Blast from the Past

You have to hand it to Brendan Fraser. Not many actors could star in films as lousy as Encino Man, Airheads, The Scout, Mrs. Winterbourne and With Honors and survive, much less prosper. Those who insist that George of the Jungle struck box-office gold because of the way Fraser filled a loincloth are ignoring how the actor also invested gorgeous George with a disarmingly cheeky humor. And last year, in Bill Condon's acclaimed Gods and Monsters, he proved himself a deft dramatic actor in the formidable presence of co-star Sir Ian McKellen.

Blast From the Past doesn't overtax Fraser's abilities -- the film is only a sweet comic confection -- but director and co-writer Hugh Wilson (The First Wives Club) does rely on a rare quality that Fraser has in spades: charm. It's Fraser's appeal that keeps this fish-out-of-water farce from losing its head in the silliness overload. Fraser plays Adam Webber, born and bred in a bomb shelter, and about to see the world for the first time, at thirty-five. Back in 1962, Calvin Webber (Christopher Walk-en) -- Adam's scientist dad -- mistook a plane crash on the lawn for the Commies dropping the big one and spirited his pregnant wife, Helen (Sissy Spacek), into the shelter he had built under their California home. Walken and Spacek, two Oscar winners not usually found in fluff, are hilarious as the couple who educate their son in the arts and sciences, with time out for dance lessons and Perry Como records. Calvin leaves the shelter first -- and one look at the adult-video stores and hookers on the street where he lives sends him back underground. Adam is left to scout for supplies and a healthy wife -- Mom would prefer a non-mutant girl from Pasadena -whom he can bring home to breed.

Fraser's wide-eyed innocence as he drinks in the real world makes the film irresistible fun. "Oh, a Negro," Adam yells delightedly. He's even more enthusiastic about meeting Eve (Alicia Silverstone, doing sexy petulance to a turn), a Nineties cynic who thinks Adam is putting on a bumpkin act to get in her pants. Eve introduces Adam to her gay friend Troy (Dave Foley), who dolls him up in high-style duds. At a chic dance club, Adam puts Mom's jitterbug lessons to work by giving two hot blondes the whirl of their lives.

The dance scene, a highlight of the film and of Fraser's wonderfully buoyant performance, raises a spikier question about what happens when the whirling stops: How does a gentleman from the past -- the Adam whom this modern Eve grows to love -function in a Nineties world that regards him as an alien? The film dodges the issue with a cop-out ending, but a little grit is much appreciated even in a blast of movie gossamer.

From The Archives Issue 806: February 18, 1999
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