Remakes are nothing new. Hollywood has been addicted to the dubious practice for decades, but why studios continue to stubbornly churn them out - especially when most never begin to rival the originals upon which they're based - remains a mystery. Yet with alarming frequency, producers continue to recycle and update old films, foolishly believing what worked once will work just as well or better years later with a different cast, director, script, and focus, and yield the same, if not increased, financial rewards. Such a naïve (okay, boneheaded) outlook has spawned dozens of duds ('Ben-Hur' is the exception that proves the rule), but getting hit where it hurts the most – in the pocketbook – hasn't changed the prevailing attitude one whit. And that's surprising for such a bottom-line oriented industry. I mean, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to deduce that remaking a bona fide classic is asinine. Just ask Gus Van Sant, whose shot-for-shot do-over of 'Psycho' served no purpose whatsoever except to make the few people who suffered through it appreciate Hitchcock's original all the more. But it's equally if not more asinine to remake a film that never worked in the first place. That's just a waste of time and money, which describes Peter Hyams' remake of the low-budget 1950s Fritz Lang thriller, 'Beyond a Reasonable Doubt,' to a T.
Here was a film with a far-fetched premise and contrived twist ending that was dismissed by much less sophisticated audiences more than 50 years ago. It certainly wasn't ahead of its time or misunderstood, so it's baffling that anyone would feel a burning need to revisit the material or bank on the notion that contemporary viewers would better connect with it. Let me tell you…they won't. 'Beyond a Reasonable Doubt' doesn't play any better today than it did in 1956, and the same issues that plagued the original are on full display here, too. Nothing special distinguishes this predictable thriller that seems like it belongs on a TV network instead of the big screen.
C.J. Nicholas (Jesse Metcalfe) is an ambitious, up-and-coming investigative reporter who believes District Attorney Mark Hunter (Michael Douglas) has been systematically planting DNA evidence to obtain bogus murder convictions for years. Desperate to achieve high-profile success, C.J. hatches a wild scheme to simultaneously expose the wrongdoing and promote his own career, and drags his loyal colleague Corey (Joel David Moore) into the dangerous game. C.J. bribes a police investigator (Orlando Jones) to obtain classified information on a recent murder, then frames himself for the crime, all the while documenting each step of the process, so when Hunter tampers with the evidence during the trial, Corey can step in at the eleventh hour to clear C.J. and send Hunter to the slammer. Like all best-laid plans, though, this one goes horribly awry, and the ensuing game of cat-and-mouse between C.J. and Hunter – and the attempts of C.J.'s girlfriend, Ella (Amber Tamblyn), who conveniently works for Hunter, to expose the truth – comprises the balance of the film.
Modern film noirs are often difficult to pull off, because the genre's bar has been set so high, and 'Beyond a Reasonable Doubt' makes only a feeble attempt to adapt to the form's parameters. (It's no 'L.A. Confidential,' that's for sure!) Hyams, who also wrote the script and acted as cinematographer, constructs some attractive images, but they're often too slick to fit the noir framework, and any attempts to add grit and sass to the film seem forced and artificial. Dialogue can be downright awful at times, with any attempts at humor falling completely flat. Tension sags as well, and anyone with half a brain can quickly predict the twist ending. The picture's only lively moments come courtesy of two well choreographed car chases, which briefly perk up interest, but can't make up for the plodding drama that bookends them.
One of the biggest problems 'Beyond a Reasonable Doubt' can't shake is the stiff, stilted performance of 'Desperate Housewives' and 'John Tucker Must Die' alum, Jesse Metcalfe. The young actor possesses a hunky frame, but it's not strong enough to carry this film, and his hollow, by-the-numbers performance turns what should be a hot, intense story ice cold. Tamblyn expresses some nice sincerity as his girlfriend, but lacks magnetism, and Douglas is at his grandstanding worst as the glowering, pompous D.A.
If Fritz Lang, one of Hollywood's most talented directors, couldn't salvage 'Beyond a Reasonable Doubt' in 1956, then surely one of the remake's 19 (that's right, nineteen) producers should have realized audiences in 2009 wouldn't embrace the story either. In this case, there's absolutely no doubt the original should have been left on the shelf and the remake should have been shelved.
'Beyond a Reasonable Doubt' possesses a reasonable, but far from spectacular transfer. While the courtroom scenes exude a clean, crisp look, the rest of the film often suffers from a nagging haze that clouds the image and diffuses details. As a result, contrast is all over the map; some scenes appear overly bright, while others look too dingy. Vibrant colors punch up exteriors, but black levels don't flaunt the inky depth required for a movie with so many nocturnal and low-lit sequences. Fleshtones look natural and remain stable, and close-ups are sharp, but not razor-like. Thanks to digital photography, there's no grain to speak of, but consequently the picture lacks warmth, making for a rather sterile viewing experience. That certainly reflects the tone of the cold story, but doesn't provide much visual stimulation.
The 5.1 PCM Uncompressed track fares a bit better, though only during the two car chase sequences, marked by ear-splitting tire screeching and powerful engine revs, does the audio truly become immersive. The rest of the time only mild ambient activity emanates from the rear speakers, and the front-heavy mix possesses no real sonic bite. Bass frequencies do shine, however, especially during the prison scenes, and one notable explosion provides a couple of hefty rumbles. Dialogue is properly prioritized and never difficult to understand, and the doom-and-gloom music score benefits from fine dynamic range and solid fidelity. Again, this is a serviceable track with a few showy moments, but no sustained pizzazz.
A few extras round out the disc, but they're negligible at best.
'Beyond a Reasonable Doubt' wasn't even a very good film back in 1956, and Peter Hyams' run-of-the-mill update doesn't improve upon it. A bit more gloss and glitz are the only distinguishing factors of this plodding "thriller" (with an easy-to-guess twist) that only comes alive when the bad guy gets behind the wheel. Standard video and audio and a bunch of time-wasting supplements keep the disc firmly mired in mediocrity. No doubt about it, this is one to skip.