- The Washington Times - Friday, December 21, 2001

"The Majestic," director Frank Darabont's moonstruck bid for Frank Capra magic, will if nothing else affirm Jim Carrey's dramatic chops.
The chameleonlike comic summons enough of Jimmy Stewart's aw-shucks pluck to cast away any fleeting doubts about his range.
What the actor cannot do is prop up the insufferable intentions that weigh down every reel of "The Majestic."
Mr. Darabont's direction is too self-aware, too eager to make us smile, laugh or nod with grave conviction over its tale of a blacklisted screenwriter in 1950s Hollywood, a plot line the film's syrupy trailer conveniently ignores. It's a dishonesty that corrodes Michael Sloane's flat screenplay, despite the talent behind and in front of the camera.
"The Majestic" asks audiences to swallow whole a bit too many movie coincidences, then bathes the screen in warm, softly focused lights set ablaze by cinematographer David Tattersall to allay our concerns.
Mr. Carrey's Peter Appleton has it all a starlet girlfriend, a solid screenwriting career and a home in the dream factory known as Hollywood.
He's a B-movie scribe longing for A company, and he just may get it with his next film, "Ashes to Ashes," his first serious one.
A forgotten appearance at a pro-communist gathering while a teen-ager, though, surfaces during the height of the House Un-American Activities Committee investigations. The studio suddenly puts the brakes on Peter's green-lighted dream project, and he must start naming names or face the government's McCarthy-fueled wrath.
He drinks himself numb upon hearing the news, then crashes his car along a bridge, plunging himself and the vehicle into the waters below.
He washes ashore a spell later in a small town named Lawson and is found by a kindly old man (James Whitmore). The waterlogged screenwriter is alive but cannot recall who he is.
The old man brings him into town, where the residents scratch their heads over his familiar mug. Peter, it turns out, bears a striking resemblance to Luke Trimble, a local hero presumed killed in the D-Day invasion nine years earlier.
The California hamlet still reels from having lost 62 young men during World War II and is eager to believe long-lost Luke has found his way home. None is more willing than Luke's father, Harry Trimble, a retired theater owner played by Martin Landau. He has no doubt Peter is his son, a miracle that revitalizes him as well as the town. Knowing no better, Peter accepts his new life as Luke, getting to know Harry and the gentle townspeople.
Luke's old flame, sweetly played by Laurie Holden ("The X-Files"), isn't convinced the real Luke has returned, but her resolve melts as she gets to know Peter. If Luke can be resurrected, Harry reasons, so can the Majestic, the dilapidated movie house he ran for years and a metaphor for any number of issues the film conjures.
Today's audiences may not cotton to the neoclassic sheen of "The Majestic," which stands as both a tribute to and a damnation of the cynical moviegoer of 2001. For starters, amnesia caused by a bonk on the head is a cinematic trick long since abandoned.
Had the movie presented fully realized characters, ones we wanted to spend time with, such distractions would fade like a cinematic sunset.
Mr. Carrey's performance reminds us of the actor's deep dramatic reservoir. His Peter/Luke construct, his slightly stooped shoulders betraying a self-conscious pinch, makes an earthy, if flawed hero. The actor for the first time buries every comic impulse, letting his manic energy bubble ever so slightly below the surface.
Unfortunately, we never know the real Peter Appleton to care enough about him, despite Mr. Carrey's labors. Too much time is spent with him uttering "I don't remember" to the oblivious townsfolk.
For much of the movie, Peter cannot remember his name, but he recalls film scenes with clarity, a clever if unbelievable element. He even summons his long-lost piano lessons in one forced set piece that's typical of the film's wrongheaded ways.
A sliver of a subplot involving a wounded veteran sporting a hook for a hand is another manufactured element to be digested.
"The Majestic" 's message of ideological freedom resonates given today's terrorist headlines, though the fight-against- communist mantra pales compared to the life-and-death terror of more al-Qaeda attacks.
Mr. Darabont juxtaposes the purity of Hollywood's golden age against the communist conspiracies that dealt the film industry such a telling blow. It is a combustible mix, and it makes the film's pained epilogue a guilty pleasure.
The director's quest for Capraesque immortality cheats his viewers more than it rewards them, making his bid for a third straight best-picture nomination the wildest of wild cards.
"The Majestic" is Mr. Darabont's most precious film to date and his least compelling. It's a valentine and cautionary tale gift-wrapped in time for the holidays, but one we'll soon forget, unlike his far superior "The Shawshank Redemption," which glows with repeated viewings.

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