Reggie Dunlop, played by Paul Newman, in a screenshot from the classic hockey movie Slap Shot.
It’s been less than a day since the blogosphere lit up with the news Hollywood is remaking Slap Shot, the be-all, end-all of classic hockey movies. And of course, I am mortified.
How can I pass judgment on a film that hasn’t even been cast yet, nor had a script released? Because there’s no point making a new version of something that still stands up today. Slap Shot is one of those movies that always seems to be on some channel if you stay up late enough and will prevent you from going to bed until you see your favorite scene or eventually pass out.
Ask any NHLer, any minor-leaguer, any major junior player and they’ll quote you the whole movie verbatim. It’s part of hockey lore and watching it is one of those rites of passage in the culture.
The writer of the new script – the same guy who took the brilliant story of the M.I.T. blackjack team and turned it into the pabulum that was 21 – has been understandably hurt by the criticism, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he is a naïve, rather than cynical, scribe.
It’s not just that Slap Shot means a lot to most people in the hockey world, it’s that the original film was more than “just” a sports movie. Not to get all New Yorker magazine here, but the 1977 version portrayed Rust-Belt America and the blue-collar folks trying to survive it in a touching and thoughtful way – if you can get past the swearing, of course.
And that’s another thing this remake cannot possibly capture: the proper bawdiness. First of all, no one today would accept the misogyny of the original film spoken by modern actors.
Can you imagine Mo Wanchuk in 2009? It doesn’t work; we can accept characters talking like that 30 years ago because times were different and let’s face it, people were more ignorant back then.
I’m not saying hockey culture has changed one lick since, but I think we’re all more apt to give a pass to the past; it’s almost kitschy. The new script will supposedly be set in present day and wouldn’t have that luxury.
The Hanson Brothers pose another problem. The original fan favorites are obviously too old to be on the new team, but you can’t replace them with younger actors – the originals are too memorable. And what respectable actor could possibly want to step into Paul Newman’s skates as Reggie Dunlop?
I’m sure Hollywood will find someone (hey, the new director has worked with Jim Carrey…he’s Canadian, right?). And if you think the industry that gave us Slap Shot 2 and Slap Shot 3: Back to Junior won’t eviscerate all your fond memories with this cynical cash-grab, guess again. As a matter of fact, I regard a remake of Slap Shot to be much more odious than the limp sequels the original spawned; at least with those incarnations, the 1977 classic was still at arm’s length. The premises were similar, not the same and since they were sequels, no one would ever confuse them with the first.
Look, I know Hollywood is running out of ideas (there’s a new Fast and Furious movie coming out? Sign me up! Guh.), but trying to remake films that harken back to a certain time and place doesn’t work. I was watching the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with Gene Wilder recently, just days after catching a bit of the Tim Burton remake with Johnny Depp. And hey, I’m a Depp fan, but Wilder’s take on Willy Wonka is amazing and even kind of frightening. There was nothing wrong with the first version and just because Burton wanted to Burtonize it, doesn’t make it a good idea.
So Hollywood: Leave Slap Shot alone. Reggie Dunlop isn’t even here anymore to defend his honor.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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