Anybody who saw “Bonnie and Clyde” in a movie theater has a pretty good chance of being a grandparent by now, so there’s no quibble with remaking it for a next (and next) generation. Yet even if this History-Lifetime-A&E synergistic expansion — on three networks, over two nights — hews more closely to history, its creative license still oozes into misguided touches, and the additional length produces arid patches in getting to the inevitable blood-soaked end. That said, the material — with its name recognition and Southern ties — should yield a solid Nielsen haul, if likely not quite as ostentatiously as “Hatfields & McCoys.”
Beyond gaining an ampersand, the protagonists add significantly more backstory. Clyde (Emile Hirsch) picks up an unnecessary voiceover narration that even survives him in death, and his character also channels eerie flash-forward visions of coming events, presumably to reassure the audience that something dramatic is going to happen after the next commercial break.
Yet as directed by Bruce Beresford from a script by John Rice and Joe Batteer, the project from producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron — which meticulously replicates its ’30s era — squanders much of its extra time on a too-slow build-up to Clyde’s turn to a life of crime (including a few interludes in jail).
He’s egged on by Bonnie (Holliday Grainger of “The Borgias”), who he first espies at her wedding to someone else, her beauty striking him like the proverbial thunderbolt.
Bonnie is an aspiring starlet encouraged by her mother (a sparsely used Holly Hunter), who finds notoriety as a criminal to be the next best thing to becoming an actress (insert your own joke here) as she eagerly saves press clippings from her exploits. Eventually, the collateral damage from their robbery spree — where they first endeavor not to hurt anyone, but eventually wrack up a pretty serious body count — prompts “the laws,” as the folks colorfully put it, to take an interest, enlisting retired Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (William Hurt) to pursue them, along with another lawman (Austin Hebert) who knew, and had a crush on, Bonnie.
Of course, pretty much everyone knows the hunt and near misses will eventually end in a hail of gunfire (indeed, that’s previewed near the outset), but as constructed, the movie does only a half-hearted job of zeroing in on the Depression-era roots of what made criminals so attractive, or how that might resonate juxtaposed against today’s tabloid and recessionary times. (A reporter, played by Elizabeth Reaser, eagerly chronicles their exploits, but it’s an underdeveloped thread.)
Instead, the movie settles for a rather dutiful tick-tock of episodes and shootouts, counting down toward the inevitable with plenty of on-air script indicating the time and place before each event.
Its shortcomings notwithstanding, “Bonnie & Clyde” has a handsome period feel and look, and as projects ranging from “The Bible” to “Hatfields” have demonstrated, there’s a clear appetite for historical material, longform projects and (perhaps most significantly) programming that skews toward a rural and Southern audience, which is where the duo’s exploits largely unfolded.
In crass bottom-line terms, in other words, “Bonnie & Clyde” has one important thing in common with its namesakes: You don’t always have to be good to make out like a bandit.