Friday, July 11, 2014

Another Look: BLAST FROM THE PAST (1999 movie)

This whimsical, borderline-science fiction, semi-screwball romantic comedy is hardly the kind of movie fare I usually seek out.
It's the age-old story: When my wife was alive, this is the kind of flick she would occasionally drag me to see at a theater or, more often, urge me to watch with her on cable. (Truth to tell, I often ended up enjoying more of these than I pretended to admit --- although that still doesn't mean I actively search for them on my own.)
In this case, sitting down to watch Blast From the Past with Pam for the first time didn't seem like too much of a chore because I liked Brendan Fraser from the action-oriented Mummy movies and I figured I could stand to watch Alicia Silverstone because … well, it was Alicia Silverstone (this was back when she was known mostly for being hot rather than becoming better known for being [IMO] so kooky in her personal life).

Bottom line: I enjoyed the heck out of Blast From the Past and continue to feel the same after watching it again several more times over the years. I even had my oldest grandson sit down and watch it with me the other night, after I'd DVR-ed it. He groaned now and then, rolled his eyes a few times, and also chuckled and laughed out loud. His overall reaction after the final credits rolled: "It was definitely different and … well, kinda sweet."
There you have it. Charming, funny … and just plain sweet.
Those are the enduring traits of Blast From the Past. Served up by clever writing, solid direction, and crisp, surprisingly good acting by the leads and back-up actors as well.

Nor does it hurt that the plot is (at least to me) fresh and original.
It all stems from the Cold War paranoia of one Calvin Webber (Christopher Walken), an otherwise brilliant nuclear scientist whose fears lead him to build an elaborate, self-sustaining underground fallout shelter beneath his suburban LA home. In 1962, on the evening the Cuban missile crisis was announced to the public, Webber takes his pregnant wife (Sissy Spacek) down into the shelter for precaution sake. Coincidentally, that night, shortly after they've gone down there, a Navy jet goes out of control in the skies over LA and crashes in the Webbers's back yard. The sound of the tremendous causes the Webbers to presume that the bombs of a nuclear war have started falling. Webber sets the time locks of his shelter for 35 years, calculating that's how long it will take for radioactive fallout to dissipate on the surface. Above ground, it is determined that the Webbers surely perished in the plane crash and no attempt to find them is made.

For the next 35 years, the Webbers exist in their underground world. A son, Adam (Brendan Fraser), is born to them. He is raised with perfect manners, educated extensively, taught a whole range of things like how to dance, how to defend himself, exposed to kinescope recordings of The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, and so forth, and familiarized with "current" music from the likes of Perry Como, etc.
At the 35-year mark, the locks open and Professor Webbers ventures to the surface to find out how/if civilization has survived. In the time he's been away, the advancement of urban sprawl --- now turned to urban blight --- has overrun what used to be his property. He promptly encounters a transvestite hooker, a homeless panhandler, a drunk puking in an alley, and an adult bookstore. That causes him to flee back down, announcing that the population has turned to disgusting mutants and that he and his family will have to stay below ground for another several years.
However, he will have to go back and replenish some critical supplies. Shortly after that, however, the father suffers a minor heart attack and the son, Adam, is sent instead.
This is where the movie really picks up steam and the fun starts.

Armed with money, some very select baseball cards (to trade, if necessary), and also some stocks and bonds possibly to trade (although the father doubts they are of any value because he assumes the companies that issued them [IBM and the like] aren't even in existence any longer), 35-year-old Adam meets the real world for the first time. He (and the viewer) quickly find out that having been taught and thereby knowing about things, is vastly different than actually experiencing them. Things like seeing the actual sky and sun for the first time, meeting and shaking hands with a real live "Negro", and riding on public transportation provide comedy moments.
Quickly realizing that the cash money he's been given will not cover the cost of all the supplies he's been sent to get, Adam finds a sports memorabilia shop where he attempts to cash in some of his baseball cards (many of them worth tens of thousands of dollars, though he is wholly unaware). When the owner/proprietor tries to take advantage and tries to badly rip him off, one of his clerks, Eve (Alicia Silverstone), can't bear to allow it. She steps in and saves Adam from being taken advantage of, losing her job in the process.
The relationship between super-naïve Adam and sassy, sexy Eve starts to build from there. He hires her to "guide" him through the maze of this confusing world and to help him fill the list of supplies he needs to take back to the shelter. He says only that he is "from out of town" and Eve --- who fancies herself somewhat psychic --- devines that he is from a remote village in Alaska. Eve introduces Adam to her platonic roommate, Troy, whom she explains is gay (to which Adam, unfamiliar with the term in that context, tells Troy that he is "very glad you are always so happy, Troy").

Not surprisingly, Adam and Eve fall in love. Him with her immediately; her reciprocating much more slowly, only after a series of misadventures with ex boyfriends, a brush with mental health officials, and other women who quickly spot Adam's handsomeness and offbeat charm where Eve is slow to see anything but an overly polite oddball.
The change in these two characters as they converge from polar opposites --- Adam growing from a previously insulated boy-man to a more confident, quickly-adapting man with desires and emotions to fulfill; Eve changing from a shallow, cynical child of divorce to someone who finds she can still appreciate simpler, more traditional values --- is where the aforementioned sweetness and the acting chops come in.
Once you get past the premise, I guess there is much that is predictable and not quite so original. But it is nevertheless very well done and thoroughly enjoyable.

If you're in the mood for a sweet (I know I'm overdoing it with that word, but that's what it is, dammit), semi-screwball romantic comedy, you could do a whole lot worse.

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