Rear Window (1998)
Director: Jeff Bleckner. Cast: Christopher Reeve, Daryl Hannah, Robert Forster, Ritchie Coster, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Anne Twomey, Allison Mackie. Screenplay: Larry Gross and Eric Overmyer (based on the story by Cornell Woolrich, and the 1954 screenplay by John Michael Hayes).

The human warmth and sympathies enlivened by seeing Christopher Reeve back at work in his wheelchair cannot quite make up for the miscalculated and rather un-tense spin the filmmakers have put on one of Hitchcock's greatest movies. Certainly, the spirit of the project does not seem to have been to improve upon or even repeat Hitchcock's recipe, and the showcase of life-support and mobilizing technology that Reeve uses is put forth frankly as the film's raison d'Ítre. The medium of television was to give these miraculous inventions a proper and popular visibility so that physically disadvantaged viewers and their families might have some awareness of the systems potentially available for their use. Then again, the Reeve character is a conspicuously wealthy one, so there is some question as to which of the units installed in his apartment would be accessible to less privileged patients.

If the film's educational ambitions seem, then, a little misjudged, its credentials as cinema are far shakier. There is a poignance to the handing over of this story to a character who is not merely waylaid and voyeuristic, like James Stewart was in the original, but who feels he may never be able to do the things—dancing, working, lying down comfortably on a bed—that the objects of his gaze perform each day without a thought. The action in the satellite apartments around the focal point is not quite as witty as the vignettes described by Hitchcock, but it is the portrayal of those more central events that suffers the most and, resultingly, brings down the film.

Director Bleckner (also of television's Serving in Silence, with Glenn Close) fails to recall that much of what made Hitch's plots so tantalizing and frightening is that the crimes and perversions almost always happened in incongruously public, clean, or unassuming places: hotel showers, diplomatic banquets, art galleries. Here, the woman whose disapperance drives Reeve to think she's been murdered is the wife of an abusive bruiser, and is herself a graduated alcoholic. The husband even walks around in black T-shirts with stylized demon graphics emblazoned on the front, and we see him threatening the residents of other apartments, so the maximum space between fantasy and reality—a vicious lout killed his wife, or a vicious lout did not—is not as interesting (or as compromising of the Reeve character) as when Stewart risked impugning a man who betrayed no real signs of being capable of murder, or of being notable for any particular reason.

Daryl Hannah, obviously no Grace Kelly, is written into a role as Reeve's architect co-worker, and by being let off the hook of following in Kelly's epicene footsteps, manages to put in a likable turn that is one of the warmer elements of this Rear Window. Her snooping around the Thorpes' apartment (they are renamed—and why de-ethnicized?—from the Thorwalds of the original) is a bit sloppier than what Kelly achieved. Reeve's own e-mail bullying of his cross-courtyard neighbor is so wildly reckless that by all rights—and even by the strong suggestion of a too-early scene when Julian Thorpe meets Reeve's gaze across the courtyard—he should have been at best reported and at worst revenged-upon well before the climactic finale.

Jackie Brown's Robert Forster, whose participation in the Psycho remake classifies him as a staple of Ersatz Hitch, has little to do as Detective Moore, and Ruben Santiago-Hudson has a particularly discomfiting role as Reeve's Caribbean male nurse with whom he exchanges patois greetings and broad "Yah, mahn" jibes. All very strange, and that's to say nothing of the easy and questionably tasteful scares the first chapter of the movie gets out of tubing "pop-offs" on Reeve's oxygenator that a flustered nurse/intern doesn't know how to fix. It establishes more vulnerability around Reeve's condition and is, I am sure, a credible concern of people dependent on such technology; this particular film's use of the instance as a suspense-builder just struck me as a little off-the-mark.

I doubt Rear Window will have much of a life in the video stores, with the classic blueprint right nextdoor on the shelf, and though a well-intentioned bit of Hollywood hooey, it's hooey indeed. Hopefully Reeve will find other projects that accommodate his artistic potential even as they allow for and call attention to his physical limitations. Grade: C–

Emmy Award Nominations:
Best Original Score (TV Movie/Miniseries): David Shire

Golden Globe Nominations:
Best Actor (TV Movie/Miniseries): Christopher Reeve

Other Awards:
Screen Actors Guild Awards: Best Actor, TV Movie/Miniseries (Reeve)

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