From Television to Movie to Failure: 10 Crap Adaptions of Classic TV Series

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How many perfectly good TV properties has Hollywood tarnished by trying to make movies out of them? Actually, we don’t know the exact number – it’s a pretty subjective answer, anyway – but if your instinct was to respond by saying, “Most of them,” then we’ll give you credit, because that’s what we were thinking, too. There are so many reasons these things fall apart. Sometimes, it’s a case of screenwriting laziness, where the scribes figure they can just rip off the original source material and figure people will just be so happy to see it on the big screen that they won’t care if it’s all recycled; other times, the producers figure that their cast is so good that they don’t actually need a decent script. As often as not, though, it’s a case where there are just too many cooks in the kitchen, stepping on each others’ toes and working with competing recipes that in no way mesh. In celebration of the release of the motion picture adaptation of “Get Smart,” Bullz-Eye’s Will Harris examined 10 craptacular films which originated as TV series, and while there’s no question that he could’ve found at least another ten films to add to this piece…well, frankly, we just don’t have the budget to offer him the kind of hazard pay that that would require.

"Sgt. Bilko" (1996)

WantedThere have been many occasions during the course of Steve Martin’s lengthy career where one might reasonably wonder what the hell he was thinking by taking a certain film. It’s undeniable that the man’s got mad comic skills, but he has an almost perverse tendency to waste them by opting for cinematic dreck like “Bringing Down the House” or remakes like “The Out-of-Towners” and “The Pink Panther.” When it comes to his attempt to bring the classic Phil Silvers sitcom, “You’ll Never Get Rich,” to the big screen, however, you can at least understand why he thought it was a good idea. The role of con-man Ernie Bilko made Silvers a TV legend, and you can imagine the glint in Martin’s eye as he pictured himself paying tribute to Silvers’ performance while putting his own spin on the character. While Martin’s intentions may have been good, those who are aware of the original series will be unable to keep from comparing his performance to that of Silvers. Additionally, the script might provide Martin with the occasional funny line, but this incarnation of Bilko isn’t a terribly likeable guy. Sure, the ‘50s version was a con man, but he was a loveable con man who, no matter how much money he might fleece from his subordinates, still had a heart. Here, however, you could just as easily imagine Bilko stealing their valuables and skipping off to the French Riviera; though, granted, that may just be because Glenne Headley plays Martin’s love interest here, just as she did in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” Yes, the supporting cast is strong, but the script leaves them underdeveloped, and the plot is so thin that a stiff breeze could blow it away. (A hover tank? Really?) Those who haven’t seen “You’ll Never Get Rich” will likely leave “Sgt. Bilko” wondering what all the fuss was about, and, unfortunately, you can’t really blame them.

Only possible reasons to watch: Dan Aykroyd plays Bilko’s superior, Col. Hall, but unlike Martin, he takes the opportunity to channel the spirit of Paul Ford, who played the role in the TV series, and provides an enjoyably blustery performance. Chris Rock is always good for a laugh, even if this was during the period when he was taking pretty much any role offered to him by fellow “SNL” alums. (Three words: “Beverly Hills Ninja.”) And, of course, any chance to see the late Phil Hartman is a chance worth taking, even if he is mostly wasted as Maj. Thorn, an officer who was once screwed over by Bilko and isn’t planning to let him forget it anytime soon.

"Leave It to Beaver" (1997)

WantedWhen you’re already bored with a film’s slapstick shenanigans before the opening credits have even finished, you have good reason to suspect that you’re in for a long ride. In reality, however, the greatest sin committed by the producers of “Leave It to Beaver” is filling a movie about kids with a bunch of child actors who are either woefully forgettable, or are trying so hard to be memorable that you end up disliking them because they completely overdo it. (It’s no coincidence that the only one who gives a solid performance – Erika Christensen – is also the only one who’s actually gone on to make any kind of name for herself.) One also can’t help but notice that, perhaps more than any other TV-inspired movie, there’s just no good reason for this film to have been made, other than to trade off an established name. I mean, really, what’s the hook? The Cleavers are just another all-American family: Ward’s a businessman, June’s a housewife, and Wally and the Beav are, ultimately, just two average kids. The plot lines involve teen romance, a stolen bike, and a father trying to relive his past accomplishments through his young son. While the script attempts to pay tribute to the spirit of the original series, the end result is, at best, an average family flick and, at worst, another reason to moan about completely unnecessary TV-to-movie adaptations.

Only possible reasons to watch: First and foremost, Randy Edelman’s score is about 500 times better than this film deserves. Seriously, it’s so good that it comes frighteningly close to convincing you that you actually have an emotional investment in the film. Beyond that, thank heaven for the small favor that the adults are better cast than the kids. Christopher McDonald maintains his status as a dependable player in everything he does, and Janine Turner looks white-hot as a blonde, which means you’re always glad to see Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver onscreen. Ken Osmond and Barbara Billingsley – TV’s original Eddie Haskell and June Cleaver – are well utilized in their cameo appearances, and although Alan Rachins is no Richard Deacon, he still blows hard enough to make his brief appearance as Fred Rutherford a highlight.

"McHale’s Navy" (1997)

WantedYes, Tom Arnold was awesome in “True Lies,” and, yes, I laughed just as much as anyone else when he asked the immortal question, “What kind of a sick bitch takes the ice cube trays out of the freezer?” Hollywood followed a perverse line of logic with Arnold, however, deciding that if he was good in a supporting role, audiences would love him in a co-headlining capacity. But before anyone actually confirmed that audiences did love him that much, they went ahead and started green-lighting pictures that he’d basically be carrying all by his lonesome. Cue the “Bad Idea Jeans” commercial, with a Universal exec telling a New Line exec, “You guys might rule 1996 with ‘The Stupids,’ but mark my words: ’97 is gonna be the year of ‘McHale’s Navy’!” You can’t really blame Arnold, though. The fault lies with whoever decided that the world wanted the film to be more about action and less about comedy. Director Bryan Spicer may have tried to kick it up a notch by included several boat vs. boat chase sequences, and as many explosions as the budget could stand, but none of it proves terribly exciting because it’s a comedy (supposedly, anyway), and you know who’s going to end up as the victor the moment the film starts. As for the script, all I’m saying is that it was co-written by Peter Crabbe, the guy who penned “Car 54, Where Are You,” a TV-to-film adaptation reportedly so awful that I couldn’t even bring ourselves to watch it. Suffice it to say that this cast includes Tim Curry, Bruce Campbell, David Alan Grier, French Stewart, Debra Messing and Brian Haley, yet not a one of them has a line worth reciting back in this piece.

Only possible reasons to watch: You’ll treat the recurring presence of Curry and Campbell as cinematic security blankets, kept warm by the knowledge that, if nothing else, a devious smile from Curry or a sneer from Campbell will result a laugh that the script itself can’t possibly manage. Granted, it’s great during those fleeting moments that Ernest Borgnine, a.k.a. the original McHale, rears his head, but there are far too few of them to salvage this heap.

"Dudley Do-Right" (1999)

WantedEven those who enjoyed the live-action “Rocky and Bullwinkle” flick will be horrified by “Dudley Do-Right,” a film that lasts less than 90 minutes, yet seems to go on forever. Jay Ward is singlehandedly responsible for bringing the Canadian Mounties into the American public consciousness in the 1960s by creating the handsome but hapless Dudley Do-Right, but given that the entire concept of that cartoon was a tribute to the silent movie era, it’s strange that Universal thought it would translate into a live-action film in 1999. What’s more strange, however, is that it cost $70 million to make! It’s our solemn guarantee that, no matter how many times you watch it (though, frankly, I wouldn’t really recommend doing so more than once), you will never, ever figure out where all that money went. Yes, some of it was clearly spent on the cast, which features Brendan Fraser as Dudley, Sarah Jessica Parker as Dudley’s beloved Nell, and Alfred Molina as the devious Snidely Whiplash, but you actually hope they didn’t spend much on the script. The material is miles away from anything ever to emerge from Ward’s pen; never in a million years would he have had a farting horse as a recurring gag. Even the few funny lines only prove funny because of the way they’re delivered. (Lord knows they aren’t all that hilarious in and of themselves.) It’s no surprise that Fraser is able to pull off the dumb-guy routine with ease – he did once play a caveman, you know – but Parker’s role is so underwritten that pretty much anyone could’ve filled the part. The saddest part of all is that “Dudley Do-Right” was directed and co-written by Hugh Wilson. How did the man who brought us “WKRP in Cincinnati” and “Frank’s Place” fall so far?

Only possible reasons to watch: Molina clearly enjoyed the opportunity to play Snidely Whiplash, making his literal moustache-twirling worth a chuckle or two, and although Eric Idle doesn’t really do a lot in the film (he plays a gold prospector caught up in Whiplash’s evil scheme), he manages to be funny simply because he’s Eric Idle. Lastly, the idea of casting Alex Rocco as an Indian chief is a stroke of genius, so it’s only fair that he score the biggest laugh in the flick: when Nell speaks to the chief like an ignorant savage and says, “Me do well,” Rocco looks blankly at her, then replies, “Good for you, sugar.”

"My Favorite Martian" (1999)

WantedI’m pretty sure an entire book could be written about the process of bringing “My Favorite Martian” to the big screen, and how poorly it was done. Seriously, I don’t want to bring down anyone’s impression of Disney, but the script for this thing is so awful that there just had to have been a bunch of drugs were involved in the rewrite process. Remember how simple the original premise of the 1960s series was? A decidedly human-looking Martian comes to Earth and gets stranded when his ship breaks down. A reporter named Tim O’Hara rescues him and takes him in as his roommate, passing the Martian off to others as his Uncle Martin. Disney, however, wasn’t having it. Someone apparently decided that if they were gonna make a sci-fi film, then, dammit, they were gonna take advantage of some special effects. Suddenly, Martians didn’t look like humans -- well, not naturally, anyway. They’re actually four-armed, four-legged, three-eyed creatures who have to take a chemical compound called Nerplex to assume human form. Oh, right, and they also wear sentient space suits that talk like Wayne Knight and tell woefully unfunny jokes. Jeff Daniels does the best he can in the Bill Bixby role, but Christopher Lloyd flounders around as Uncle Martin, his character forced to endure bad-FX sight gags like bulbous eyes and a long tongue. Also wasted in the cast are Daryl Hannah, Wallace Shawn and Elizabeth Hurley. There are gross out jokes throughout, but the crest of this wave of unfunniness comes when Martin’s spaceship gets shrunk down and flies through the sewers, coming up in a toilet just as some guy is lowering his hairy arse onto the seat. Thankfully, your worst fears about what happened next are not realized, but what’s far more frightening is the realization that the Walt Disney Company made a movie where you truly believed for a moment that you were going to see someone shitting on a spaceship. And that’s just wrong.

Only possible reason to watch: Ray Walston, who appears for less than two minutes of the entire film. I wouldn’t begin to suggest that you actually watch the film, though, so I’ll totally spoil the secret of his character for you: although he seems at first to be a government agent who’s trying to track down Uncle Martin, it’s revealed at the end of movie that he’s actually a Martian himself. It’s a wonderful callback to the original series – the only thing wonderful about the movie, in fact – when Walton grins, raises a finger, and lifts the bad guy into the air while a tease of the original “My Favorite Martian” theme song is played in the background.

"The Mod Squad" (1999)

WantedEven when “The Mod Squad” first premiered back in 1968, everyone saw it for what it was: an unabashed attempt by television producers to convince the youngsters that they were hip, now, and happening. They’d taken three shamelessly diverse characters – a white guy, a black guy, and a woman? WOW! – and set up the premise that they were all criminals who were getting the opportunity to avoid jail by serving as undercover operatives for the police department. The series lasted a decent amount of time (five seasons), but by the time 1999 rolled around, it was more of a cultural artifact than anything else. Instead taking advantage of a concept that was ripe for parody, the film version of “The Mod Squad” opted to play it seriously, making it all the more ironic just how laughable it ended up being. Feel blessed if you haven’t yet seen this movie, which took home a well-deserved Razzie nomination for Worst Screenplay. The only thing more surprising than the fact that it took three people to write dialogue this clichéd is that one of them – Kate Lanier – actually went on to write something even worse: Mariah Carey’s “Glitter.” The attempts to offer in-jokes are so ham-handed that they elicit groans rather than cheers. (“So you kids are…what, some kind of ‘mod squad’ or something?”) At least the original series attempted to speak to today’s issues; there have been Benetton commercials with more social conscience than this film.

Only possible reasons to watch: Dennis Farina is always great as the authority figure, and Richard Jenkins is typically enjoyable. Otherwise, you’re left to derive your fun from seeing how far over the top Giovanni Ribisi can take his performance and guessing how many times Omar Epps said off-camera, “Just ‘cause I’m taking the paycheck, man, it doesn’t mean I really want to be here.”

"Wild Wild West" (1999)

WantedThough it’s tempting to just write “bad bad movie” and be done with it, you can’t dismiss “Wild Wild West” so easily, as there’s so much to be said. The original series remains a cult classic for the way it took the traditional Western, melded it to the spy thriller, and added enough fantastical elements (technologically speaking, anyway) to capture the interest of sci-fi fans as well. With the feature film, however, Hollywood lost their way the second they decided to try and make it into a Will Smith vehicle. I enjoy Smith just as much as the next guy, but he was totally shoehorned into the role of Captain James West because of his star power, not because he was in any way right for the part. (Although suspension of disbelief is clearly required to appreciate the film on any level, be honest: how likely is it that a black man would’ve been allowed into the ranks of the United States Secret Service in the late 1800s?) Ironically, the man who would’ve been perfect as West – George Clooney – reportedly passed on the opportunity to serve as West’s cohort, U.S. Marshall Artemus Gordon; instead, the part went to Kevin Kline, and we’re left considering how much better a Clooney / Kline team-up would’ve been. Risky statement though it may be, I’ve gotta say it: I can’t imagine it could’ve been any worse than the way it actually turned out. Then again, there’s still one more elephant in the room that we haven’t dealt with yet. Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal of Dr. Loveless. Not only is his performance downright silly, it occurs on top of the indignity of the classic character having been transformed from a vaguely Hispanic dwarf (full name: Dr. Miguelito Quixote Loveless) into an amputee who gets around in a wheelchair and speaks with a Southern accent. Okay, so we dump Branagh and bring in Peter Dinklage. There’s a “Wild Wild West” I’d pay to see…unlike the existing version, which you should only see if you’re getting paid.

Only possible reasons to watch: Salma Hayek’s hot, but she’s not hot enough for her appearance to be a must-see. Similarly, Barry Sonnenfeld does at least make the crap he’s directing look good, but unless you put the film on mute, you can’t even really appreciate that. If you must watch the movie, I suggest you first rent “An Evening with Kevin Smith” and listen to his story about writing a draft of a “Superman” script; it won’t make “Wild Wild West” any better, but it’ll make you laugh really hard when you see the giant mechanical spider turn up at the end of the movie.

"The Brady Bunch in the White House" (2002)

Wanted“The Brady Bunch Movie” and “A Very Brady Sequel” were both really great examples of how to pay tribute to a TV series and poke fun at the original source material at the same time. As for the third flick -- well, frankly, did you even know there was a third flick? Trust us: you’re better off. The premise is admittedly a funny one, with a ridiculous series of events resulting in the Bradys ending up as America’s First Family, but it’s surrounded by a script that comes nowhere near the wit of the previous flicks. Also problematic is the fact that, although Gary Cole and Shelly Long return to the roles of Mike and Carol Brady, the pair are saddled with all-new actors and actresses playing the six Brady kids and the family’s long-suffering maid, Alice, all of whom seem hell-bent on doing obnoxiously over-the-top impressions of the actors who played their characters in the previous two films. It’s notable that there are two future stars hidden within the cast – Cindy is played by Sofia Vassilieva (Ariel Dubois on “Medium”), Marcia by Autumn Reeser (Taylor Townshend on “The O.C.”) – but rest assured that knowing this information does not provide you with a viable excuse for renting the film. Despite being labeled as PG-13 on its DVD box, “The Brady Bunch in the White House” wasn’t even a theatrical release, instead having its world premiere on the Fox network. When it flopped in the ratings, talks of yet another sequel, “A Very Brady Shipwreck,” fell by the wayside. Precious few tears were shed.

Only possible reason to watch: You could argue that Gary Cole’s still-flawless Robert Reed impression belongs here, but since that’s literally the only decent thing about this film, believe me when I tell you that you’re better off watching the first two films and skipping this one altogether.

"Bewitched" (2005)

WantedAttempting the reinvention of a classic property is a dangerous proposition, but when Nora Ephron signed on to direct and co-write “Bewitched,” the folks at Columbia remembered her resume – “When Harry Met Sally,” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “You’ve Got Mail” – and apparently figured that she could be trusted to do the right thing. While there may be a small percentage of filmgoers who walked out of the theater offering praise, they were soon trampled by the hordes who hated it. When Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell were cast as the leads, the reasonable presumption was that they’d be playing Samantha and Darren Stevens…but not so fast! Nora and her sister, Delia, had scripted a film that was intended as an homage to “Bewitched,” offering the premise that Isabel Bigalow (Kidman) was a witch who wanted to live a normal life as a mortal and found that opportunity when she was cast to play Samantha Stevens in an updated TV version of “Bewitched.” Is your head spinning? It should be, because this “twist” made the film way more complicated and multilayered than it ever needed to be. It’s one thing to try and rise above the “typical” TV-to-movie adaptation, but the Ephrons’ attempt came off feeling like they were being too clever for their own good. Also not helping matters: the almost complete lack of chemistry between Kidman and Ferrell. All told, there’s about as much quality material here as in your average episode of “Bewitched,” which means that the film lasts about 70 minutes too long.

Only possible reasons to watch: Granted, Kidman is cute as a button in the role of Isabel, and although they’re not actually playing Endora and Maurice, casting a Brit (Michael Caine) and a redhead (Shirley MacLaine) to play Isabel’s parents is an inspired tip of the hat to the actors who played Samantha’s parents in the series (Maurice Evans and Agnes Moorehead). Amy Sedaris as Gladys Kravitz is a nice touch, but the masterstroke might be Steve Carrell as Uncle Arthur. Of course, none of these characters actually end up playing as well as they should, but just seeing the actors in their respective roles is worth a smile.

"Underdog" (2007)

WantedPerhaps I should reconsider that suggestion that Peter Dinklage could’ve helped “Wild Wild West” be a better film. It occurs to me that, once upon a time, someone at Bullz-Eye wrote, “It’s hard to get but so psyched at the idea of a live-action ‘Underdog’ movie, just because the odds are that it’s only going to sully the reputation of a perfectly good cartoon, but now that ‘Station Agent’ star Peter Dinklage has signed on to play evil bastard Simon Bar Sinister…well, it does up its chances of being watchable by a considerable amount.” As it happens, Dinklage’s presence doesn’t come anywhere close to making “Underdog” watchable, but in our defense, those words were written before that person…okay, fine, it was me…knew that they were actually going to use live-action dogs in the film. You hate to use the word “loathsome” when describing a film that you know isn’t really aimed at your demographic in the first place, but those who loved the original cartoon would’ve been fully warranted if they’d rioted in the streets after seeing this desecration. Not that Disney doesn’t have a reputation for mucking up TV-to-movie adaptations (see “My Favorite Martian”), but what should’ve been a “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”-styled affair became a story about a boy, his dog, and the mad scientist who’s trying to tear them apart. With fart jokes. By voicing Underdog, Jason Lee abruptly went from the go-to guy for quality kids material (“The Incredibles”) to someone whose films are a must-avoid for anyone over the age of 10. He cemented that reputation by following this stinker with “Alvin and the Chipmunks,” but at least that flick had David Cross in it. What does “Underdog” have? Jim Belushi. Yes, actually, there is need to fear.

Only possible reasons to watch: We got nothing.

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