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Movie Review: Blast From the Past

By Roy Rodenstein
staff reporter

Directed by Hugh Wilson

Written by Bill Kelly and Hugh Wilson

With Brendan Fraser, Alicia Silverstone, Christopher Walken, Sissy Spacek and Dave Foley

During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, Calvin Webber (Christopher Walken), a financially successful scientist, gets skittish and packs himself and his wife Helen (Sissy Spacek) into a fallout shelter, where they spend 35 years locked underground. These early scenes are packed with humorous references to the 60's. The jacket Helen makes for Adam's birthday, for example, is not just tacky but is cleverly revealed to match a certain other fabric. Up on the surface life goes on, as a few decade-by-decade vignettes show a Rob Schneider-like bartender evolving, so to speak.

The big day arrives, it's 1997. Calvin ventures to the surface and what he finds there confirms his worst expectations the people appear sickly and violent, or to Calvin's mind- outright mutants ("I can be a boy, or a girl, or anything you want me to be," a prostitute offers). As they need to replenish their supplies, however, Adam (now played by Brendan Fraser) is sent out and meets such products of the '90's as a most apathetic butcher at the supermarket fish counter. The humor is predictable but well done, understated rather than reliant on punchlines. This first hour is also rife with social commentary and with Adam's joyful basking in everyday life on the surface. A Hollywood comedy with poignance and no neon sign saying "LOOK! POIGNANCE!" is certainly a rarity.

Soon enough Eve Rustikov (Alicia Silverstone) enters the scene, rescuing Adam from a crooked baseball-card buyer. Selfish but frank, Eve is hired to help collect the years' worth of supplies Adam wants to take back to the shelter. Of course, Adam would also like to find a girl, preferably from Pasadena, as his mother advised. Eve assesses that finding a non-mutant, nice girl from Pasadena will not be easy.

In a light take on the Swingers club scene, Eve coaches Adam, helped by Dave Foley playing, what else, her gay friend Troy. Once again, although the plot is not wholly original, the acting is so unaffected and the dialogue so cleverly naive that it feels fresh. Even the inevitable scene in which Adam turns out to be quite a dancer and a hit at the club is used not for artificial dramatic tension but as deadpan humor. Brendan Fraser's trademark innocence and Alicia Silverstone's quirky expressiveness are only part of the movie's great casting job. Spacek's straight performance of a housewife lost without a social context is a hilarious foil to Walken's just-slightly-mad scientist. While a lesser movie (Fraser's "Encino Man" comes to mind) would play for a quick laugh and flippantly cut to the next scene, director Hugh Wilson uses frequent closeups and lets his actors act. The results are funny and tender, and just when it seems the movie seeks a cheap laugh, it turns out if anything to be bizarre, but not cheap.

Unfortunately, the last 20 minutes are horrendous. The subtlety, both in humor and social commentary, that the movie has worked so hard to maintain are destroyed systematically. You can almost see the Hollywood execs dumbing the movie down, and it's not a pretty sight. The closing note, provided by Calvin's obsession with the Cold War, salvages a bit of dignity. The movie's smarter notes remain, such as when Troy learns that Adam is polite out of actual respectfulness, crazy notion, rather than simply to appear superior. If you can check that 90's cynicism at the door, Blast From The Past is one sweet trip.