If it's one thing you learn about loving old movies, it's that sooner or later some hell spawn from the lowest depths of the lowest ring of the underworld will get the idea that he (or she) should remake it. You can't stop them, and praying seems to only make them madder. So, the fact that someone signed off on a remake of Leonard Kastle's paradigm of depravity, The Honeymoon Killers, shouldn't come as too big a surprise. But that doesn't mean you have to be happy about it.
First-time director Todd Robinson
kicks off the festivities with the suicide of Detective Robinson's wife. As it happens, Detective Elmer Robinson (John Travolta
) has taken his time attempting to get over his wife's death, and is just now opening up to a secretary at his office (Laura Dern
). His partner Charlie (the great James Gandolfini
) thinks it's healthy and that things are on the up and up. Then, a case lands on their desk that's a little too perverse for words. A couple, posing as brother and sister, answer "lonely hearts" ads promising love and security, only to end up bilking the mark for all they're worth and killing them. The investigation leads to a nurse named Martha Beck (Salma Hayek
) and a wannabe playboy named Ray Fernandez (Jared Leto
, with a ridiculous moustache and an absurd accent). The film follows Charlie and Elmer's pursuit of the Lonely Hearts Killers until a rather brutal holdout at a farm, where the couple find their last mark.
Credit is due to Robinson, a young talent who knows his way around framing and depth of image. Where a softening of the original film's chilling brutality would usually be in order for the '00s, Robinson keeps things bloody and cold, giving the use of reds and blacks a real carnal aura to the film's carnage. The film looks just good enough to take your mind off the botched job that Robinson pulls on the film's perverse psychology.
Where the original film used Martha's jealousy and loneliness as a gradual snowballing effect into murder, Robinson's story takes no time to watch the actors slowly build to their breaking points. Robinson pulls a fast one by taking the focus off of the Killers and spending an equal amount of time with the detectives on their trail. Though Travolta and Gandolfini work distinctively well together, the way Elmer's loss is shaped and conveyed is trite, and the addition of a bratty new detective (Scott Caan
) smacks of desperation.
The major flaw comes with Hayek and Leto, though it's not necessarily their fault. Hayek is forced to play up Martha's psychological anger to compensate for the fact that she's… still good looking. Where make-up turns Jared Leto into the loser Don Juan without problem, Hayek still looks desirable. The key to the real Killers was that no one else wanted the unattractive Martha, that's why her jealousy for Ray was so intense. As originally played by the late Shirley Stoler, Martha was a mythical creation of Medusa and femme fatale, ran through the John Waters press. As Kastle noted, these are ugly people in every way, with no redeemable characteristics. Robinson strives to capture that principle idea, but Lonely Hearts can't help but trip on its Hollywood aesthetic standards.