The Lodger was born in 1913, as a novel by an English woman named Marie Belloc. At the time, it must have seemed a bit more timely ... and a lot more original. Since 1913, the story has been turned into a film five times, most notably by Alfred Hitchcock in 1927 and once again in 1953, although that version was called Man in the Attic. The plot remains pretty much the same: A California town is rocked by a series of murders that feel remarkably similar to the crimes committed by the legendary Jack the Ripper. On one side we have the detective (who has some skeletons of his own in the closet), and on the other we have a middle class family who has just welcomed ... a new lodger. In typical whodunnit fashion, a viewer will change his prediction once or twice (It's the cop! No, it's the husband!), but once the "big shocker" is unveiled, well, it's not really all that shocking.
Especially in the hands of first-timer David Ondaatje, who seems to be using his first big movie as a launching pad to network television. Save for the surprisingly impressive cast (more on that in a minute), there's nothing in this version of The Lodger that you can't find in an average episode of CSI, Cold Case, or whatever else passes for "murder mystery" on television these days. Every interior is flat, every sequence is brief, every conversation is plunked squarely in center-frame. The story might be as old as the hills, but that doesn't mean your movie has to feel like a siesta, man!
The two threads (cops here / lodger there) don't really come together until the third act, which makes The Lodger feel a little bit like channel-surfing. On one channel you've got this boring-but-familiar detective story, and on the other you have a tale of domestic duplicity. By the time both strands of the story start to tie together, you'll have figured out who the killer is, rolled over, and gone to bed for the night. Forget the assertion that remaking a mystery is, by the very definition of "mystery," really stupid, but given the way this new version of The Lodger plays out, it's tough to imagine the filmmakers who felt that the world needed just one more snooze-worthy homicide potboiler.
Like most flick renters, I was drawn in by the presence of a very strong cast. The Lodger boasts no less than Alfred Molina, Hope Davis, Simon Baker, Donal Logue, Shane West, Philip Baker Hall, at least one fleeting scene with Rachael Leigh Cook, and Rebecca Pidgeon as the woman who has only two scenes, but explains the ENTIRE MOVIE really simplistically so that all the nappers can feel like they got something out of the movie. Molina seems bored, Baker doubly so, Logue is on full-bore white-trash duty, Hall delivers diatribes like he could in his sleep ... only Ms. Davis exhibits much in the way of interest. But she's not all that electric of a performer, even at the best of times.
Ready-made for 3am HBO viewing, The Lodger is an unnecessary remake of a story that's already been covered more than enough times, thanks. Evidence of the film's choppy nature can be experienced through the nine deleted scenes that are found on the DVD, and if you simply MUST know why this minor little mystery just had to get another movie version, you're in luck: There's a 20-minute making-of piece that should thrill you to the core.