Monday, May 16, 2011

The Majestic (2001) [PG] ***

A film review by Claudia Puig, USA TODAY, on December 24, 2001.

The Majestic is named after a dilapidated movie palace that the movie's stars, Jim Carrey and Martin Landau, renovate and reopen. If only they had managed to overhaul this overly sentimental movie while they were restoring things.

Both Landau and Carrey deserve better material. Carrey is miscast as Peter Appleton, a '50s-era B-movie writer who is blacklisted, loses his identity after an accident and discovers his inner integrity after being embraced by the kindly denizens of a California town. When Carrey breaks into an aw, shucks smile, you can spot the maniacal trickster lurking beneath the bland demeanor that the part imposes on him. It's not that he should star only in wild-eyed comedic roles. He was superb as Andy Kaufman in Man on the Moon and well cast as the goofy but well-meaning dupe in The Truman Show. But those films had an edge that allowed Carrey to vent his darker, unpredictable side.

One hopes that this is a temporary deviation for Carrey and that he hasn't decided to follow in Robin Williams' sappy footsteps. Both men have a witty cynicism that has worked well in more complex material.

Once in town, Carrey's character is spotted by Harry Trimble (Landau) and mistaken for the son he lost in World War II. With little memory of his own past, Peter begins to believe he is the prodigal son and gives no more thought to his Hollywood problems.

The McCarthy era has been depicted more convincingly in other films. Peter's banal work would have been unlikely to call attention to him, much less inspire the scrutiny of commie-baiting witch hunters.

Further straining believability, the cops sent to arrest Peter for failing to testify before a government committee stage a dramatic face-off right on Main Street. And the confrontation just happens to fall on the day that his accident-induced amnesia clears, the same day as Landau's funeral. Meanwhile, the flag-waving townspeople who had embraced him all turn on him as one. Even his brainy blonde love interest, Adele (Laurie Holden), can't resist doing her own preaching.

Director Frank Darabont, whose The Shawshank Redemption was a better example of his talent, sought to make a Frank Capra-style feel-good picture. But he produced a pale imitation that challenges credulity and tries too hard to win our hearts with schmaltz.

Labels: drama

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