May 24, 2010

Tarantino-less 'Jackie Brown' Prequel En Route


Jackie Brown was a film I was very excited to see when it was released back in 1997.  Not only was it a new film from Quentin Tarantino, who had exploded on the scene with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, but it was based on an Elmore Leonard novel, a writer who's work I loved and an author who had just seen one of his projects, Get Shorty, turned into a solid movie.  Jackie Brown stuck close to the source novel, 'Rum Punch,' and is among my favorite Leonard film adaptations (behind Out of Sight and the aforementioned Get Shorty) though I did have some issues with the pacing and the awkward way Tarantino tried to shoehorn Pam Grier's title character into the story and make it about her out of some sort of unbridled fanboy obsession; and I couldn't help but feel like Tarantino had a bit of misread in terms of how the general audience member would feel about Grier's involvement.  The movie seems to think simply showing her on screen should illicit wild cheers from the audience.  Tarantino is such a geek for genre  stuff - in this case the 70's blaxploitation flicks - that I think he fails to realize that people that don't share his nerdy passion for such things might be put off or worse yet bored.  Just seeing Pam Grier holding a gun in a tight skirt didn't send me into a nerdgasm.  Far from it, actually; I was much more interested in the characters played by Robert DeNiro and Samuel L. Jackson characters and if you share that sentiment, you'll be happy to hear a Jackie Brown-free prequel is on the way.

The prequel is being developed - with the blessing of, but without the participation of Tarantino - based on another Leonard novel, 'The Switch;' which was actually written before 'Rum Punch,' meaning the movie is a prequel but the novel isn't.  It tells the story of how the Samuel L. Jackson and Robert DeNiro characters from Jackie Brown first met.    The story shows them meeting in prison - I hope they meet cute in the yard, don't get along at first then totally hit off, but I'm getting off track - and they reconnect on the outside for a big job.  The job in question; which might have been hatched after watching the movie Ruthless People; is for them to kidnap a wealthy woman then milk her husband for a ransom, only to discover he's in no hurry to get her back.  Because the events of the story unfold before story of Jackie Brown, you can rule out Samuel L. Jackson and Robert DeNiro returning to reprise their roles, so re-casting will be required.   Obviously, the actors that fill the shoes of Jackson and DeNiro - a daunting task - will play a large role in whether the flick will be good or not, but more important is who will assume the director's chair.  My list of favorite Leonard flicks are directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, Steven Soderberg and Quentin Tarantino.  I don't think it's a coincidence that good movies were made my good filmmakers, but instead illustrating in this case, it's a particular requirement.  There are a lot more shitty Elmore Leonard movies then good ones, (I'm looking at you Big Bounce and Be Cool) and which tells me that his material requires a strong, skilled story teller at the helm more so then say, a summer blockbuster with a $100 million CGI budget and a bevy screenwriters writing around the clock. 

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