Sidney Lumet's new version of the late John Cassavetes' 1980 "Gloria" is not so much a remake of a film as it is a remake of an overcooked performance--a case of ham imitating ham. This is Sharon Stone doing Gena Rowlands' flamboyant impression of a middle-age moll on the run, with an orphaned boy, and being reborn as a nurturing mom. It's Damon Runyon in drag.
Why "Gloria" was remade is as much a mystery as why it was not shown to critics in advance. Lumet is too much of a craftsman to turn out the kind of stink bombs typically sneaked into theaters and his movie is exactly what you'd expect, given the source material and the casting.
Stone does Rowlands as well as she possibly could. She has Rowlands' voice inflections, her mannerisms, even her high-heeled, military stride. Sometimes, when she has her face screwed up to expectorate a phrase, she even looks like Rowlands--blond on blond.
It's not so much a bad performance as an unnecessary one. Anyone who has seen Cassavetes' film can imagine Lumet's and save eight bucks. Those who haven't can simply imagine Stone tromping around under a pile of unnaturally curly hair, in miniskirts that make police interrogators sweat, and piling on whenever a scene requires tearful emotion.
The friendliest of Cassavetes' critics considered "Gloria" a kind of slumming exercise, a post-feminist charade in which Rowlands plays a rogue moll. It's as if one of James Cagney's or Edward G. Robinson's girlfriends in a Warner Bros. gangster movie decided she was mad as hell and wasn't going to take it anymore.
In Lumet's film, adapted from Cassavetes' script by young actor Steven Antin (Det. Savino on "NYPD Blue"), "Gloria" is just out of prison, having done a three-year stretch for boyfriend/mob lieutenant Kevin (Jeremy Northam) and is determined to call in an old debt and go straight. But Kevin likes their old arrangement, where she is to him what dirt is to afingernail, and when she balks, the lines are drawn.
It happens that when Gloria comes to collect from Kevin, he's holding hostage 7-year-old Nicky Nunez (Jean-Luke Figueroa), whose mother, father and older sister have just been murdered by one of Kevin's gang. Seems Nicky has a computer disc (it was a notebook in the earlier film) containing information that will unravel half of New York's two main industries, government and organized crime.
Gloria rescues Nicky from Kevin's clutches, and for the rest of the movie, she and the boy charge around Manhattan, trying to stay alive, and slowly, inevitably surrendering to the urge of co-dependence. Figueroa is a cute kid, and, if memory serves, his counterpart in Cassavetes' film wasn't. That's both good and bad.
For Gloria's transformation to be complete, there needs to be this great veil of coolness and antagonism between her and the child. Rowlands made Gloria as callous as a corn, and about as quick to soften. For this kind of two-character drama to carry a feature-length film, there has to be a lot of emotional ground to cover, and her change of heart has to be a genuine leap.
Stone, for all her arch vampiness in past roles, is really a softie. She looks comfortable with kids, and from the moment she makes off with Nicky, there's no question she'll protect him to the end.
There are shootings and car chases to break up the developing mother-son story, and an unusually restrained performance from George C. Scott as the old mob boss to whom Gloria pleads for help. But the movie exists as an acting exercise for Stone, which turns out--predictably--to be all sweat and no Gloria.
* MPAA rating: R for violence and language. Times guideline: slaughter of boy's family too intense for young children.
Sharon Stone: Gloria
Jeremy Northam: Kevin
George C. Scott: Mob boss
Jean-Luke Figueroa: Nicky
A Mandalay Entertainment presentation, released by Columbia Pictures. Director Sidney Lumet. Producers Gary Foster, Lee Rich. Screenplay Steven Antin. Cinematography David Watkin. Music Howard Shore. Costumes dona Granata. Editor Tom Swartwout. Production design Mel Bourne. Art director Carlos A. Menendez. Set decorator Laura Lambert. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes.
In general release.