Film Review: Overboard

A reboot amalgam that shares some of the original’s charms and shortcomings, with a trendy ethnic twist that oddly enough works.
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Film reboots are potentially treacherous because comparisons are inevitable. Many newly minted movies add little to the original and often succeed through stark contrast in illustrating how much better the source material really was. Footloose, Ghostbusters and The Day the Earth Stood Still come to mind. On the flip side, the last Mad Max was an Oscar Best Picture nominee. And now we have Overboard, inspired by Garry Marshall’s 1987 rom-com, a guilty pleasure starring Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell.

In that film, wealthy, petulant and self-indulgent Joanna (a charming performance by Hawn) exploits and patronizes Dean (Russell), the hard-working carpenter she’s hired to build a closet aboard her yacht. She’s obnoxious, but also very sexy in her thong bikini. Dean notices.

After Joanna accidentally falls off the boat and bangs her head, she washes ashore, an amnesiac. Her husband refuses to identify her (he can’t stand her either) and so Dean, the widowed father of four young boys, steps up to the plate, delighted at the chance to teach her a well-deserved lesson. He tells the authorities she’s his wife and shortly thereafter she’s living with her new “family” in squalor, working her butt off and serving Dean’s every whim. Predictably enough, her feelings of frustration, violation and rage lead to love and submission, and when she finally remembers who she is and how she treated others in the past, she’s repentant. The shrew has been tamed.

Oh boy, this one’s a hornet’s nest. Admittedly, Joanna’s abundance of inherited money and her disgustingly haughty attitude towards working stiffs make her a valid target. Such characters have always been grist for the comic mill, warranting their comeuppance. Still, Joanna is a woman who has been cowed and thus enjoys favored-nation status as a victim; conversely, in his table-turning transformation, Dean has become the deceiver, the exploiter, a man in a position of power over a woman.

As fanciful as the movie is, it would never be green-lighted today, not even with real-life, long-term partners Hawn and Russell, who clearly love each other and are just playing make-believe onscreen and gently mocking themselves in the process.

Still, one can see why the farcical storyline (nothing like amnesia as the narrative linchpin) had its appeal to the second creative team too—director-writer Rob Greenberg, writer Bob Fisher and producer-costar Eugenio Derbez—even as they felt compelled to gender-flip the roles and add an ethnic ingredient to the brew. It’s a trendy update for a contemporary audience in tune with gender vs. economic vs. ethnic-identity politics.

In the new spin, a wealthy, spoiled Mexican playboy, Leonardo Montenegro (Derbez, a Mexican film star), who surrounds himself with voluptuous/accommodating bimbos sexually derides and exploits the hard-working, blue-collar single mom Kate Sullivan (Anna Faris) who has come aboard his yacht to clean the carpets. When she refuses to retrieve a snack for him, he literally hurls her and all her equipment off the boat. She manages to swim ashore. He’s not as fortunate when later, in an inebriated state, he too falls into the water. He loses consciousness and, like Hawn in the original, rolls up on the beach in the middle of the night, remembering nothing.

He’s picked up by the local authorities and sent to a hospital to recover, whereupon Kate’s sly boss Theresa (Eva Longoria) comes up with a plan for her financially strapped friend Kate. Here’s her pitch: Pretend to be Leo’s wife and then turn him into her live-in servant. The scheme has the added bonus of vindication.

Kate reluctantly goes along with the idea, arriving at the hospital with fake marriage certificate in hand. She brings the befuddled Leo home, “reminding” him that she and her three daughters are his family, encouraging the girls to be part of the ruse (which is creepy). It doesn’t take long for Leo to become a compliant househusband, a great father to the girls, and a construction worker too. He’s never done a lick of work in his life and for the first time he has calluses on his hands. But the jig is up when his father and two sisters arrive on the scene. Abruptly, he knows who he is and choices have to be made. The romantic end is foregone.

Not to put too fine a point on it—the film is fluff and at moments quite amusing—but one human being deceiving, kidnapping and “enslaving” another—whatever the character’s gender, motivation or era—is criminal. And as a stepping stone to love, it’s highly unlikely, despite the views belyingsuch films as 9 1/2 Weeks, Secretary and most pointedly Lina Wertmüller’s Swept Away (1974). Remember that one?

Madcap though it may be, Overboard (I and II) shares its sensibility: Subjugation is sexy. At the same time, its treatment of Mexicans—turning Hollywood’s stereotypical image on its head—is inspired. Instead of the cook, gardener, gang member or drug dealer, here we have a good-for-nothing scion of an ultra-wealthy family (that heads a construction materials company), which includes a dying patriarch who unaccountably regains his strength; a conniving, “very bad” sister who has her sights set on owning the business; and the much-beleaguered younger sibling who solves the mystery of her brother’s whereabouts and uncovers her sister’s nefarious machinations. The clan is right out of a Telemundo melodrama and a lot of fun, figures of affectionate satire (not unlike the Pakistanis in The Big Sick). So too are the working-class Mexicans of all stripes Leo encounters on the job. Some of the dialogue is in Spanish with subtitles. As an integral part of the comedy, ethnic diversity is softly embraced.

Derbez, who should become a crossover star, is perfectly cast as a charming lout with a sensitive soul. His chemistry with co-star Faris (of TV’s long-running “Mom”), who actually resembles a young Goldie Hawn, is spot-on. Like Hawn, Faris has an idiosyncratic intelligence and vulnerability. Also delightful are Mel Rodriguez as a tough old construction worker and especially Cecilia Suárez as Leo’s demented, power-obsessed sister.

I also enjoyed Swoozie Kurtz in a cameo role as Kate’s wretchedly self-centered mom, who still has theatrical ambitions and lands a role in an amateur production of The Mikado, singing along two other talent-free biddies in parts that are suitable for young (real young) women. The joke is cruelly ageist and oddly touching in its never-too-late, seize-the-day sentiment. It’s zany and fits like a glove with everything else.

Many more reboots are on the drawing board and it remains to be seen how they fare, from A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper directing and starring opposite Lady Gaga) to a distaff version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels dubbed The Hustle to Ocean’s 8, an all-female spinoff. There are even rumblings of an all-gal Lord of the Flies. That one has improbability written all over it—unless, of course, it is intended as parody, at which point the creative team faces, well, very big challenges.

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