Remake is an SF novel from the eighties-nineties, by Connie Willis (though I am guessing at the publication timeframe. The references to Temple of Doom and the hints at a long movie career for River Phoenix do tend to narrow it down.)
The story is set in Hollywood, in 2018. Movies have become fully digitized, and it’s all about rehashing famous stories, redacting whatever is currently PI, such as alcohol and tobacco.
There’s a strong noir tone to the narration, with the elusive Alis showing up as a chorus dancer in the opening musical number in Temple of Doom. Anything Goes, Kate Capshaw singing in Mandarin or Cantonese or ??.
The hard-boiled jargon reminds me of All my Darling Daughters – a short story from the Winds of Marble Arch still giving me the creeps… only jaded rather than savage. And something of it reminds me of the Great Gatsby – perhaps it’s all the parties and the wistful ‘as if it’s already over’ feeling.
It’s almost all about voice, texture, and vocabulary, and building the feel of this future world where you can’t even make believe for real. There are hints sprinkled through of what the central mystery might turn on.
I wish there was something more to flesh the story out, literally. A stronger physical or local description to get us out of Tom’s head and out there to experience that world too. Perhaps that’s not the point though. Through that first half of the book poor Tom is intoxicated, splatted, all the time and so lives inside his head with little connection to the real world. It’s all references to movies.
When he sobers up on the hunt for Alis inexplicably appearing in the movies, the world does come into focus, as does the secondary character Heada (yes, it is meant to be pronounced like Hedda Hopper).
The science fiction isn’t the real point, in the end. In fact I am not sure I quite get how this particular machina supposedly works, but it’s worth the ride.