There are many differences between this and the original, but perhaps the strangest and least noticeable is the lack of exclamation point on the title. Punctuation in titles is a strange thing; apostrophes are fairly common—thought famously Two Weeks Notice has left its off—but movies almost never end in punctuation even when they should. This movie is less excited about its title character than the original, and honestly the punctuation is only one of many ways it shows that.
We still have Patti Randall; this time, she is Christina Ricci. Instead of living with an older sister in California while her parents are in Europe, she lives with her parents in small-town Massachusetts. She’s in high school, and she hates the town she lives in. (Her parents are Michael McKean and Bess Armstrong—and I will never not think of Armstrong as Patty from My So-Called Life.) She is convinced life is utterly boring and everyone in her town is uninteresting. And then one day, her cat, DC (Elvis), returns home with a watch around his neck; there is something scratched on the back that Patti believes is an interrupted attempt to write “help.”
SO here is where are a lot of things are different. For starters, instead of being bank robbers we see before we see Patti, the criminals here are kidnappers. They have abducted Lizzie (Rebecca Koon), believing she is Mrs Flint (Dyan Cannon), and they are holding her for a million dollars’ ransom. Only Mr. Flint (Dean Jones) turns out to be broke. (Wikipedia says he is the president, but this is obviously ludicrous and we don’t really know, unless I missed it—I missed a few minutes—where his money comes from.) The town is sixty miles from Boston, where the abduction happened, instead of just a few blocks away from the robbed bank.
Instead of being a rising star tasked with something crazy but possibly fruitful, Zeke Kelso (Doug E. Doug this time) is basically in the FBI as a legacy and is given the job mostly to get rid of him. But, in a scene slightly reminiscent of the first night’s chasing DC in the original, he gets a full time to follow up on a lead that his boss doesn’t believe will come to anything. And of course it doesn’t, but instead of it being because DC is clever, it’s because the FBI agents get too involved in the goings-on of the town.
Which is part of the problem with this movie. Many of the background characters are indeed fascinating. More interesting, in fact, than the main characters. Two gas station owners/mechanics, across the street from one another, have a rivalry that involves at best vandalism and escalates from there. The butcher harbors secret passions. And so forth. And we see all this rather than the criminals, because their identity is only revealed at the end. Which is a shame, because they’re considerably more interesting than Patti, Zeke, and Patti’s parents.
Honestly, a movie about the criminals in this movie would have been entertaining. In the few lines they get after the reveal, they make it clear that they had a deeply involved life before settling in the small town, and you really want to know more about them. But the movie doesn’t, because it has mistaken its characters for nothing more than background to the leads, not realizing that it feels exactly the opposite.
Also, I could do without ever seeing the “I have to succeed at my job because my father was excellent at it before me” plot. (This is not even getting into the odds against Doug E. Doug’s father being an agent in the Hoover years.) My reaction, and I cannot be alone in this, is a desire for the character to just find another job and stop letting parental expectations hold them back. The worst part is that the ending suggests to me that he has, but it doesn’t actually make that clear.
It just seems like piling on at this point to mention it, but the filming is bad, too. It feels like made-for-TV quality at the outset and never really improves from there. Even the font of the credits has that feel. I can’t imagine how cheated I would’ve felt if I spent money on it in the theatre. The box office of $18.3 million suggests strongly to me that not many people had that opportunity to feel cheated.
I fully admit that I have long been an advocate of remaking the bad Disney movies instead of the good ones. You get the name recognition without inviting comparison with a classic. By that standard, this is an ideal candidate for remake. However, in order for that to work as a strategy, the remake needs to actually be good. I fully admit that they did skilled work by jettisoning Canoe, and of course the older sister—and therefore her love interest—is gone entirely. Which is definitely a step in the right direction, I grant you. The relationship between Patti and Zeke is purely platonic here, and there are clear boundaries around it. But that improvement isn’t enough to make up for everything they made worse.