Blast from the Past Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1999

Just act normal, and if anyone asks where you're from, just tell them you're from out of town, travelling on business.

Blast from the Past logo

"Blast from the Past" is essentially "Pleasantville" in reverse. If you recall, "Pleasantville" had a couple of unruly modern-day teens trying to adapt to the social mores of a wholesome Fifties sitcom. This time around, "Blast from the Past" thrusts a well-mannered young man from the Sixties into the confusing amoral quagmire of modern-day Los Angeles, with only his social graces to fall back on.

It starts off in 1962 during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Fearful of an impending 'commie' nuclear attack, well-heeled-but-paranoid-scientist-type Calvin Webber (Christopher Walken, who demonstrated his voice talents in "Antz") takes his pregnant wife Helen (Sissy Spacek) into the well-stocked bomb shelter that he has constructed in his backyard. When a jet inadvertently crashes into their house and explodes, Calvin seals the shelter shut (try to say that five times fast) with the time lock set to re-open in thirty-five years. Thinking that their friends have all perished and that the city is nothing more than an irradiated wasteland, the Webber's make the shelter their new home.

Their son Adam is born not long after, and he grows up in the shelter, with only his mother and father serving as role models. Under the tutelage of his father, Adam becomes a master in science, mathematics, and history, as well as being fluent in numerous languages. And thanks to the guidance of his mother, Adam learns good manners and how to cut a rug. However, as Adam grows older (played by Brendan Fraser of "George of the Jungle"), he increasingly yearns to see the outside world and meet a nice girl.

It would be nice if you could meet a girl who's not a mutant... and from Pasadena.

Not long after his thirty-fifth birthday, the time locks run their course and Adam gets his chance to venture out of the shelter. Unfortunately, the nice suburban neighborhood that the Webber's once inhabited seems more like a post-apocalyptic nightmare, with its transvestite hookers, gun-waving street gangs, adult bookshops, and other assorted street riff-raff. Undaunted, Adam ventures forth with his mother's shopping list of shelter provisions. Of course, being unaccustomed to the ways of the city, Adam quickly gets lost.

What is it?
The sky! I've never in my life seen anything like it before!

Alicia Silverstone and Brendan Fraser

Fortunately, he gets some help from a sassy yet fetching young woman named Eve (Alicia Silverstone). At first, Eve is intrigued by her newfound space cadet friend, who thinks that Perry Como is the cat's meow, looks like he was dressed by his mom, and is disgustingly polite. Even more mystifying, Adam is buying groceries by the truckload and seems intent on finding a wife within two weeks. Of course, these two antithetical characters will eventually fall in love, but not without a few complications.

It's my first night away from home!
How old are you?

At its heart, "Blast from the Past" has a great comic premise. Even more interesting is its exploration of how profoundly perception affects how we see the world around us and the difficulties in trying to change them. Unfortunately, the script ends up mishandling the material and the end result doesn't quite have the impact it should. Interestingly enough, a number of the film's problems crop up in the very first act.

You dial '9' to get out.
Of what?
The hotel.

Blast from the Past poster

First of all, the films starts of very slowly with too much time being spent establishing Adam's life in the shelter-- it is not until forty minutes in that the love interest, Eve, enters into the picture. While this set-up is important in establishing Adam's behavior in the modern world, this could have been done more economically with the judicious use of montage.

Second, director Hugh Wilson ("First Wives Club") chooses to use this segment to counterpoint life in the shelter with developments aboveground, specifically a malt shop's gradual degeneration into a rat-infested drug den. However, in addition to establishing one of the film's main themes (how much society has become wayward since 1962), one of the objectives of this first act should have been to develop the character of the love interest, Eve. Hence, it would have made more sense to illustrate the parallel and diverging paths taken by its two romantic leads (such as Adam mastering Latin vs. Eve dropping out of high school).

We must hurry! I think I'm being chased by a psychiatrist!
A psychiatrist?
It happens.

In addition, a number of seemingly important plot points are brought up during this first act, yet they never developing beyond being more than a curiosity. For example, Helen develops a drinking problem from being cooped-up in the shelter, yet it never seems to have an effect on the outcome of the story. Similarly, a pointless subplot about a soda-jerker-turned-religious-acolyte ends up being milked for cheap (very cheap) laughs.

What did you mean when you said that you could get me laid?
Can we talk about this later!?

Things pick up a bit as the film moves into the second act, with a wide-eyed Adam exploring the world around him and the expected cute situations that would arise. While this latter part of the story does have its delightful moments, the results are not exactly spectacular. While Fraser is quite engaging with his wonderful boyish charm, Silverstone is wasted playing a character that unconvincingly softens her stance towards her unconventional beau-- her immutable nonplussed disposition starts to show its age as the film progresses. A number of other elements similarly miss the mark, such as the mildly-amusing gay reflection character played by Dave Foley (lead voice in "A Bug's Life"), a number of jokes that fizzle on execution, and a sloppily-inserted voice-over narration that caps the film's muted ending.

What have you been doing?
Watching television... in color!

All in all, "Blast from the Past" is a diverting little romantic comedy, mainly due to Fraser's comedic screen presence. Though it does have its moments, it is not uproariously funny, nor does it milk the premise for all its potential. To put it simply, watching "Blast from the Past" is akin to eating junk food-- not entirely satisfying, and leaves you craving for more after it's over.

Eve, can I skate around your block?
How about it Eve... can he skate around 'your' block?

Images courtesy of New Line Cinema. All rights reserved.

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