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"Flubber"

By Devin D. O'Leary

DECEMBER 1, 1997:  I remember two things from my childhood: Robin Williams was still funny, and Disney was still cranking out entertaining live-action kiddie flicks like Candleshoe and Freaky Friday. Yes, there was a brief period afterward when Williams was very funny (The World According to Garp) and Disney cranked out some fine animated fare (Beauty and the Beast). Recently, though, Williams has settled into silly family poop like Hook, Mrs. Doubtfire and Father's Day, and Disney has churned out an unsatisfying string of live-action duds like Camp Nowhere, Heavyweights and the best-forgotten Mighty Ducks trilogy. Now these two fallen angels have joined forces to create Flubber. God help us all.

Disney, unable to write a decent screenplay, is now serving up warmed-over versions of its own past hits. I guess whatever executive decided it would be a good idea to remake That Darn Cat didn't learn his lesson. Time, I think, for Disney head Michael Eisner to bring back Uncle Walt's long-lost "corporate flogging" policy.

With Flubber, Robin Williams has been recruited to take over the role made famous by Fred MacMurray (I mean, imagine the hubris it takes to fill those legendary shoes). 1961's The Absent-Minded Professor was a monumentally silly, but entirely engaging kiddie classic from Disney's heyday; 1997's Flubber (an appropriate retitling, since the magical substance gets far more screentime than Williams), however, is akin to Chinese water torture.

Williams is called upon to (nominally) play Professor Phillip Brainard--a daffy doc so scatterbrained, he's forgotten his wedding date three times (much to the chagrin of his fiancee). One day, though, the absent-minded professor accidentally invents "flying rubber." This gives the so-called "imagineers" at Disney plenty of opportunity to computer-generate a hyperactive green goo that can bounce, change shape, smile, coo and spawn spin-off merchandise like crazy. So enamored of their titular substance are the filmmakers that they actually waste 10 minutes of screen time with a computer-generated dance sequence featuring the gelatinous star. Somehow this miraculous substance is supposed to save the prof's troubled university from financial ruin. Why the prof spends the entire film obsessing over flying rubber and its myriad airborne uses is a little odd considering he's already invented an artificially intelligent robot, complete with emotions and the ability to fly!

Most--scratch that--all of the jokes in Flubber involve things bouncing. Flubber bounces. Golf balls bounce. Then, get this, a bowling ball bounces. Then a bunch of basketball players bounce. Then--I think you get the idea. If you find bouncing things terribly funny, then Flubber may just be the movie for you. Several members of the audience with whom I suffered through Flubber were thrown into near-apoplectic fits every time something bounced; so I guess there is an audience for this kind of thing.

Storywise, Flubber hews fairly close to the original: Prof invents Flubber, takes it to the basketball game, evil rich guy steals it, Prof builds flying car and gets Flubber back. Sadly, though, the evil legacy of Home Alone rears its hideous head. Most of the plot involves two bad guys trying to break into the professor's house and getting conked in the head repeatedly for their efforts. Apparently, nothing is funnier to the kids of today than cerebral trauma.

Director Les Mayfield, believe it or not, is from Albuquerque. With this film and Pauly Shore's Encino Man to his credit, he's starting to remind me of that other local moviemaking machine Brian Levant (Beethoven, The Flintstones, Problem Child 2). Talk about your hometown pride. Somebody stop these boys before they team up for Son of Flubber!


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