Worst To First: Ranking Elmore Leonard Adaptations
Elmore Leonard is one of the most iconic novelists of the second half of the twentieth century, so it’s natural that his work would be frequently adapted by Hollywood. However, many adaptations of his work fall short or even worse. The prime problem is that it’s easy to forget that Leonard’s novels and stories aren’t plot driven: the primary focus is on the characters, dialogue and overall attitude. Quentin Tarantino gets this. So does screenwriter Scott Frank and directors Steven Soderbergh and Barry Sonnenfeld. But many times, those adapting his work do not. Hence why of the numerous adaptations of his films, only a few truly succeed.
Leonard debuted in the 1950’s writing Western short stories. After nearly two decades of success in that genre, he transitioned to crime fiction in 1969. His first crime novel was The Big Bounce which got adapted twice, albeit not successfully either time.
(Note: Leonard was a prolific writer and one of Hollywood’s favorite authors. His works have been adapted to film and television many times over the years. Typically “Worst to First” attempts to be comprehensive, but in this case I am only ranking the adaptations I have actually seen.)
13. The Big Bounce (2004)
Summary: A young surfer (Owen Wilson) gets into a mess involving thieves and a woman who may be setting him up. Like I noted above, Leonard novels are less about plot than about characters.
What’s Good: The talented cast includes Wilson, Morgan Freeman, Charlie Sheen, Gary Sinise and Harry Dean Stanton. The basic idea of doing another version of The Big Bounce wasn’t bad. The original adaptation had been royally screwed up. So a remake wasn’t out of the question.
What’s Bad: Unless of course, you screw it up worse. Moving the action from the Thumb Area of Michigan to Hawaii might not seem like a bad idea. But it helps throw off the tone of the novel. Also the direction by George Armitage didn’t do the book justice.
Quote: “She just has a little mischief in her that makes her kind of fun to be around. The other day she took off her clothes and then she folded them in this neat little pile.”
Verdict: Not as bad as the first Big Bounce adaptation. No, it’s actually worse. To date, the nadir of Leonard adaptations that I’ve seen.
12. Stick (1985)
Summary: Car thief Ernest Stickley (Burt Reynolds) gets released from prison and tries to go straight. But of course, such things do not go according to plan.
What’s Good: The cast includes Candice Bergen, George Segal and Charles Durning. Other than the cast, there’s not a lot in the “plus” column. Reynolds, who directed as well as starred, tried to make a good adaptation of a book he loved.
What’s Bad: According to Reynolds, the studio more or less hacked the movie he turned in to bits. He claims that the one he made was pretty close to the book. But the studio insisted on changes being made. Either way, this one, like many failed Leonard adaptations, misses the point about Leonard’s works.
Quote: “What’s a boomerang that doesn’t come back? It’s a Stick.”
Verdict: Leonard reportedly hated this. Watch it and you’ll understand why.
Next: 11th and 10th Picks
Posted on October 23, 2015, in Movies, Worst to First and tagged Barry Sonnenfled, Christian Bale, Elmore Leonard, John Travolta, Quentin Tarantino, Scott Frank, Steven Soderbergh. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.