Funny Games (**)
Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, both his original 1997 Austrian film and the new (more or less) shot-for-shot American remake, is like that relentless, twerpy guy in your Intro to Philosophy class: disagree with him all you want, but he’ll just keep finding ways to use your arguments against you. To rail against Funny Games for being cruel, manipulative and juvenile is to play right into its caustic little palm: if you hate it and leave, you’re a hypocrite; if you love it (or hate it and stay anyway) you’re a sadist.
All this is salient within the paradigm Haneke presents, but it doesn’t make Funny Games interesting, or justify its remaking. Indeed, this story of two young punks who weasel their way into an upper-class family’s country home and slowly torture them to death is one of the director’s weakest concepts. Its deconstruction of violence in media is dated (it seemed dated in ’97), and it tries way too hard to be postmodern. Moments when Paul (played here by Michael Pitt) addresses the audience with the taunt “Do you think it’s enough?” and especially one in which he rewinds the film to change the characters’ fates, are coy and cheesy. Older films with similar objectives, such as Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-sac, and Joseph Losey and Harold Pinter’s The Servant, are much more successful in comparison.
Haneke has said that he always wanted Funny Games to be an American film, obviously because of that country’s predilection for violent entertainment. But Funny Games doesn’t seem like a fulfillment. Executive produced by Naomi Watts, who co-stars with Tim Roth and gives a fearless performance, the film is still on the margins of Hollywood; it would be a much different (and more interesting) case if, say, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were involved. One feels, actually, that Haneke has dropped the ball. His last film was the brilliant Caché, and this, his foray into the mainstream, comes off as a petulant regression.
Funny Games is now playing at the Cumberland (159 Cumberland St.), AMC Kennedy Commons (33 William Kitchen Rd.) and others.