All that sizzle and flash come with a hefty price tag. But the costs are deemed necessary. Otherwise, moviegoers might notice the shocking lack of originality in the writing of the films we lay down seven bucks for. I wish I could say that every badly written, monotonously formulaic script that has shamelessly mugged its elders and betters for a plot was written by a struggling, bargain-basement beginner. That is only partly true. Many of the fellows who write these movies are indeed quite young. Poor they ain’t. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t begrudge any writer a living wage. (I hope to make one myself, some day.) I just hate the thought that some of the best-paid writers in the world are worse than pedestrian. They are the kind of schoolboys who are too lazy to do their own work, so they copy off the papers of the diligent students around them. Sadly, the above diatribe could apply to so many of today’s movies, you may still be wondering what movie I am supposed to be reviewing. Ponder no further, gentle reader. Today’s target is Forever Young. The writer of Forever Young is the temporarily young screenwriter, Jeffrey Abrams. He has achieved great success in the last three of his 26 years. He started off with a script co-written with Jill Mazursky, 1990’s extremely forgettable Taking Care of Business. The following year, his first solo script was released, directed by none other than Mike Nichols. It was a domestic drama called Regarding Henry. And I thought at the time that the story was nothing more than a disease-of-the-week TV movie with delusions of big-screen profundity. In it, Harrison Ford plays a cold, cut-throat yuppy: a professional success, but a bad father and a worse husband. All that changes when he takes a bullet to the brain in a hold-up.
After his trauma, he is a new man. He plays with his kid, kisses his wife’ and hugs cute beagle puppies. He goes from creep to warm-and-fuzzy sweetie-pie. And all it took was a good shot to the head. It was enough to make the unhappy wives of America contemplate the purchase of a handgun. But it wasn’t enough, despite a sickeningly sincere performance by Mr. Ford, to make a movie worth watching. Still, Mr. Abrams’s stock was high. So, when he went to peddle his next script, entitled “The Rest of Daniel” at that time, he was able to “package” it with Mel Gibson already tied to it with a big bow. The deal was done. The movie was made. And this past Christmas season, it even did quite well at the box office. Forever Young is a real success story. It’s just not a very good movie. Mel’s baby blues, and his requisite bare buns shot, are supposed to be enough to satisfy his audience. (He’s never made my heart go pitter-pat, but Igraciously concede his charms. Even so, a film should have something more than star-power going for it; something genuine and original. And that is precisely what Forever Young completely lacks. This romance/adventure/science fiction comedy-drama recycles every trick of the trade. But worse than that, many of the borrowed bits seem to be lifted out of other movies whole. Near the end, when he is being chased by G-men, Mel begins to resemble E.T. (Now there’s a trick.) But in the film’s early scenes, Gibson’s hero, Daniel, bears an even more striking resemblance to Richard Dreyfuss’s hero, Pete, in Always (1989). (Steven Spielberg, who made Always, was shamelessly recycling, too. But at least he honestly acknowledged that he was re-making 1943’s A Guy Named Joe.
Consider that both Pete and Daniel are daring pilots who can calmly and bravely crash-land a vintage plane, but who can’t seem to commit to the women they adore. They are emotional wimps who strut around in bomber jackets. And death, or the next thing to it, separates them from their true loves before they get up enough courage to commit. Peter dies and comes back as a ghost to resolve his romantic unfinished business. Daniel takes a slightly different approach when his sweetheart, Helen (Isabel Glasser) is run over by a Mack loaded with fresh citrus, and falls into (what’s believed to be) an irreversible coma. If Helen is dead to the world, that’s good enough for Daniel. He talks his best buddy, a cryobiologist named Harry (George Wendt), into substituting him for a chicken in his next freezing experiment. Daniel seeks cold comfort for his broken heart. Luckily, Harry (who thought he was years away from human experimentation) just happens to have a snazzy, souped-up chrome pressure cooler in readiness. Production designer Gregg Fonseca says he based his design on the Electrolux vacuum cleaner. It looks none too practical or cost-efficient, but it does gleam mightily like something out of a 40’s science fiction flick. And Mel, after all, deserves the most elegant tank possible in which to take his big chill. Daniel had planned to sleep off his grief for only a year or so. But he doesn’t wake up for more than fifty years, when two mischievous boys, Nat (Elijah Wood) and Felix (Robert Hy Gorman) start playing with his capsule long forgotten in a military warehouse.
Those few of you who haven’t seen Forever Young, might wonder why Daniel was left frozen for so long. Those of us who have seen the film wonder, instead, why he was ever thawed. This is one silly movie. And the most asinine aspect is Abrams’s rationale for Daniel’s long sleep. We are told that everyone who knew about his frozen state died in a fire that nonetheless left Dan’s gleaming capsule unscathed. (Unaccountably, although old Harry died in the fire, his many scientific notebooks also survived in mint condition. But for some reason, no one read them at the time. Or, if they did, they didn’t want to bother snooping around in the rubble or adjoining lab for a massive metal chamber containing Harry’s most daring experiment. Military scientists and their staffs are evidently an incredibly incurious lot. Not only did no one peek into Daniel’s capsule back at the lab, at some point that space-age casket was moved to a warehouse. And, again, no one thought to take a look inside it until those mischievous lads broke in. Yet after fifty years of no maintenance — if no one knew what it was, it’s a cinch no one replenished the liquid nitrogen or whatever — that snazzy capsule is still keeping Daniel in an optimum state of suspended animation, from which he is able to quickly self-revive. If this were the only aspect of this movie ludicrous enough to pick to shreds, I’d be willing to forgive and forget. (Obviously, any movie that presents deep-freeze napping as a present-day reality requires the suspension of disbelief, as well as animation.) But there are plenty of other howlers: an untrained kid flying and landing a B-25 on a small patch of coastal scrub and sand is another of my favorites. And about that kid landing a B-25. It demonstrates another peeve I have with Forever Young. As farfetched as everything is in this movie, it is all so bloody obvious, as well. Daniel and the poor fatherless wee Nat bond together in several cutesy scenes. In one, they play pilot in an elaborate make-shift simulator Daniel has constructed out of trash and oddments in Nat’s tree house. I sat there watching that scene and thought, “So the kid is going to fly a plane later, huh?”
“Huh?” was my response to much of this movie. It seems senseless to go on finding fault. So, let me try to say something nice. The performances are generally good. I found young Elijah Wood and Jamie Lee Curtis (as his plucky single-mom, Claire) especially appealing. The technical talents were also worth their no doubt sizeable salaries. I was especially impressed by the aging makeup designed by Dick smith and Greg Cannom. Their artifice was more natural than anything else in Forever Young. As a star-driven formula picture, I can see how it was possible to see this film and enjoy it. You just couldn’t think about what you were watching. You had to concentrate on not noticing how patched-together out of stolen parts) and preposterous the whole story was. And you had to overlook how shamelessly you were being manipulated.