Remaking - or "reimagining", in contemporary parlance - a much-loved classic isn't problematic per se, if the end result actually brings something new to the table. It's not the case in producer/director Leonel Vieira's ill-advised remake of O Leão da Estrela, second in a series of three modern-day updates of fondly-remembered Portuguese comedies from the 1940s; the first, O Pátio das Cantigas, released five months ago, was as critically panned as it was wildly successful, its 600 000 admissions making it the biggest Portuguese-produced box-office hit ever.
Much like that first film, O Leão da Estrela is a crass, embarrassingly unfunny farce purely aimed at the money-making end of the market, borrowing elements from Arthur Duarte's 1947 original to fashion them into a dispiritingly dumb, desperately cynical project with no semblance of logic in its plotting, narrative or characterisations. As in the original, the story revolves around soccer fanatic Anastácio (Miguel Guilherme standing in for António Silva), whose die-hard support for his team requires him to attend an away game and take the family along for the weekend, forcing the middle-class suburbans to pose as people of means to stay under false pretenses with a well-off family.
Here, though, Anastácio is no longer a fan of Sporting, one of the "big three" Portuguese teams, but instead of a small-town, bottom-feeding team, the Lions of Alcochete, rendering his supporter fanaticism somewhat inexplicable. And it's the youngest daughter Joana (Sara Matos) who becomes the plot's engine, well-versed as she is in passing herself off as someone else through the Photoshopped pictures in her Facebook profile. While this idea could have given the film something to stand on as a satire of modern social-media mores, it becomes a mere excuse to see some not very smart characters acting dumb and dumber for no other reason that the plot requires it, suggesting not only that is it OK to lie, cheat and deceive but that everyone does it so nobody minds.
It's an incredibly cynical posture, typical of the current audience-baiting reality-show thinking, amplified by the fact nobody in the preposterous plot seems to be using their head to actually think things through. This mires O Leão da Estrela in slapdash TV-level escapism, where it doesn't matter if things make sense as long as they provide some relief from daily life, making it the filmic equivalent of a throwaway junk food meal, full of salt and sugar, only without even the saving grace of flavour. The original's humour was at least based on the characters' imperfections and choices; the new one merely strings along tired jokes trying to pass them off as new ones.
What makes all it worse is the sense this was a rushed job done by a slumming crew whose heart was not in it - from scene cutting that seems timed by shot length instead of dialogue to flat TV-level lighting, through characters that are introduced just because and plot lines that are never followed up on, the only thing that seems to be lacking here is a laugh track to point out the gag beats. It's all the more bewildering coming from a crew who regularly do much better work, though not so much from a director who has traded in the promising genre work of his debut for a lowest-common-denominator audience-chasing formula.
O LEÃO DA ESTRELA
Portugal, 2015, 110 minutes
Starring Miguel Guiherme, Sara Matos, Ana Varela, Dânia Neto, Manuela Couto, André Nunes, Aldo Lima, José Raposo, Alexandra Lencastre, Vítor Norte, Manuel Marques
Directed by Leonel Vieira; written by Tiago R. Santos, based on the original screenplay by João Bastos, Félix Bermudes and Ernesto Rodrigues for the film O Leão da Estrela by Arthur Duarte; cinematography José António Loureiro (widescreen); music by Nuno Maló; art director Rui Alves; costume designer Teresa Sousa; film editor Pedro Ribeiro; produced by Mr. Vieira, for Stopline Films and Skydreams Entertainment in co-production with RTP
Screened November 12th 2015, UCI El Corte Inglés 9, Lisbon