I’m not normally a fan of remakes, especially so soon after the original, but I want someone to remake Paul Scheuring’s remake of the 2001 German psychological thriller, The Experiment, right now, even though the straight-to-DVD feature was only released in September. It’s a great premise for a movie, and for the most part, features a strong cast. I only wish that someone had taken the original German movie, which itself was based on an actual 1971 experiment, and put some effort and thought into the American remake. The Experiment could’ve been a truly interesting film (and though I haven’t seen it, my guess is that the original German film was); instead, it’s a weak but compelling misfire that befits its straight-to-DVD release.
Adrien Brody and Forrest Whitaker star in The Experiment, two excellent Oscar winning actors who are nevertheless not very much in demand, which means that both end up taking a lot of films below their talent level. I could see why they’d sign on to the pitch for The Experiment; they probably thought their considerable talents could salvage the script. They could not.
Written and directed by Scheuring, who knows his way around prisons — having created and written “Prison Break” for Fox — the setup for The Experiment is intriguing. Twenty-six men are chosen to participate in the roles of guards and prisoners in a psychological study inside a make-shift prison. Two-thirds of the men are assigned as prisoners (and Adrien Brody’s #77 rises to become their leader), while the other one-third are assigned as guards, where Forrest Whitaker’s Barris becomes their leader.
The rules are simple: The experiment is to last 14 days. If there is any physical violence, the experiment will end and the participants would forfeit the $14,000 they would be owed for completing the experiment. Nothing from the outside is allowed in, and the guards are charged with keeping the prisoners in line by whatever means necessary, short of violence. If the prisoners act out, they are to be punished. Failure to punish ends the experiment. The small wrinkle here is that Adrien Brody’s character is a war-protesting pacifist, while Forest Whitaker’s Barris is a fundamentalist Christian. Also, everyone really needs the money. So really honest, peaceful people who need cash. What could go wrong?
You can see where the film already lack subtlety. Cam Gigandget plays another one of the guards, a nymphomaniac deprived of sex for two weeks, and Clifton Collins, Jr. plays another one of the prisoners, a man who has experience in an actual prison. There’s also a Piggy, a nerdy graphic novelist with diabetes who is not allowed to bring in his insulin. The push and pull between all the characters is between individual pride and their collective desire to be paid.
It’s essentially Lord of the Flies set in a prison. Strike that: It wants to be Lord of the Flies set in a prison. Unfortunately, the script is heavy-handed, exposition heavy, and the characters feel compelled to remind us every goddamn 30 seconds that, if you don’t follow the rules, you don’t get paid. Either Scheuring doesn’t trust that his audience is smart enough to follow the premise, or he’s not smart enough to execute it properly. In either respect, aside from the atrocious dialogue and the completely unnecessary Maggie Grace bookends (she’s Brody’s tepid love interest, for whom he’s doing the social experiment), Schuester does a decent job of setting up his chess game. Unfortunately, he quickly loses patience, turns his chess game into one of checkers, loses patience again, throws the chess board on the floor, and storms off like a petulant goddamn child.
If only he’d taken more time, worked on the script, trusted his audience, and let the entire experiment play out naturally, the The Experiment could’ve been worth somehting more than it’s ability to provoke curiosity about the original. Unfortunately, Scheuster’s film is little more than a wasted idea, forgettable performances from Brody and Whitaker, and a movie that’s about as good as the DVD cover looks:
(Hat Tip to Jessika for bringing the movie to my attention)