Blast from the Past

1962 was a tumultuous year, even without the Cuban missile crisis. The Cold War was in full freeze, and paranoia run rampant. Paranoia can cause people to do strange things. The thought of a Russian missile attack convinced many Americans to build bomb shelters.


For most, these shelters were nothing more than a small underground bunker, if that. It’s different for Calvin Webber (Christopher Walken) and his very pregnant wife Helen (Sissy Spacek). Aware that his family might have to survive in their shelter for more than 30 years, Calvin has built an underground habitat that is not only self-sustaining, but comes with all of the luxuries of home.

That’s a good thing. Especially the night Calvin and Helen hear about the Cuban missile crisis. After escorting out the guests from their Los Angeles home, Calvin and Helen retreat to the shelter and lock themselves in.

As fate would have it, the Webber’s house is destroyed in a freak plane crash. Believing the explosion to be the missiles, Calvin seals the time lock in the shelter. That was more than 35 years ago, and Calvin, Helen and their adult son Adam (Brendan Fraser) are now the perfect nuclear family.

Raised on the morals and traditions of a more conservative time, Adam is a perfect model of what a man used to be. He’s smart, charismatic, good looking, and always the gentleman. Those qualities convince Calvin to send his son out into the real world when the time lock finally unlocks the shelter.

In the best “fish out of water” tradition, Adam will receive the biggest culture shock of his life: the 1990’s. It’s a tried and true formula, one that “Blast from the Past” doesn’t exploit nearly as deftly as many of its predecessors like “Back to the Future” and “Crocodile Dundee.”

While it’s cute and charming, and features a winning opening act, “Blast from the Past” isn’t nearly as clever nor as cute as it could and should have been. The screenplay by director Hugh Wilson (“First Wives Club”) and Bill Kelly is serviceable at best.

The first thirty minutes are alive in nostalgia and wit. Christopher Walken and Sissy Spacek are so delightful as the daffy parents. It’s hard not to like them. It’s here that the writers show great promise. They fill the screen with visual and verbal jokes, and poke a good natured finger at a time and place that no longer exists. There’s even a “Time Machine” influenced joke that shows the progression of the malt shop that was built on the spot where their house once stood.

Then Adam leaves the nest (he’s been thinking about girls for, oh, the last fifteen years), and “Blast from the Past” becomes nothing more than a series of rehashed moments from other similar films. Is it no surprise that Adam is rescued by a pretty young blonde named Eve (Alicia Silverstone, once again exercising her right to take acting lessons on screen)?

I’ll have an Adam and an Eve on a raft to nowhere, please. As hard as Fraser bangs his head against the wall he still can’t overcome the brick wall of a script. After “Encino Man” and “George of the Jungle,” Fraser could play Adam in his sleep. While his performance isn’t tired, the naive encounters he’s forced into are.

While “Blast from the Past” has a nice retro feel (the underground shelter is a marvelous, kitschy concoction), it loses most of its innocent charm when Adam connects with Eve and her gay roommate Troy (Dave Foley of “News Radio” trapped under a jet black rinse).

The filmmaker’s insist on making the transition from the innocent early 1960’s to the in-your-face 1990’s as harsh as possible. To that extent, they sabotage the film’s charm with numerous unnecessary profanities and sexual innuendo. “Back to the Future” and “Crocodile Dundee” both managed to be sharp and witty without being profane, and I fail to understand their necessity in “Blast from the Past.”

The film is at it’s best when it’s being charming, like the snappy dance sequence that proves you can have a good time, get some laughs, and do it all without insulting the audience.

“Blast from the Past” looks sensational, thanks to production designer Robert Ziembicki and art director Ted Berner. Their fabulous work is captured affectionately by director of photography Jose Luis Alcaine. Steve Dorff’s musical score is exciting and peppered with tunes from both eras.

Except for Silverstone, the cast is uniformly good. Fraser exudes naive charm, while Walken and Spacek seem to have a good time. Foley has the fussbudget down to a science (thanks to his training with “The Kids in the Hall”).

Silverstone is the only sore spot. Her limited range is severely tested here. She has yet to deliver on the promise of “Clueless.” “Blast from the Past” isn’t a bad film, and if the rest of the film were as genuinely entertaining as the first thirty minutes, it would have been a great film.

LIVING A SHELTERED LIFE

BLAST FROM THE PAST

Brendan Fraser, Alicia Silverstone, Dave Foley, Sissy Spacek, Christopher Walken in a film directed by Hugh Wilson. Rated PG-13. 111 Minutes.

LARSEN RATING: $5



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