It seems like an act of immense generosity that Christopher Lloyd has added his warm, affecting presence to ReRun, an otherwise pallid and clumsy contemporary spin on It’s a Wonderful Life.
Lloyd’s character merely bookends the film, which begins with a dream from his character’s past. On a sidewalk outside a cemetery, an earnest young man talks to an emotionally needy, waif-life woman named Violet. “You can take care of me?” she pleads, begging for a declaration of love, which he delivers. Then she backs away from him into the street and is hit by a truck. That sounds like a Monty Python joke, and would play like one, too, except for the seriously distraught look on the young man’s face.
Plodding and bland.
Waking from that dream, Lloyd’s character is a white-haired 80-year-old widower, sitting alone in the living room while his large family bustles around nearby. The Christmas tree in the living room signals the start of the Wonderful Life checklist.
The older man’s grandson, played adorably by Rishon Salters, gets him to climb the stairs to the boy’s room, sharing a secret: The closet magically allows you to walk into any past memory you choose. The entry to the other world is too on-the-nose-Narnia, but the film could have gotten away with that. The problem is that the closet spits Lloyd out as the younger version of himself. Told in flashback, this main section of the film is defined by stilted acting from a cast of unknowns and sluggish pacing.
The director, Alyssa Rallo Bennett, and the writer, Gary O. Bennett, borrow the what-if premise of Wonderful Life, not its plot. But the younger version of Lloyd (Teo Rap-Olsson) is named George Benson, close enough to Bailey, and has a Jimmy Stewart-ish lock of hair falling over his forehead. His fiancee is Mary (Allison Frasca), and it is still Christmastime in the flashbacks. The connections to Frank Capra’s classic film are deliberate, but pointless and distracting.
In the replay of his life, George wants to see if he can save Violet (Amelia Dudley), who is George and Mary’s roommate in a nondescript suburban house. Violet is a walking cliche of a seductive wild child, with goth eyeliner, mussed hair and blouses falling off her shoulder. She also has an abusive boyfriend, Frank (Andrew Bridges). Their relationship allows her to manipulate George, who is protective, attracted to her and wears a constantly perplexed expression because of that. Down-to-earth Mary grimaces but bears it. The pic gives none of the characters any inner life.
But their troubles keep piling on. Frank, who attends AA meetings, has hooked up with a woman there who tells him she has HIV. A mystery-woman named Maris (Shannon Kronstadt) pops up, presumably from some heavenly realm because she is the Clarence figure. She has little purpose here except to observe the characters as they make horrible choices.
It is surprising to realize that this long flashback is actually set today, and that the sections with the older George are 60 years in the future. Apparently houses and furniture six decades from now will not have changed at all. We recognize that the flashbacks are contemporary because people have cellphones and cartons of almond milk in the fridge, but their clothes and houses are generic. With a design that screams cheap production values and pedestrian camerawork, ReRun looks like a shabby, by-the-numbers movie that might land on a struggling inspirational cable channel.
When George discovers what might have happened if he had saved Violet — nothing good — and returns to his older self with a new appreciation of Mary, it is a learning experience for him. It is a relief to the audience because the film ends with Lloyd briefly onscreen again. Without a wink at Back to the Future, his face engages us with his time-traveled sadness and wisdom.
You don’t have to be a huge fan of It’s A Wonderful Life (I’m certainly not) to see ReRun as the lamest borrowing, embracing Capra’s corniness but not approaching the classic movie’s charm.
Production companies: Stonestreet Studios, Jamaad Productions
Cast: Christopher Lloyd, Andrew Bridges, Amelia Dudley, Allison Frasca, Shannon Kronstadt, Danielle Lebron, Tre’von Lyle, Teo Rapp-Olsson, Rishon Salters
Director: Alyssa Rallo Bennett
Screenwriter: Gary O. Bennett
Producers: Alyssa Rallo Bennett, Gary O. Bennett
Directors of photography: Fidel Ruiz-Healy, Eric LaPlante
Production designers: Tyler Walker, Paulina Ahlstrom
Editors: Veronica Pomilla, Pati Amoroso
Music: Ethan Gustavson
Casting: Angela Mickey