Friday, February 12, 1999

Amusing escape

Movie: Blast From the Past

Posted on Fri, Feb 12, 1999 at 4:00 AM

**1/2
Our Rating: 2.50

The 1960s, if you believe conservative rhetoric and/or the recent shallow television miniseries and other popular accounts of the period, was the decade responsible for unleashing radical politics, experimentation with drugs, sexual liberation and really loud rock & roll on right-thinking citizens everywhere. Or, stated in two words: Bill Clinton. No more and no less.

Adam Webber (Brendan Fraser), in "Blast From the Past," experiences a kinder, gentler version of the '60s. His intelligent but paranoid dad, Calvin (Christopher Walken), home-schools in math, science, foreign languages and baseball, not to mention the joys of watching reruns of "The Honeymooners" and other '50s favorites, and listening to sweatered crooner Perry Como. Adam's well-meaning but ditsy mom, Helen (Sissy Spacek), a closet booze hound, gives her kid dancing lessons -- every day of his life.

Suddenly, at the age of 35, Adam leaves the safety of his cloistered, protected home, and is surprised and shaken by what he finds out there in the real world: Como is actually played on the radio. "I could die right now," he exclaims to a new friend pointedly named Eve (Alicia Silverstone), after hearing his musical hero. Adam watches television -- in color -- and sees immodest models in tiny bikinis cavort across the screen in the name of suntan lotion. Another acquaintance, the nice but strangely effeminate Troy (Dave Foley of TV's "News Radio") has a computer ... in his very own room. And sexy girls, gathered at a swing-kids joint with a Humphrey Bogart lookalike as DJ, go wild over the handsome Adam's remarkable talents on the dance floor.

As it turns out, Adam is a first-time visitor to this brave new world. He was born and raised below the earth's surface in an elaborately outfitted steel bunker buried in his parents' backyard. Deathly afraid of nuclear annihilation, Calvin heard JFK talk about the Cuban missile crisis, immediately canceled a cocktail party and escorted Helen to their retreat down under. An out-of-control plane crashes on their lawn, and Calvin assumes it's the big one. He flips the switch on the lockdown system, which automatically foils any escape attempts, for 35 years. "Burnt to a crisp," Calvin says, when Helen asks about the fate of their friends. That's precisely the way investigators assume the Webbers must have died. No trace is found.

For a fallout shelter, it's nifty. Pop has cleverly constructed a homey living area, augmented with a fish farm, a garden, a grocery warehouse, building materials, and an early version of a VCR, rigged with a projector and mirrors. The only snag with this contraption: The onscreen words appear backward, somewhat like the shape of their insular lives.

Another variation on the old fish-out-of-water story, "Blast From the Past" is mildly fun, but utterly forgettable. Adam, a Forrest Gump with brains, is a likable, sexy clown in a barber-college jacket. Fraser, adequately goofy in "George of the Jungle" and "Encino Man," and surprisingly effective as a dramatic actor in "Gods & Monsters," is a natural in the role of this stranger in a strange land.

Alicia Silverstone ("Clueless," "Batman and Robin") also strikes the right tone as Eve. She's an oft-burned lonely heart, initially wary of Adam but ultimately willing to succumb to his charms. Walken and Spacek, veterans cast against type, make a funny weirdo couple. And Foley is adequately entertaining in the most clichéd role of the '90s -- the gay best friend of a straight girl.

It's fun, too, watching the progression of the nightclub built on the Webbers' property, from soda fountain to hippie conclave to punk-rock palace to bums' hangout. Sure, nobody should have to live in the past. But it's easy to sympathize with Calvin, so shocked by the seaminess and brutality of such sights as adult video stores, transvestite hookers, thugs with guns, homeless people picking through garbage and bar patrons vomiting on the street that he decides to return to the shelter. "We'll make do," he tells his family. If only that kind of escape were possible.

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