Back in the 1980s, filmmakers seemed less inclined to draw attention to their remakes by retaining the original title, or, indeed, the flavor, characters, and so on. One example is No Way Out, which is something of a remake of The Big Clock, in the sense that it retains the core idea of an investigator investigating the crime he is implicated in, but which otherwise removes that films comedic bent, film noir trappings, setting, and characters. Other examples include the remakes of The Thing From Another World (Carpenter’s film is set on an base in a polar region, and features the men in the base fighting an alien, but is otherwise completely different from the original in plot and tone), Out of the Past (Against All Odds, which subs in a former pro-athlete for the original film’s private eye), and DOA (which retains only the “man who is poisoned must find his killers before he dies” plot from the original). The Money Pit is another example of this trend of “kernel of plot only” 1980s remakes. In this case Richard Benjamin (City Heat) helms a remake of Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House that retains only the idea that a couple trying to move out of the city ends up getting more than they bargained for.
Walter Fielding Jr. (Tom Hanks, Mazes and Monsters) is a music industry lawyer whose crook father took off with the money and left the business foundering. Fielding lives with his girlfriend Anna Crowley Beissart (Shelly Long, Caveman), a concert violinist with a top end Manhattan apartment. Unfortunately, it belongs to her ex-husband, maestro Max Beissart (Alexander Godunov, Die Hard), returns from his time abroad and demands his apartment back. Desperate for a place to live, Fielding’s heart-attack prone jogging enthusiast real estate agent (Josh Mostel, The Brother From Another Planet) finds a deal that’s too good to be true-an enormous, million dollar estate that’s on sale for just $200,000.
Fielding and Crowley are led on an alarmingly quick, candle-lit tour of the place by its owner Estelle (Maureen Stapleton, The Fan) and decide to buy. Almost immediately they realize their mistake. Anything, and everything, that can go wrong, does go wrong. To make matters worse, the only contractors they can find to work on the house, the Shirk Brothers (Joe Mantegna, !Three Amigos! and Carmine Caridi, Crazy Joe), are absentee managers and crooks. Can Fielding and Crowley’s relationship survive the stress of living in a money pit? Can it survive the attempts by Max to win Anna back?
The Money Pit is merely an okay comedy, for a few reasons. Most importantly, the chemistry between Hanks and Long is non-existent. There simply isn’t any, and since so much of the film hinges on their relationship, it hurts the film. I’m not sure if a romantic lead with good chemistry with Long exists, but here she seems out of place-perhaps she was better on television? Hanks, certainly, is amusing in his early “goofy” persona, before the “serious actor” Tom Hanks persona set in. The supporting cast is good, if ill-used. Secondly, the film’s version of slapstick depends heavily on producer Spielberg’s brand of FX driven comedy, the Rube Goldberg kind where one bad event leads to another. At times it’s successful here, but it doesn’t reach the fevered pitch it needed for real laughs to set in. The script feels weak, with some things happening just because, characters that are interesting that aren’t actually ever used, and the pacing of the film doesn’t help either. The Money Pit can be safely placed in the dust-bin of film history reserved for “mediocre big-budget 80s comedies”.