The main takeaway from the remake of the 1987 Goldie Hawn-Kurt Russell rom-com “Overboard” is simple: Why? The whole endeavor is an exercise in trying to do too many things — rehash a nostalgic property, propel Mexican film star Eugenio Derbez to mainstream stardom, revive Anna Faris’ film career — but it never actually manages to be a good movie.
The trend in Hollywood seems to be to take the most Problematic-with-a-capital-P comedies from the ’80s and then gender-swap them so the power dynamic flips. Ghostbusters who are ladies? Sure. Easy enough swap. But trying to gender-swap a story that is so intertwined with themes of domesticity, class, labor, predation, manipulation and oh, yeah, kidnapping, is a far more complicated task. One that “Overboard’s” writer-producer Bob Fisher and writer-director Rob Greenberg (working form Leslie Dixon’s original screenplay) haven’t executed with much thought or skill.
The one thing they do get right in the remake is liken the outlandish amnesia tale to the melodramatic telenovelas that are constantly watched in the kitchen of the pizza shop where Kate (Faris), a single mom of three girls, delivers pizzas. Her second job is cleaning carpets, which is how she encounters the vain, wealthy party boy Leonardo (Derbez) — the son of the third richest man in the world — yachting off the coast of Oregon. The two get into a spat, Kate is tossed in the sea with her carpet steamer, and she’s got enough motivation to enact some revenge when Leonardo washes ashore with no memory of who he is.
The overextended single mother decides to head to the psych ward and pick up some household help, telling the doctors Leonardo is her husband. She puts him to work cooking, cleaning and working construction while she studies for her nursing exam. We all know the story from the original film: With some hard but fulfilling work, and exposure to parenting, rich brats can be reformed into good, middle-class citizens.
The idea to flip the gender dynamic and dull some of the creepy vibes of the original — wherein our hunky hero kidnaps a woman with a head injury and presses her into wifely duties — just doesn’t quite work when the script maintains a lot of seriously retrograde gender-based humor. Why preserve the sexism during the overhaul? Everything that actually works in the “Overboard” reboot has less to do with gender and more to do with race, as a majority of the characters are Latinos of different classes and backgrounds, and the discussion of their experiences chasing the American dream or not is rich with potential for real cultural commentary.
Another problem is the woeful miscasting of the two leads. Derbez is charming and he nails the rather ditzy spoiled rich kid routine, but unfortunately he’s too old for the role. He and Faris have no chemistry together — they seem more like friendly neighbors than lovers, and the broad declarations of love in the end are incredibly forced and false.
Derbez could have possibly worked across from a stronger female lead, or Faris should have been in the Goldie Hawn role (with, perhaps, her ex-husband, doofy bad boy Chris Pratt in the Kurt Russell role). The original “Overboard” is, in retrospect, strained, but part of the fun is watching longtime partners Hawn and Russell fall in love during the film. There’s just no such love — or really anything else worth watching — to witness in the remake.
Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic.
Rated: PG-13, for suggestive material, partial nudity and some language
Running time: 1 hour, 52 minutes
Playing: In general release