Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle 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.
2.0 stars


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