Once upon a time, comedian Jim Carrey was unwaveringly associated with low-rent offerings such as "Ace Ventura, Pet Detective" or "Dumb and Dumber", where the humor relied on rubber-faced antics and the machine-gun delivery of sometimes questionable gags. However, beginning with "The Truman Show" in 1998, Carrey has sought more mature and dramatic roles, reinventing himself à la Tom Hanks ("Cast Away"). Now, with "The Majestic", the former funnyman carries an entire film without resorting to the over-the-top comic performances that put him on Hollywood's A-list... a task which he does admirably.
"The Majestic" opens in Hollywood in 1951, a time when McCarthyism was at an all-time high, and no one, not even the Hollywood elite, was safe from the Communist witch hunt that was sweeping the country. Carrey plays B-movie screenwriter Peter Appleton, whose dreams of becoming an A-list writer are dashed after being named by the House of Un-American Activities Committee as a subversive. Dumped by both the studio and his movie starlet girlfriend (Amanda Detmer of "Saving Silverman"), Appleton drinks himself into a stupor and subsequently drives his car off a bridge while heading up the California coast.
Though he survives the accident and washes up on the shore near the small town of Lawson, Appleton suffers a complete memory loss. A kind old man (James Whitmore of "The Shawshank Redemption") brings Appleton into town, where he is mistaken by Harry Trimble (Martin Landau of "EdTV") to be Luke, a long-lost son who was officially listed as missing-in-action during the Second World War. Once word spreads of Luke's 'miraculous return', the townsfolk of Lawson embrace Appleton with a hero's welcome, especially Luke's old girlfriend, Adele Stanton (Laurie Holden, better known as Marita Covarrubias of "The X-Files"). In addition to Appleton getting a new lease on life, he becomes a focal point of renewal for the town, still reeling from having lost 62 of its young men to the war effort. Convinced that he is Luke, Appleton vows to help his 'father' re-open the town's only picture house, The Majestic. Unfortunately, while Appleton is beginning anew, the FBI is slowly closing in with their investigation of his sudden disappearance...
In addition to being a milestone for Carrey, "The Majestic" is a change of pace for director Frank Darabont, whose two previous films were adaptations of Stephen King novels, "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Green Mile". With "The Majestic", Darabont evokes the films of Frank Capra ("Mr. Smith Goes to Washington"), where an Everyman with his small-town values stands up for the American Way. Though the film's first half gets to a slow and somewhat subdued start, it hits the jackpot in the second half, where a poignant plea is made to uphold the fundamental liberties that generations of Americans have fought long and hard to defend-- words that have gained a whole new significance in recent months.
And speaking of Capra, Carrey's solid, albeit low-key, performance is reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart playing an honest man trying to do right in a cynical world. He is ably supported by Landau, who waxes nostalgic on the magic of the old movie houses, and Holden, who is up to the task as Carrey's strong yet sympathetic love interest. In addition, some notable supporting turns are delivered by Bob Balaban ("The Mexican") as Appleton's bloodthirsty Senate inquisitor, Ron Rifkin ("Boiler Room") as Appleton's hawk-like defense counsel, and horror icon Bruce Campbell ("Army of Darkness") has a great cameo as the dashing hero in Appleton's cheesy B-movie "Sand Pirates of the Sahara".
Charming, moving, and with just the right balance of humor, "The Majestic" is a heartwarming film that strikes the perfect chord for the holidays. In addition to Frank Darabont's assured direction and a production that echoes Hollywood's Frank Capra-Jimmy Stewart era, "The Majestic" illustrates that Jim Carrey has what it takes to be a true dramatic actor.