Though not quite the scene-by-scene remake that Gus Van Zant's "Psycho" was, director Sidney Lumet's remake of the late writer-director John Cassavetes' 1980 cult favorite, "Gloria," has been updated with minimal changes. The problem is that even the original wasn't really that great a movie, its appeal resting on two main features: Cassavetes' gritty New York locales and a magnificent, Oscar-nominated performance by his wife, Gena Rowlands, in a role he wrote especially for her.
Lumet's update substitutes flophouses for middle-class hotels, after-hours gin joints for fast-food counters, and worst of all, but in a similar vein, Sharon Stone for Gena Rowlands. Call this "Gloria lite."
The plot concerns a tough-talking mob moll, Gloria, who gets saddled with a 7-year-old kid, Nicky (Jean-Like Figueroa), whose family has been wiped out in a gangland shootout. She thinks she is utterly without maternal instincts, but Gloria bonds with the child while trying to protect him from her erstwhile associates, led by her ex-boyfriend (Jeremy Northam).
This latest variation on Damon Runyon's "Little Miss Marker" is short on originality, and without Rowlands' performance, doesn't have much to recommend it. The sometimes-great Lumet ("Serpico," "Dog Day Afternoon") doesn't find the interesting dark corners of New York that Cassavetes did, and worse, he bungles every action-filled or suspenseful scene.
The opening shootout is the worst example. The timing of the scene suggests that Nicky's father is only concerned with his escape, and purposely leaves his 10-year-old daughter to face an approaching hit man. A car chase is similarly uninspired, and though the actor adds a needed spark to the movie, there is little tension in the negotiations with George C. Scott as the top mobster.
The biggest problem, however, is Stone's performance. She is easier to look at than Rowlands, but harder to watch. She isn't bad, but the internal struggle and change that Gloria goes through is just beyond her. Too many of Gloria's lines from the original that have become movie trivia classics, pass unremarkably through Stone's lips - though she does have a few good comic moments.
Stone's best scene comes when Gloria makes a list of things that she tells Nicky he has to look forward to when he becomes a man. It's one of the few in which she shows real comic timing. Young Jean-Luke Figueroa is competent and cute enough as Nicky, but there is no real chemistry between him and the star.
Besides Scott, Bonnie Bedelia and Cathy Moriarty also have small roles. The problem is, that when Moriarty appears as Dianne, a madam friend of Gloria's, you realize that if a remake were really necessary, this is the actress that should have gotten the role - but Moriarty isn't a big enough star to get a vanity project like this one.