Of the many scenes that “Downhill” – a farcical family drama from American co-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash set against the backdrop of beautiful mountains and a marriage tested – lifts from the superior Swedish-language film that inspired it, one stands out as an obscenely clear indicator of this remake’s jumbled priorities. In it, father and husband Pete (Will Ferrell, now past the half-century mark in age) sips ski resort beer in the shadows of the Alps when a fellow vacationer half his age approaches to say her friend finds him the most attractive man on the patio. Pete is aglow. A few moments later, she returns with an unfortunate retraction: “It was actually him,” she clarifies, pointing to a chiseled stud a few yards away.
With all due respect to Ferrell, who remains an elite comedic genius of his time: Well, duh. The scene is practically recreated, line for line, from Ruben Östlund’s searing “Force Majeure,” the difference being that the 2014 movie starred an objectively good-looking Johannes Kuhnke for whom the bit isn’t just believable, but devastating in its turn—the result of an empathy for its characters that “Downhill” struggles against itself to replicate. Comparably, slotting Ferrell into Kuhnke’s shoes is like tasking Willem Dafoe to play Buddy in a psychological “Elf” remake; the spirit of the original has been warped, its intentions blurred.
And blurred intentions define “Downhill,” a needless redo that wavers between mockery and sincerity for Pete and his wife, Billie (an excellent Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and for which the best possible outcome would be leaving the theater knowing there’s a far superior telling of this story waiting to be watched at home. Continue reading →