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Old 04-01-2005, 05:59 PM   #1
Auburn Annie
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Join Date: Oct 2002
Location: Upstate New York
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Kutcher, Hilton star in Casablanca remake

Casablanca 2005
4 stars Out of 4)

Starring Ashton Kutcher, Paris Hilton, Owen Wilson, Bernie Mac, Topher Grace and Jack Black. Directed by Paul W. S. Anderson. At theatres wherever. R

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You must remember this, even though you're going to have a lot of trouble believing it.

Casablanca 2005, the highly unlikely remake of the classic 1942 wartime romance, doesn't just stand up to the legend of the Bogart/Bergman original. It actually goes one better, with a vibrantly modern cast that puts the "me" in "melodrama."

Every one of the young players has taken their roles to heart, in a story set in current Baghdad that remains completely faithful to the film's World War II source while at the same time moving in an entirely new direction.

The "Casablanca" of the title refers not to the fabled African city, but rather to a shadowy American weapons manufacturer that is in cahoots with Iraqi insurgents and an elderly ex-Nazi criminal mastermind.

The assured direction by Paul W. S. Anderson, previously known only for mechanical action thrillers like Alien vs. Predator and Resident Evil, will force a re-evaluation of his entire oeuvre. Is it possible that the critics who panned his early films Event Horizon and Mortal Kombat — and everything that came after, come to think of it — failed to see the Kurosawa within the crap?

We may all have to plead guilty to making rash assumptions, especially when our skeptical eyes peruse the cast list. These are not, to put it mildly, the usual suspects for a project of this nature.

Ashton Kutcher as Humphrey Bogart's Rick Blaine, the cynical yet courageous Yank?

Paris Hilton as Ingrid Bergman's Ilsa Lund, a woman torn between her heart and her duty?

Owen Wilson as Paul Henreid's Victor Laszlo, a man more admired than adored?

Topher Grace as Claude Rains' Capt. Renault, twirling his moustache in mock surprise?

Jack Black as Peter Lorre's black-market weasel Ugarte?

And — wait for it — Bernie Mac as Dooley Wilson's dutiful Sam, the piano player at Rick's Café Americain?

The answer is yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yo — especially when you hear Bernie Mac's slamming hip-hop update of "As Time Goes By," the Casablanca theme song:

Yo! Remember dis!

A kiss just ain't no kiss

Unless it's on my ring

It's me dat wears da bling

As you, sucka, do time.

Doubters may scoff, particularly at the choice of Kutcher for the role Bogart owned as the American proprietor of a saloon where secret passions are hotter than an al-Qaeda fatwah.

But anyone who caught Kutcher in last week's top debut Guess Who, a sensitive and timely update of the 1960s racial shocker Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, will appreciate there is more to the lad than just a goofy smile and an unseemly fascination for older women.

Where Bogie scowled, Kutcher simmers. Where Bogie commanded our attention, Kutcher dares us to ignore him. And where Bogie kept it all in, Kutcher isn't afraid to let it all out.

We may believe Bogart when he utters the immortal words, "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine."

But we completely empathize with Kutcher's same refrain.

That's in part because Paris Hilton makes such a spectacular Ilsa Lund, the woman whom Rick loved and lost, and who has suddenly re-entered his life. One look at her and all thoughts of Internet sex videos, all-night partying and narcissistic posturing vanishes from the collective memory. It's safe to say on the strength of this performance that, yes, we'll always have Paris.

A March of Time-style montage opens the film, as with the original, and it quickly places us in American-occupied Iraq of current times.

Rick's modern-day Café Americain is in the city's Green Zone, where insurgents only occasionally blow themselves and others up.

Even more dangerous is the love between Rick and Ilsa, which still rages despite their years apart and Ilsa's subsequent involvement with Victor Laszlo, whom Owen Wilson invests with a good deal of scallywag charm.

Fans of TV's That '70s Show will smile at the arrival of Topher Grace as the inimitable French quarter police chief Renault, who says he is "shocked, shocked to discover there's a war going on here!" Grace, of course, is speaking to Kutcher, his '70s Show co-star.

But the real gag is that a man in the background, watching this exchange between Grace and Kutcher, is yet another '70s Show stalwart — an uncredited Wilmer Valderrama, who plays Fez in the TV show. And he's actually wearing a fez!

It's this kind of invention that makes Casablanca 2005 such a joy to watch, not just once but as many times as you can squeeze into a single day.

And a single day it must be. Casablanca 2005 screens only on this day, April 1, in theatres located in that twilight dimension not only of sight and of sound, but also of mind.

*******************************************
From The Toronto Star, 4/1/05
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