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FOREVER YOUNG (1992)
The makers of "Forever Young" are very smart. They went out and hired some of the most charming actors in the business to help this simplistic sci-fi weeper hang together. The result is a movie that is more enjoyable than it has any right to be. And Mel Gibson's legion of fans will not be disappointed. Still, it's too bad the story isn't more interesting. With more wit and fewer cliches, this could have been a much better film.
Gibson plays a military test pilot in 1939 who loves flying — almost as much as he loves his girlfriend (Isabel Glasser). And when Gibson's best buddy (George Wendt), a scientist experimenting with cryogenics, announces that he and his wife are having a baby, Gibson begins to feel his biological clock ticking. So, he resolves to ask Glasser to marry him but has trouble working up the nerve. And when she is suddenly struck down in an accident and slips into a coma, Gibson goes into a deep depression. After a time, as it becomes apparent Glasser won't be waking up, Gibson volunteers to be a human guinea pig for Wendt's experiments, planning to sleep for a year.
Suddenly the film shifts to 1992 as a pair of young boys playing around in a military warehouse come across a strange machine, inadvertently flip some switches and awaken Rip Van Gibson. They run away and Gibson starts roaming the streets.
One of the boys (Elijah Wood) tells his single mother (Jamie Lee Curtis) about it, but she doesn't believe him, of course. It isn't long, however, before Gibson becomes a tenant with them and goes on a search for Wendt to try to figure out what has happened to him. And what happened to Glasser. Meanwhile, evil government agents begin closing in.
I won't tell you any more, despite the fact that the trailers for this film give away a serious plot point that doesn't occur until quite late in the film. Although, you'll likely guess it early on anyway. The science-fiction twist provides this soap opera romance with some interesting elements, and in the hands of less talented — and charming — players, it could certainly fall apart early on. But Gibson, whose acting talent is often written off by critics because of his matinee-idol features, is very good, as are Curtis, Wood and the rest of the cast. The acting gives "Forever Young" a serious boost.
It's easy to complain about some obvious things — the background characters, particularly those played by Glasser and Wendt, get short shrift. And that silly movie cliche, Big Brother government paranoia, complete with a climactic chase scene, is even more tiresome. But for the most part, the cast overcomes the time-worn instincts of screenwriter Jeffrey Abrams and director Steve Miner.
Forever Young is yet another reincarnation of the Rip Van Winkle theme, of which we have recently had several examples of the cryogenic type: Encino Man, Late For Dinner, to name two. Hackneyed as the concept is, Forever Young manages to be fresh and interesting because of the interesting performances by Mel Gibson and the other members of the cast. Unfortunately, the director and writer made a couple of egregious mistakes in visualizing how a sleeper adapts to a changed world and how a person ages.
This is probably the romantic story that a lot of Gibon's fans have been waiting for. His acting is easy and natural, more impressive than the somewhat forced "I am an actor" approach to last year's Hamlet. The special charm he brings is the antiquated courtliness of a man from a half-century ago. His shock when he hears a respectable, single mother curse and casually discuss her lovers speaks volumes to establish his character and his fish-out-of-water situation. He is simply perfect in the part of the resuscitated test pilot searching for his past "across oceans of time," to borrow a phrase from another movie that might stand as the dark side of this one.
Gibson is supported by a first-rate cast. Elijah Wood is the fatherless boy who finds Gibson and wants to keep him with a desperation that is nearly palpable. Jamie Lee Curtis plays the mother who befriends this strange stranger and who would like to be more than just friends. Gibson's friend who originally puts him on hold is played by George Wendt; it is somewhat disappointing that we don't see more of Wendt than we do. Isabel Glasser is Gibson's love in the 1939 sequence in an promising debut.
And, yes, Mel Gibson shares his well-regarded butt with us for a brief shot, tastefully half-lit. Brief, but memorable.
There are inconsistency problems when Gibson wakes up to 1992. Push-button phones don't throw him, but answering machines do. There is the fact that, numerous Dracula movies notwithstanding, if a person were to suddenly age, his or her hair would not turn gray from the tips back to root, nor would it happen faster than hair can grow. Likewise, with the rest of geriatric makeup, it's well done -- Oscar material, really -- but wholly impossible. In a Dracula movie, this is not a problem. In a romantic film, much more grounded in our quotidian world, it is a problem. And leave us disregard out of charity the whole issue of Gibson's freezing and resuscitation -- fun scenes, but slightly insulting to anyone prepared to give it a minute's thought.
Forever Young, on the other hand, could very well attract a large following. It is, despite playing fast and loose with laws of thermodynamics inter alia, an excellent entertainment: a romantic fantasy, just torrid enough to melt even this reviewer.