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IN SHORT: Great Carrey. Now repeat after me: "the town is in shell shock, the town is in shell shock...." [Rated PG for language and mild thematic elements. 110 minutes]
We tend to get cynical in December and don't have much of a stomach for sentimental holiday movies, which is why we look forward to Jim Carrey's "serious" films. In past years, films like Man on the Moon and The Truman Show have always entertained with an edge, and Carrey's been stiffed by the statue people both times. So this year, no edge. Just a heartwarming sentimental December story with a fatal flaw that would sink it like a stone, if we weren't in the mood to offer writer Michael Sloane a way out of the hole he's dug. That's not to say that we didn't enjoy The Majestic, a man with amnesia story. We did. We miss the edge.
All of director Frank Darabont's major movies have that fairy tale happy ending reassuring quality to them. All of 'em feel like they're set in that rose colored tinged nostalgia of the 1950s, even if their time frame is the 1930s (The Green Mile) or begins in the 1940s (The Shawshank Redemption). This year, no longer adapting Stephen King stories, we get our ton of warm fuzzies in the set-in-1951 story The Majestic. In it, up and coming Hollywood screenwriter Peter Appleton (Jim Carrey) mysteriously disappears from the Big Orange just as the House Un-American Activities Commission is setting up to nail him as the Commie subversive that they know he is. He isn't, but the HUAC never cared for details like truth or accuracy. They want Appleton to "name names," or kiss his burgeoning career -- his first film, Sand Pirates of the Sahara, has just come out -- goodbye. Knowing he's doomed morally or legally regardless of whatever he does Appleton gets blind stinking drunk and takes a stuffed monkey for a drive up the California Coast.
His plan is to drive until the gas runs out and start a brand new life, which is what happens in a manner not of his making, leaving an amnesiac man washed up on a beach outside of the small town of Lawson. Lawson, en toto, is still in shellshock from losing almost all of its young men in the Normandy Invasion. While its residents are sympathetic and helpful to the newfound amnesiac, after Harry Trimble (Martin Landau) "recognizes" Appleton as his MIA war hero son Luke, everyone in town puts the blinders on.
Only Doc Stanton (David Ogden Stiers) wonders if, in the nine and a half years that Luke has been missing, has he begun a new life? A new career and identity? What if he prefers that life to small town wonders. Not to worry, Luke throws himself into Harry's plan to reopen The Majestic movie theater. Doing so, with great 1951 releases such as An American In Paris and Streetcar Named Desire revitalizes the town. Luke also wins the heart of Doc's daughter Adele (Laurie Holden), all the while swearing up and down that he can't remember any of these people or the lives they lived together.
"Luke" even brings about a mental change in Bob Leffert (Karl Bury), who came back with a prosthetic arm. All is perfectly Capra-esque until Peter/Luke's one and only B-Movie headlines the theater. The memories return, and so does the HUAC, with Hal Holbrook and Bob Balaban, the latter looking like a Nazi out of Raiders of the Lost Ark, wielding an agenda of their own. That leaves lots of loose ends to tie up and a whole lot more story to go, which we'll leave you to discover for yourself (not only because we've been asked not to spill, which we have. We don't spill the endings and Carrey is truly good once he lets loose.
Simply, The Majestic is a mix of Norman Rockwell paintings as visualized by Frank Capra and elements of films like Cinema Paradiso and Best Years of Our Lives and The Front. You can't pick better flicks to mix and for all the research done to make sure all the movies were first run in the proper time frame the flaw comes from being too young (writer Sloane graduated High School in 1976, which the Press Notes proudly point out) to remember . . . well, wait for it. . .
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Majestic, he would have paid . . .
Yeah, we were just going to give The Majestic a "$5" and say take a date 'cuz it's fine as a date flick. Then we sat through the rest of the Christmas week releases and only found one good one, and that won't go wide until next year. In this case, heartwarming is better than a waste of cash on a different, bad movie. That's what this site was always about.
Now the flaw, which we've spoilered (so hold down a mouse button and swipe the white space with your cursor: [once upon a time, ending around 1974 (when Cranky graduated high school) there was a thing called Selective Service aka "the draft." More important, prior to 1951 there was a little squabble called World War II in which both Luke and Peter served. One phone call to the Army, which has been keeping fingerprint records since 1905 (the other services two years later, FYI) and the mystery would have been solved.] But then you would have no story, which is why we dropped that little tidbit about a town in shell shock. Problem solved.
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