborhood fixtures, all of that changes when an a pair of escaped assassins (Bruce Willis and Vincent Cassel) returns to their old stomping grounds, triggering divided loyalties. Things devolve into a tense hostage situation, with only the two relative rookies standing between the desperate criminals and the wholesale slaughter of the neighborhood's innocent denizens. Seann William Scott shows off his dramatic chops, determined to bring the bad guys in before a series of violent altercations destroys the whole neighborhood in a cascade of awe-inspiring explosions. Michael Bay directs.

Alf: Get Jerry Stahl, the Bad Boys II screenwriter whose life as a staff writer for the original Alf series was the basis for the book and film Permanent Midnight, on board with Independence Day helmer Roland Emmerich to update the phone-service commercial pitch-being as an advance scout for the planet Melmac, home to a plundering hoard of long-schnozzed, high-tech marauders with a taste for housecats -- and human flesh. Dylan Baker (Happiness, Road to Perdition) plays the head of the suburban family that takes in the CGI alien, who poses as a lovable lunkhead while secretly exploiting Baker's day job as an official with the Department of Defense to send vital information back to Melmac. Tara Reid plays Baker's spoiled mallrat daughter, who goes all Linda Hamilton when she learns Alf's evil plans and eventually saves the world.

Barney Miller: We get cop-show visionary Steven Bochco (Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue) to adapt this sitcom for the big screen, with William H. Macy (Boogie Nights, Seabiscuit) as an embattled police captain caught in a corruption scandal when it's revealed that his squad of lovable detectives (including Luis Guzman, The Sopranos' Tony Sirico and Sinbad) is at the center of a bad-cop crime ring involving extortion, fencing, prostitution and murder. In a move out of The Untouchables -- the movie, not the series -- Miller gets some much-needed help in the form of retired precinct captain Fish (maybe Robert Duvall), who teaches him those handy one-man army tactics so useful in going it alone against an entire police department. Abe Vigoda has a cameo as the mobbed-up mayor of New York.

Mr. Belvedere: Think Poison Ivy crossed with Single White Female meets The Remains of the Day: This one has Merchant Ivory written all over it. Hugh Grant is the title character, a former superstar in the butler world who falls from grace after a mysterious incident involving his former employer, the now-deceased Vice President of the United States (Chris Noth, seen in flashbacks). Almost unemployable due to the whiff of scandal, Belvedere has to take a job buttling for a newly-rich family headed by Kenneth Brannagh and Naomi Watts. Soon, Brannagh discovers the truth about Belvedere's past, as the gentlemanly manservant seduces both his wife and his terminally ill, socially awkward daughter (Kate Bosworth) and embezzles from the family funds as well. Brannagh loses his job, his new station in life, his family and almost his sanity before he goes mano a mano with the sociopathic Belvedere, who's stolen his identity.

Emergency: Third Watch meets Bringing Out the Dead by way of Training Day in this taut thriller by Ridley Scott. Denis Leary is a veteran Emergency Medical Technician, breaking in a newcomer (Tadpole's Aaron Stanford). But Leary, whose nerves are shot, doesn't intend to simply limp home and collect retirement after his last day ends. Thus, he's soon pocketing drug money off of wounded or murdered dealers, who are dropping like flies in the middle of a major turf war between rival gangs. It isn't long, though, before the gangs start figuring out what's going on and come after the embattled paramedics.

Jabberjaw: This '70s cartoon about a rock band and its giant, genial drummer -- who just happens to be a shark -- is the most ambitious mix of live action and CGI spectacle yet devised. The cartoon's futuristic undersea milieu is the perfect setting for a cautionary fable about man's abuse of the environment, as a depleted ozone layer and nuclear radiation force mankind to seek refuge beneath the seas. The sets look sort of like an underwater Dune, with mankind on the cusp of evolution, growing gills even as they still depend on sleek, sexy undersea gear to survive the depths. The eponymous shark is done completely CGI by Industrial Light and Magic, building on their success with Hulk. The plot thickens when the denizens of Atlantis, the original undersea kingdom, wage war on the newcomers from the surface world, just as Jabberjaw's band is set to win a coveted record deal at an industry showcase in New Los Angeles. The Atlanteans' ability to mind-control all undersea creatures turns Jabberjaw into a vicious killing machine with a taste for human blood. Think Renny Harlin's Deep Blue Sea meets Josie and the Pussycats by way of The Abyss.

The Munsters: In the wake of the success of the Addams Family films, some well-meaning souls tried to resurrect this property as a syndicated, in-color sitcom that played things very close to the source material. Wrong approach. Instead of emphasizing the humanity of these monsters, we need to play up their monstrous nature. Who better to fill the giant boots and painful neck bolts of Herman Munster, then, than The Sopranos' James Gandolfini, an actor quite used to exposing the raging creature that lurks within the average family man? (In fact, the entire Sopranos family could fill this cast, no problem. But it'd be too hard to get them all on board.) Christopher Walken hams it up as Grandpa, with Shia LaBeouf (Holes, The Battle of Shaker Heights) as wannabe ghoul Eddie and Jena Malone (Donnie Darko, Life as a House) as Marilyn, the black sheep (i.e., a normal, beautiful girl) ultimately corrupted by this cabal of cannibalistic creatures. Sigourney Weaver, in a surprise move, actually receives an Oscar nomination for her dramatic turn as Vivian, the steely matriarch who really runs the show.

The Six Million Dollar Man: Obviously, this one would have to be adjusted for inflation. Perhaps the Six Hundred Billion Dollar Man? Jack Black stars as Steve Austin, an astronaut rebuilt by the shadowy government agency OSI into a cybernetic killing machine. Things go wrong when President Bush's tax cuts plunge the economy into chaos, and the government is forced to come after Austin to hawk his expensive replacement parts on the black market for some quick liquidity.

Space:1999: Keanu Reeves is the commander of Moon Base Alpha, a U.N. colony planned as the first step in man's exploration of the stars, in this update (which will doubtless need a name change). Unscrupulous contractors begin dumping nuclear waste on the far side of the moon, which causes a huge explosion, sending a large chunk of lunar real estate, including Alpha, careening into space and through a convenient wormhole. On the other side, the Alphans come across an alien armada, which is preparing to stage an assault on Earth. Gary Oldman is the emperor of this malignant alien race. Tim Roth plays Reeve's scientist mentor and father figure, while Famke Jansson plays Reeve's wife and love interest, Kevin Bacon is one of the unscrupulous waste-dumpers caught on base during the explosion (who learns a valuable lesson before it's all done), and Billy Bob Thornton is a hotshot Eagle fighter pilot whose bird-dogging aerial acrobatics help save the day. Directed by Vincent Gallo.

Welcome Back, Kotter: In a daring cross between Dead Poets Society and The Substitute, Gabe Kotter (Ben Stiller) is a former CIA operative who, his memories of his past life erased, returns to his previous job as a high school teacher, at the very school he once attended. Running afoul of the vindictive Principal Woodman (Paul Giamatti), Kotter is saddled with the Sweathogs, a group of academically hopeless delinquents who remind Kotter of himself as a teen. But soon the familiar setting is triggering Kotter's memory, and in no time the former assassin is molding this group of losers and toughs into an adolescent commando squad: sensitive bruiser Vinnie Barberino (The O.C.'s Benjamin McKenzie); demolitions expert and former gang member Freddy "Boom Boom" Washington (Mekhi Phifer); Hispanic hitman Juan Epstein (Kids' Leo Fitzpatrick); and electronic surveillance and Internet whiz Arnold Horshack (Dustin "Screech" Diamond). Once the Sweathogs help Kotter dispatch with his old foe Woodman, they take on the shadowy CIA director (Ronny Cox) who wiped Kotter's memory as part of an elaborate cover-up involving double agents and Columbian drug lords. At the end of the film, the Sweathogs go underground, much like the A Team, setting up a possible franchise.

WKRP in Cincinnati: Payola, Internet file-swapping and those old standbys -- Drugs, Sex and Rock and Roll -- are the linchpins of this sordid tale from screenwriter Ron Shelton and director Cameron Crowe, which crosses Airheads, FM and Network with Almost Famous. Former New Kid on the Block Donnie Walhberg plays Program Director Andy Travis, who runs this Ohio alternative rock station like his own personal kingdom: trading prized concert tickets for sex with listeners, taking record company money to push young new artists, and scoring drugs off of visiting rock stars, which he then re-sells. Wahlberg's partners in crime include: grizzled, drug-addicted veteran DJ Dr. Johnny Fever (Luke Perry); night shift jockey and drug-world contact Venus Flytrap (Don Cheadle); and über-sleazy advertising salesman Herb Tarlek (Tom Arnold). Jason Biggs is the idealistic young traffic reporter, fresh from running his college radio station, who teams with hard-boiled newsman Les Nessman (Gary Busey) and station receptionist Jennifer (Pamela Anderson) to put an end to the corruption, before learning that the station is really just a money-laundering operation for the Carlson family, an adjunct of the local mob. A host of "modern rock" bands make cameos, including Good Charlotte, Trapt and Staind.

Vegas: Ron Livingston (Office Space, Band of Brothers) updates Robert Urich's Dan Tanna as a suave, metrosexual P.I. whose wardrobe and penthouse apartment are tres Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. John Malkovich is the villain, an evil, Steve Wynn-type casino executive who resorts to blackmail and murder in an attempt to corner the Las Vegas real estate market, which is only the prelude to his real scheme: detonating a series of charges along the San Andreas Fault, plunging California into the sea and making Vegas the new entertainment capitol of the world. Brittany Murphy is the love interest, a casino cocktail waitress with a background in seismology (layoffs, don'tcha know). Lots of Matrix and Crouching Tiger-style choreography involving Malkovich's henchmen, a Cirque du Soleil-like postmodern circus troupe that carries out gangland-style executions while standing upright and doing elaborate backflips on speeding motorcycles. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director John Woo create a slam-bang spectacle to dwarf Bad Boys II.

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Nov. 17, 2003: California Über Alles
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Sept. 19, 2003: Magic & Loss (Johnny Cash and Warren Zevon)
Aug. 17, 2003: Those '70s Shows
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