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Blast from the Past

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Blast from the Past

Starring: Brendan Fraser, Alicia Silverstone
Director: Hugh Wilson
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: February 1999
Genres: Comedy, Romance

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

When I taught high-school social studies during the ealry sixties, we followed the curriculum, which mandated that we teach a unit on fifth-century B.C. Greece. Each term we asked our 15-year-olds whether they would have preferred to live in Athens (a center of intellectual ferment) or Sparta (a military dictatorship), and each term we got the same knee- jerk answer, "Athens." Perhaps the kids were giving us what they thought we wanted to hear. After all we were college- educated, and the Athens of the time was chock full of philosophers, playwrights and artists. One youngster impressed me, though. His answer: "Sparta--because I would not have to think." Good one! The choice is not such a no-brainer, after all, since we remember that Athens had a large population of slaves and of women who had no political rights, while Sparta's lifestyle was suited to the love that Americans still had for the military during the Kennedy administration.

Sharp teachers now propose a more contemporary question: would you rather live in America during the early 1960s or now? Eyes would roll as youngsters who have seen New Line Cinema's "Pleasantville," would recall a preceding population of repressed women and rigidly conformist males, liberated by hip siblings David and Jennifer. No problem guessing their response. But think again. Remember that during the repressed sixties small-town America was safer, more secure, more predictable, and comparatively free of drugs, crime, and AIDS. How does that take us to New Line's current offering? "Blast from the Past" is "Pleasantville" turned topsy-turvy. Instead of a couple of 90's kids freeing the psyches of the folks from the 50s and 60s, this time a fellow from the innocent 60s shows up our contemporary society by his superior manners, education, and morality.

"Blast from the Past," whose title comes from an expression by a celebrated deejay who'd introduce rock-and- roll classics with that expression, has a double-meaning. It stands in for the nuclear devastation which one family believes occurred in 1962, and also for the emergence of a 35-year-old man who wiled away his youth with just his mom and dad for company and had about as much idea of what was going on in the real world as did the Val Kilmer character in "Sight Unseen." When Calvin Webber (Christopher Walken) and his wife Helen (Sissy Spacek) hear JFK's TV address pitting the U.S. toe-to-toe against the Soviet Union over the Cuban mssiles, they take to their California underground bomb shelter, a spacious abode boasting a thirty-five year stockpile of food and other needs. Because (incredibly enough) they did not have a radio or TV in the shelter, they could not have known that the Soviets backed down. Hearing a devastating explosion just above their shelter (actually a crashing plane which levels their home), they assume it to be a nuclear discharge. Helen gives birth to a baby boy, and the threesome settle in for a thirty-five year span, expecting to emerge when California would become safe from radioactive fallout. The highly educated Calvin and his wife teach the boy languages, math, science, dancing, and the art of self-defense, so that when he ultimately emerges above ground, he would be prepared for life among society. What happens when the 35-year-old Adam (Brendan Fraser) ascends and meets the modern world--especially Eve (Alicia Silverstone) with whom he falls in love--is the source of great fun and no small amount of social satire.

Adam compares the people he meets with his own family and decides that they have become mutated from the bomb. And no wonder. One man shifts through garbage while another throws up in the street. What was once a fruit orchard is now the home of a porn parlor. The community is full of strip malls and boarded-up stores. He overcomes his repulsion for post-nuclear humankind when he falls in love and, as is the custom in any good romantic comedy, the ardent couple must be kept apart until the end of the movie. This feat is accomplished by Eve's unwillingness to believe that a guy so polite, so caring, so well-mannered can be real, and by her inability to accept his naively boyish behavior.

Director Hugh Wilson milks the story for social commentary, indicating the decline and fall of Western civilization from 1962 to 1999. As a microcosm of history, he centers on Mom's Malt Shop which during the seventies turns into a disco bar and ultimately into a bikers' saloon. But "Blast from the Past" is, fortunately, no exercise in cerebral inquiry but a wonderfully inventive, original comedy with good acting all around. Christopher Walken shines as the eccentric Cal Tech professor-turned-inventor who has the foresight to lock his family into the underground shelter for over three decades, with Sissy Spacek his hand-wringing and not altogether accepting wife. The thirty-one-year old Brendan Fraser continues to surprise his public with his breadth, having turned in a crackerjack performance as a Neanderthal youth in modern society in "Encino Man" and recently as a guest in the home of horror-meister James Whaley in "Gods and Monsters," knocking out a fine appearance as straight- man to Ian McKellen's idiosyncratic gay director. There's a neat side role by Dave Foley as Troy, Eve's gay brother, who is particularly sympathetic to Adam's fish-out-of-water predicament and serves as Cupid to coax her sister into Adam's arms. The showstopping scene occurs on the dance floor of the Club 40, where Adam naturally stands out, vigorously and expertly taking on a couple of beautiful women in some exuberant period steps. "Blast from the Past" is solid entertainment without a dull moment, good fun, and an effective rejoinder to "Pleasantville"'s championing of modern times.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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