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The Majestic

Annoying Setup, Remind, Resolve Drama

By Vladimir Zelevinsky

staff writer

Directed by Frank Darabont

Written by Michael Sloane

Starring Jim Carrey, Martin Landau, Laurie Holden, Brent Briscoe, Bob Balaban

Sheesh, no wonder this thing is two and a half hours long but feels like eight. Not a single plot point, character trait, emotion, image, or anything else in “The Majestic” is stressed, underlined, highlighted, and solemnly explicated only twice when one can spend five more minutes to stress, underline, highlight, and solemnly explicate it thrice.

This is a movie that will laboriously set up a point, then would remind you of this point every so often, and then resolve it by very carefully spelling everything out, just to make sure you didn’t miss it. An example might be in order. Very well. Let’s say a long lost son -- alas, suffering from amnesia -- has returned to his hometown. Naturally, his dad is overjoyed to see the prodigal son, who is suffering from amnesia, and keeps calling him, I quote, “son,” about twice per utterance. The son in question, who is suffering from amnesia, can’t quite muster the proper filial feelings and keeps calling his dad “Harry,” until, that is, an emotional moment when the two bond. Then the son, who is still suffering from amnesia, calls his dad, I quote, “dad,” for the first time. The dad looks right back at him and says, “This is the first time you called me ‘dad.’” Thanks. I would have missed the significance otherwise.

Now, many movies these days are equally schematic, yet I found “The Majestic” to be more annoying than most. This can be attributed to a somewhat unlucky combination of the plodding setup/remind/resolve mechanics of the story and the story itself. Usually, you see, I would start groaning in the “remind” and “resolve” stages. But here the story centers on the amnesiac coming to his home town and all the townsfolk trying to get him to remember his past life -- which, regrettably, means that the entire “setup” stage is exposition. Not just subtle two-word exposition; no, these are multiple tiresome monologues, taking up roughly an hour all together.

So I spent the entire movie just looking at flawless period detail, appreciating glowing cinematography, and enjoying top-notch casting (with one glaring exception) of many semi-familiar character actors in numerous supporting parts. The glaring exception is Laurie Holden as the love interest; she does not look remotely like a young girl from 1950s, and the only acting skill she has mastered is hiccoughing convincingly.

Oh yeah, there’s also Jim Carrey. Funny I should forget about him, given that he’s the lead and is pretty much on screen all the time. He’s fine, really, until the grandstanding finale rolls along, and he finds himself elected senator and throwing a major filibuster -- no, wait, that was Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

Carrey finds himself lecturing the Committee on Anti-American Activities about the Constitution. (Was anyone surprised when he starting quoting it? Was anyone surprised to hear exactly what part he was quoting? Didn’t think so.) So Carrey is there, all intense and dramatic and passionate -- and it would be all fine, only one can see plain as day that the actor does not care a whit about the Constitution. All he cares is being dramatic enough for a Golden Globe nomination.

Given that the movie is concerned with some major subjects -- truth, freedom of speech, and the like -- allow me to respond in kind. One would think that with its defense of free speech and attempts to satirize McCarthys witchhunts (up to the point of borrowing an entire subplot wholesale from “The Crucible”) this would be an appropriate movie for the winter of 2001. But look at what “The Majestic” is putting on the other side of the scales: the American flag, the girl next door, and our brave boys dying in the foreign land. In the 1950s, when the movie is set, this might be a valid counterpoint. In 2001 we already know that the witchhunts and the brave boys’ deaths can be two aspects of the very same thing.