Total Recall

Total Recall: Don't Call It a Comeback

To celebrate RT's relaunch, we look at some cinematic reclamation projects.

by | January 15, 2008 | Comments

After countless hours of brainstorming, research, and exhaustive arguments about color schemes,
phase one of the new Rotten Tomatoes is a go! But to be honest, we can’t take much credit for originality: Hollywood’s sordid history is filled with reboots and renewals (not to mention
its fair share of touch-ups, facelifts, nips and/or tucks). In today’s Total
Recall, we invite you to take a look at some intriguing revitalizations within the realm of cinema.
These are the people who’ve experienced what Homer Simpson once categorized as the terrifying lows, the dizzying highs, and the
creamy middles. But just whatever you do, don’t call it a comeback.

Frank Sinatra
Given his canonization in the pop culture pantheon, it may be hard for some to believe that
Frank Sinatra ever stumbled. But in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Chairman of the Board was down on his luck, suffering from changing tastes in pop music, damaged vocal chords, and appearances in a series of critically reviled and largely forgotten movies. The fact that he left his wife for
Ava Gardner didn’t help matters, either; what’s relatively commonplace in these tabloid times was a big scandal back in the day. However, lobbying hard for a part in 1953’s
From Here to Eternity
(88 percent) paid off big-time. With the success of the WWII drama, Ol’ Blue Eyes was back, picking up an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and reviving his singing career as well. In the ensuing years, he would reel off moody, assured records like In the Wee Small Hours and Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely, and star in such cinematic classics as
The Manchurian Candidate
(100 percent). (Note to fans of
The Godfather
: there’s no evidence that Frank got the part with the help of a well-placed horse head.)

The Manchurian Candidate trailer.

The Quentin Tarantino players
Here’s a tip for talented actors or actresses who are in the midst of a career slump:
Quentin Tarantino can definitely help. QT sure knows how to plug stars on the wane — or off-the-radar character actors — into choice roles and exploit their talents to the fullest. The film that
catapulted the indie auteur onto the map,
Pulp Fiction
(96 percent) also rescued
John Travolta from a notorious dry period and reminded the world that
Bruce Willis was capable of making movies worth attending. (Remember, they were both in
Look Who’s Talking Too.
Jackie Brown
(85 percent) revived the career of blaxploitation’s It Girl
Pam Grier, as well as that of noted character actor
Robert Forster. Kill Bill (both 85 percent) was practically a two-part reclamation project, featuring
Daryl Hannah,
David Carradine,
Michael Parks, and
Sonny Chiba, among others. If you’re the agent for an ice-cold fading star with skills, it’d probably be in your best interest to lobby heavily for them to appear in
Inglorious Bastards

Jackie Brown: natural high.


After the 1970s heyday of the dead, zombies looked down for the count:
George A. Romero had moved on to other blood-soaked pastures after
Day of the Dead
failed to do big business, while near-weekly Italian splatterfests were becoming a thing of the past. But fast forward to 2002, the year zombies took back the cinema.
Paul W.S. Anderson released
Resident Evil
not only making it the first mainstream zombie success in a long time, but also
one of the first video game adaptation successes since, well, Anderson’s
Mortal Kombat
. Also playing in 2002: Danny Boyle’s stylish lo-fi horror flick,
28 Days Later
, which didn’t have classic zombies (they ran, they talked, and, man, they
were not happy), but the movie was also an international hit, enough to proclaim zombies effectively risen from their graves. The subsequent success of the
Dawn of the Dead
Shaun of the Dead
Land of the Dead
, and the final two Resident Evil movies further cemented that notion.

Shaun of the Dead in five minutes.

Neil Patrick Harris
On the surface,
Neil Patrick Harris‘s return flight to fame isn’t different from other 1980s stars who’ve made a killing portraying themselves. But rather than follow his peers setting up lazily narcissistic reality shows, the former teenage M.D. went for broke with a profane, drug-addled pervert version of Neil Patrick Harris in
Harold and Kumar Go
To White Castle
. After unleashing a bevy of potent quotables that we can’t reprint here (though we know they’re now unfurling across your mind like wisdom-filled cookie fortunes), Harris jumped to a co-starring role in CBS’s How I Met Your Mother as the coolly lecherous womanizer, Barney Stinson. Harris has efficiently dismantled his previous goody-two-shoes image without coming off as desperate or vainglorious, and with the image of him straddling a unicorn on the
Harold and Kumar
Escape from Guantanamo Bay
poster currently pasted across multiplex America, the good times continue to roll.

Doogie Howser M.D.: alternate opening.

Fine, technically the Batman series has rebooted twice. But we’re taking into consideration
that it’s only ironists who like
the Adam West era and that most readers’ experience with The Bat began
by way of Tim Burton. In 1989, Burton did what nobody else could hitherto: attract big stars to a movie that treated its comic origins (fairly) seriously and could break the box office bank. Once
Joel Schumacher took over with 1995’s
Batman Forever
, he edged a little camp humor in before infamously imploding the series with
Batman and Robin
‘s one-liners and slack irony. The license looked dead until
Christopher Nolan took over in 2005.
Batman Begins
gave fans exactly what they had been clamoring for decades: a Bruce Wayne with both presence and humility (Christian Bale) in a movie that’s dark, atmospheric, yet tethered within a world we recognize as our own.

The Dark Knight trailer.

And now, we leave you with the immortal words of James Todd Smith: