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Valley-girl version of a classic love tale

September 13, 2003|Samantha Bonar | Times Staff Writer

What would you have if Heathcliff were a guitar-plucking, motorcycle-riding Kurt Cobain wannabe named Heath, and Cathy were a snub-nosed, Valley girl-twanged, hyperventilating gal called Cate? What if the moor were Malibu?

What you would have might aptly be called "Withering Depths." Instead, MTV has the gall to call it a remake of "Wuthering Heights" (Sunday at 8 p.m.).

Emily Bronte's 1847 novel was shocking in its unflinchingly unsentimental depiction of romance. Heathcliff and Cathy were the original sick, codependent literary couple, goading, accusing and tormenting each other -- and everyone around them -- to the verge of insanity.

In Bronte's novel, Cathy marries Edward, a boring rich guy whom she does not love, and her soul mate, Heathcliff, marries Edward's sister in revenge. Then Cathy dies, and bitter Heathcliff spends the rest of the novel ranting.

The story's modernity would appear to lend itself well to a contemporary retelling. But perhaps not by purveyors of pop dreck.

MTV's remake follows the basic story line of about the first half of the novel, as did the 1939 film starring Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon. Except, instead of that film's high art, here we have high camp. When Cate rejects him, devastated Heath leaves the beachside homestead only to emerge a rock star with his hit single, "If It Ain't Broke (Break It)." Upon his return, Cate realizes: "I am Heath."

Emily Bronte would be rolling in laughter in her grave if she saw this.

Mike Vogel ("Grind") infuses the role of Heathcliff with all the intensity of a bowl of vanilla ice cream and comes off about as tough as a puffy cloud. (Johnny Whitworth, as Cate's brother, Hendrix, is far better suited for the part.) Plus, he cries like a girl. As Cate, Erika Christensen ("Traffic") portrays emotion by hyperventilating. A lot. Someone get this girl a paper bag!

MTV vapidly reduces a lyric poem of a novel into a cheesy limerick. Would Cathy hit Heathcliff upside the head with a shovel? Would Heathcliff get highlights? Now, really.

"Sometimes love isn't enough to hold you -- sometimes it's so strong it drives you away," Cate blankly intones to the riff of an electric guitar. Indeed, sometimes love of one's hold on sanity strongly drives one to flip the channel.

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