movie review by
Gary Johnson


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The Majestic

The Majestic is pure Hollywood corn. That's not necessarily bad. Star Wars is corn. It's a Wonderful Life is corn. Good corn can be sublime, but mediocre corn can be sentimental, predictable mush. The Majestic is mediocre corn. It wallows in nostalgia like a country crafts store. And most surprisingly, it displays almost no sense of humor, although it's as light as a helium balloon and has Jim Carrey in virtually scene. To help give the story some semblance of weight, the plot revolves around an impending congressional hearing about communism in Hollywood, but this development is an arbitrary contrivance meant to threaten the movie's romantic idealism and inject some suspense into the proceedings.

Jim Carrey stars as Pete Appleton, a Hollywood screenwriter who adores his job. He currently just writes B movies, such as Sand Pirates of the Sahara, but he dreams of one day writing his own Grapes of Wrath. Unfortunately, a communist witch hunt is currently laying waste to many careers, and Pete is targeted by the committee due to one communist party meeting that he attended when he was a college student -- which he only attended because he was trying to impress a young woman. But that's all it took to place a career in jeopardy. Before he knows what's happening, Pete finds himself out of a job and blacklisted. Distraught and now drunk, he jumps in his car and heads north up the California coast -- until his car spins off a bridge and plunges into a swollen river.

Hours later, Pete wakes up on the muddy river banks and stumbles into the nearby town of Lawson, not remembering who he is or what happened to him. The proprietor of the local movie house, Harry Trimble (Martin Landau), sees Pete and recognizes him as his son, Luke, who was reported missing during World War II. Soon, the entire town accepts Pete as Harry's son. Never mind it makes no sense that he suddenly appeared in town, suffering from amnesia. Everyone wants to believe in him, including Luke's old girlfriend, Adele (Laurie Holden), and her father, the town doctor (David Ogden Stiers).

Pete/Luke becomes the catalyst for pulling the town together. When he and Harry open up the movie theater, the town turns out in force. The theater becomes the means for healing the community, and this community definitely needs healing. It lost dozens of young men during the war. But the foes of communism haven't forgotten about Pete, and they are as tenacious as a bulldog.

The Majestic is a rather transparent attempt to resurrect the spirit of Frank Capra. But like so many past attempts at Capra-corn, the results are artificial and manipulative. The filmmakers (including Frank Darabont who directed The Green Mile and writer Michael Sloane whose meager credits include Hollywood Boulevard II) have misinterpreted Capra's popularism as a simple-minded yearning for nostalgia. In The Majestic, anything can be solved by returning to the past. Told in aching tones that saturate the movie in doe-eyed sentiment, The Majestic totally misses Capra's deft sense of romantic comedy. The movie is like an overly sincere suitor who just doesn't know how to have fun. Every scene is crammed full of emotion.

Part of the problem with The Majestic is Jim Carrey. Doing his best to impersonate Jimmy Stewart, Carrey lacks the acting experience to give his performance much variety. He's so afraid of being seen as the goon of Ace Ventura or Dumb & Dumber that he trades in his own sense of comic timing for portentous longing gazes. Like the movie in general, Carrey tries too hard to evoke heart-felt emotions, and in the process, he becomes as artificial as the movie's painstaking recreation of '50s small-town Americana.

The Majestic is a pleasant movie, but it's as pre-fabricated as the television world depicted in Pleasantville.

[rating: 2 of 4 stars]