Blast From the Past
By Hollis Chacona
FEBRUARY 15, 1999:
D: Hugh Wilson; with Brendan Fraser, Alicia Silverstone, Sissy Spacek, Christopher Walken, Dave Foley. (PG-13, 112 min.)
Ö Or, how Calvin Webber learned to stop worrying and love the bomb shelter.
Ex Cal Tech professor Calvin Webber (Walken) made his fortune in the late Fifties
and used the proceeds as well as his brilliant and paranoid mind to construct a backyard
bomb shelter that would withstand even a direct nuclear hit. His odd obsession proved
worthy when one night in 1962, after watching an announcement about the Cuban Missile
Crisis, he hurries his pregnant wife into the shelter only minutes before the big
blast. How is he to know that the big blast was actually a plane crash that destroyed
little other than the plane and his suburban tract home? Fully cognizant of the half-life
of nuclear fallout, Calvin has equipped his subterranean nest with 35 years of supplies
and a time lock that precludes an early exit. Thus little Adam Webber (Fraser) enters
the world and grows up listening to Perry Como records, learning about geography
and baseball from his dad and about manners and swing dancing from his mom, never
having actually seen the sky or a dog or a girl. As the benignly lunatic Calvin,
Walken delivers (of course) with deadpan enthusiasm and sweetly clumsy affection.
Spacek slips convincingly into Helen's shirtwaists and clandestine cocktails and
ages from a worried but loving little wife into a loving but watery-eyed lush right
before our eyes. Unfortunately, even these two wondrous actors cannot carry Blast
From the Past's featherweight load. It's not that I didn't want this pleasant bit
of flummery to succeed. It has some clever culture clash, a fabulous dance scene,
and a wacky, inverted comedy of manners that Hugh Wilson could have fashioned into
a slick, clever piece of pop Americana without sacrificing its Eagle Scout optimism.
Wilson, the creator of WKRP in Cincinnati and the divine Frank's Place has shown
a wonderful touch for comic cadence and deliciously skewed perception and I keep
hoping that ability will manifest itself on the big screen. (After such prior feature
outings as Police Academy and The First Wives Club, I guess I'm guilty of some of
that Eagle Scout optimism myself.) Blast From the Past is divided into two distinct
segments: the years in the bomb shelter and the weeks during Adam's foray into Los
Angeles of the Nineties. We spend the former anticipating the latter and the latter
looking back with nostalgia on the former. Fraser milks his goofy charm, Silverstone
appealingly quivers her lower lip and Foley, as the limpid-eyed, Caesar-shorn Troy,
gives it his considerable comic best, but Blast From the Past simply stalls out.
I felt as though I were at a Pine Car Derby, watching an earnestly made, inexpertly
crafted car inch down the slope, rooting for it to pick up speed and feeling guilty
for my disappointment. It was sweet, but it should have been better.
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