Monday, April 14, 2003


This isn't an old movie, and it's not likely to be remembered as a classic, but to a certain degree, it's about old movies, and classic movie fans will have fun noticing the influences and references. The director, Frank Darabont, was clearly trying to update Frank Capra; the extent to which you think he succeeds will depend on your tolerance for "Capracorn" and for totally shameless emotional manipulation. There are really the seeds for three different movies here, and only one comes to fruition. The opening makes us think we're in for some scathing satire of Hollywood--in 1951, a lowly B-movie screenwriter (Jim Carrey) is subjected to a conference in which a bunch of producers (unseen by us, but heard, in the voices of Carl and Rob Reiner, among others) try tweaking his story so it will be more marketable. The satire, however, pretty much ends in the first three minutes as the second film, about the Hollywood blacklist, begins: Carrey finds out he will be called before the House Un-American Activities Committee because, years ago, he attended a Communist function (solely to impress a girl). His studio and his current girlfriend dump him. Distraught and drunk, Carrey accidently drives off a bridge into a river.

The blacklist movie basically ends here and the third movie, the Capra one, picks up: he washes up with amnesia in a small California town. It turns out that he looks a lot like a soldier who was declared dead overseas during WWII. The townspeople believe he has been miraculously restored to them, and Carrey, not knowing any differently, buys into their fantasy. The soldier's father, Martin Landau, gets a new lease on life and decides to reopen the long-shuttered movie house, the Majestic. The rest of the town comes back to life (they've all been basically "walking wounded" because they lost a disproportionate number of young men in the war), but of course, you know it won't be long before the truth comes out. The movie is way, way too long (2 1/2 hours) and Darabont has to hit every possible emotional button he can. He out-Capras Capra as far as attempts at noble and inspiring tearjerking moments, and though some hit their mark (as some are bound to), there are just too many thrown at us in the last hour of the film. Jim Carrey, who I am not a fan of, is very good; he manages to completely avoid his usual tics and schtick and he brings his character fully to life. Landau is superb, and the cast includes James Whitmore and Hal Holbrook. I'm about a big a Capra fan as you could find, but even I got tired of the constant and very predictable manipulation; on top of which, the production values are just too glossy for the movie's good. Nonetheless, it was worth watching once; a director's cut that is actually *cut* down quite a bit would be a great improvement.

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