Great cast makes Blast from the Past a joy
Blast from the Past
Starring: Brendan Fraser, Alicia Silverstone, Christopher Walken, Sissy Spacek, Dave Foley, and Scott Thompson
Screenplay: Bill Kelly and Hugh Wilson
Producers: Renny Harlin and Hugh Wilson
Director: Hugh Wilson
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief language, sex and drug references
What would happen if a man, born and raised in the past, is suddenly forced into the 90s? What would his reactions to our society be? That's the basic premise of the 1992 film Encino Man, starring Brendan Fraser. It is also the premise of Blast from the Past, a charming and whimsical comedy that is as good as anything Fraser has done before in this realm. That's not to say the film isn't original--it is, on a basic fundamental level. The story is Pleasantville reversed. Instead of two modern teenagers stuck in a 50s black and white sitcom, one 60s man is stuck in the 90s.
Blast from the Past works as well as it should, making us laugh and smile at the touching romantic displays on screen. Surprisingly, the film is not just a lame-brain comedy either. It's smart, and has a nice social commentary underlying the basic plot. Where Pleasantville made a bias towards the 90s lifestyle, this film portrays the 60s lifestyle as a much more innocent and pleasant time. Neighbors were all friends, and people could leave their doors unlocked without fear of being robbed. One can see this viewpoint from a small subplot involving a sweet-natured restaurant that goes from a successful teenage-hangout to a dumpy, boarded-up hangout for bums (or mutants, as one character refers to them).
This small subplot develops over thirty-five years, used by director Hugh Wilson as a montage to get from point A to point B. It also develops over the fallout shelter of Calvin and Helen Webber (Christopher Walken and Sissy Spacek), a brilliant but paranoid man and a simple housewife. After believing that the Cuban missile crisis has turned deadly, the two escape to their bomb shelter just as an airforce plane crashes into their house, sending a fireball down the tunnel from where they just came. Stuck inside their chamber for thirty-five years and believing that all their friends have been burnt to a crisp, they raise one and only son, suitably named Adam (Brendan Fraser). After thirty-five years, the locks to the door open, and they are all able to return to the surface.
Adam is sent up to buy supplies so that they may live in the shelter for another ten years, afraid of the post-apocalytpic Los Angeles that they have been witness to. "Don't go into the adult bookstore. There's poisonous gas inside," his father warns. Adam takes the elevator up to the surface, where he meets an old, haggard hippie (Scott Thompson) who believes Adam is the son of God (the religious allegory is quite overwhelming, yet another parallel to Pleasantville). Venturing out into the world, he discovers things he'd only read about for the first time. Being locked in a chamber with his two parents, he is wide-eyed and childlike at seeing African-Americans, sunsets, and the ocean first hand.
There, he meets the appropriately-named Eve (Alicia Silverstone), a cynical woman of the 90s. Her attitude encompasses the self-referrential wit of all the recent post-Scream horror films without seeming a bit cliched. The inevitable romance that develops between the two is extremely predictable, but never once hinders the success of the story. After all, predictability has its fair share of charms, and they are used appropriately here. Much of the success rides on the cast. Silverstone, of from one spectacular misfire (Batman & Robin) and an okay Excess Baggage, returns to her Clueless roots by creating a woman of the world. However, instead of just redoing that same character, she reinvents it, giving the film a breath of fresh air. Fraser is also very good as the fish-out-of-water. He's played this type of role before, but it is vastly different from any other he's done.
For the first hour, the film belongs mostly to Christopher Walken and Sissy Spacek who go over-the-top more often than not. Spacek especially displays a comedic talent that we have yet to see from her. Normally inhibited to dramatic roles, she shows off her comedy skills with flair. Her turn from caring housewife to raving alcoholic is very funny. Walken loves to play this type of role where he can spout one-liners and be as every bit as sarcastic as the 90s culture is. Dave Foley (NewsRadio) is used to perfection here, playing a rather flamin' gay man who tries to be as cynical as Silverstone is. The only real misstep is the inclusion of Scott Thompson who continuously gets more irritating as the film moves along.
The screenplay by Bill Kelly and Hugh Wilson is a wonderful marriage of satirical humor and moral decay. It's not often you can laugh at the characters ridiculing our 90s society. When Adam is told that Troy (Foley) is gay, he exclaims, "Good for you!" Of course, the definition of gay has gone through some major changes since the 60s. But the film has a dark undertone concerning the overprotection of parents of their children which can't be denied. When our parents are our only keyhole to the world, our own personalities could be altered drastically. Thankfully, Kelly and Wilson both try to keep the film as light as possible, leaving these dark themes in the dark, so to speak.
Director/writer Hugh Wilson (First Wives' Club) plays the film out for all its satirical and comedic glory. The social satire is very funny at times, and always remains close to the surface of the film. What is even more astonishing is how Wilson effectively incorporates coincidences into the story and making them seem plausible. The Webbers just happened to collect baseball cards that are worth thousands of dollars in the present day. They just happened to purchase cheap shares of stock in IBM, Polaroid, and AT&T. And aside from the plane crashing into their house, every single plot coincidence works very well. It's thankfully played out for comedic effect--even Wilson doesn't take it seriously.
Blast from the Past is rated PG-13 for brief language, sex and drug references. The film does so many things right that all the missteps are easy to overlook. The romance is genuinely heartfelt and rather palpable. Silverstone is so charming and delightful that you can't help but smile when she does. She could easily be considered a young Julia Roberts. It's films like these that make Silverstone the star she is. If she'd only avoid another franchise try (could you really see her in an Alien film?), she may become one of the most bankable stars around. This is definitely her best film since Clueless.
*** out of ****
Reviews by Boyd Petrie