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Blast From the Past (1999)
Blast From The Past, a romantic comedy, recalls so many Hollywood movies as to suggest a pastiche rather than a film.
A fearful Cold War couple, the Webers (Christopher Walken and Sissy Spacek), enter their elaborate bomb shelter during the Cuban missile crisis just as a fighter jet crashes into their home. Mistaking the destruction for Armageddon, Calvin Weber locks the shelter tight for thirty-five years the time it would take, he says, for the world to stop glowing. During that time they raise a son, dubbed Adam for obvious reasons. His father teaches him how to box and his mother teaches him how to dance. But he has an obviously stilted world view (history ends in 1962), and so when he finally emerges from the shelter in "present day" America 1997 it's a kind of reverse Back to the Future scenario. Instead of taking thirty years of hip back in time, as Michael J. Fox did, Adam brings a stolid good-naturedness to our whiz-bang, cynical present.
In this way the film also resembles Forrest Gump, which was essentially about a kid who, while figuring in many of the monumental shifts of our age (Vietnam, Watergate, detente, jogging), remains true to his good-natured '50s origins. It's Forrest's girlfriend who stupidly gets involved in the anti-war movement and drugs and disco, and her reward, it is implied, is AIDS and death. In Blast From The Past, the vagaries of popular culture are represented by Mom's Cafe, the establishment built on top of the Weber's shelter. At first it's a kind of Beach Boys hangout; ten years later, everyone looks jaded, Mom says she misses "those flower children," and disco suddenly starts. Fifteen years after that seminal event, the denizens are weary from drugs and violence and Mom sells the place to her son, a screw-up who runs it further into the ground. This sets the stage for the reappearance of Calvin Weber, who, clad in lead-lined suit, emerges from the foundation like a holy figure, and is taken as such by Mom's son. One sees it coming a mile away, but some of the best moments in the film are when Calvinist Calvin, a whistling can-do inventor type, mistakes this run-down section of San Fernando Valley for a post-Apocalyptic world and flees back to his shelter. "The fallout has created a subspecies," he tells his wife and son. "Mutants. Not a pretty sight. Some eat out of garbage cans... People throw up in the streets, others point guns..." He recommends another ten years in the shelter, but before the doors can be locked he suffers a heart attack and it's up to his son to emerge into the real world to seek supplies.
Brendan Fraser as Adam is quite funny. On a city bus he joyfully babbles with the dead-eyed commuters, and when it moves into traffic he looks worried, grips the seat in front of him, and shouts, "Hang on everybody!" He wears outdated clothes and has a goofy, open grin. Unfortunately, at times, he affects a kind of Tom Hanks head-bob, reminiscent of the boy-in-the-man's-body that Hanks played in Big. Like that character (not to mention Forrest Gump), Fraser's innocence is incorruptible. He doesn't know when he's being insulted by chest-thumping men, but he can defend himself when he needs to (the boxing lessons from his father). He's never had sex, but the purring enticements of booby, leggy models only elicit a shy grin. It's love he's after, in the form of ahem Eve, played by Alicia Silverstone, who's all wrong for the role. She's supposed to be a woman of the world but comes off as a bitch on wheels. She's annoyed when he follows her around, annoyed when he doesn't. His amazement at the world provokes no similar amazement from her; she just looks annoyed at having to hang with such a geek. He stares up at the stars and tells her, "My father, who's a scientist, says that everything is a miracle. Everything. Until recently I wasn't sure what he meant by that." It's supposed to be a maxim to cure our jaded age, and Adam's glad-to-be-alive romp in the California surf recalls (briefly) Robert DeNiro in Awakenings; but the moment is quickly gone and we're soon reminded of another film, then another. The movie never feels like its own.
Dave Foley, of "Kids in the Hall" fame, plays the typically unattached gay friend, catty at first, who succumbs to the big lug's charms and tries to become a better person as a result. He also precipitates the movie's most dishonest moment. As Eve pouts and rants, and Adam looks confused, Troy (Foley) tells him, "You're a nice boy. But...she needs a nice man," so suddenly Adam becomes one. He's stern when she whines, and this shuts her up as much as any Bogart slap-in-the-face. Two seconds. Bam! He's a man. For most of us it takes a little longer.
The ending is equally dishonest although there's a nice twist when Adam tries to explain to his father that there was no nuclear war in 1962 and that they didn't need to spend 35 years in a shelter. The father, in other words, didn't save his family with his paranoia; he stunted their lives. Calvin cannot, will not, accept this, seeing his son's "theory" as Communist propaganda. This is Christopher Walken here, remember, so suddenly we get a shiver of spooky in the middle of this limp, feel-good comedy.
August 12, 1999
© 1999 Erik Lundegaard