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BLAST FROM THE PAST

by: Scott Renshaw

The conventional three-act film storytelling structure may not be sacrosanct, but if you're telling a conventional story, it's a really good idea to use it. Marketing sets up the audience to expect a specific conflict for the second act, and to expect that certain characters and relationships will be the focal points; familiarity with other films tells them those elements will appear before they've finished their bags of popcorn. If you give the people what they expect when they're expecting it, you're going to satisfy them nine times out of ten.

BLAST FROM THE PAST is set up as a romance and a fish-out-of-water comedy, and eventually it is both. It simply takes foooorrreeeeevvveerr to get there. The prologue begins in October 1962 in Los Angeles, where brilliant, highly paranoid scientist/inventor Calvin Webber (Christopher Walken) and his nine-months-pregnant wife Helen (Sissy Spacek) are well-prepared for the Cold War to turn hot. The Cuban Missile Crisis and a nearby plane crash conspire to convince the Webbers that nuclear war has begun, so they lock themselves into their plush multi-room fallout shelter to wait out the radiation. Thirty-five years later the door opens, and the Webbers' son Adam (Brendan Fraser) -- who has spent his whole life sealed away with Mom and Dad in 1962 -- emerges for supplies and, perhaps, to find a wife.

A sensible film-maker would have realized that the Webbers' life in the shelter was the set-up for the story, not the story itself. Director Hugh Wilson, working from his own re-write of Bill Kelly's original story, decides that those thirty-five years will take up the first thirty-five minutes of the film. He juxtaposes details of their day-to-day lives with developments in the world above -- the latter centered around an employee (Joey Slotnik) in a malt shop-turned-singles' bar-turned-punk dive -- betraying his sitcom roots by spending infinitely too much time on wacky peripheral characters. Helen becomes an alcoholic while slowly going stir crazy, Calvin revels in his role as teacher-lord of his domain, the malt shop/bar employee becomes a burnout, and who really cares? Get Adam into the real world let him cope with it.

At long last he does get into the real world, and befriends a cynical young woman named Eve (Alicia Silverstone). Naturally he reacts strangely to new-to-him phenomena like riding on a bus and looking at the sky, and naturally other people react strangely to his anachronistic politeness and friendliness. The whole business is handled clumsily, though; like Adam himself, the film waits so long to begin doing the things it should have been doing much earlier, it appears unsure how to do them. The relationship with Eve develops with inevitability, but without making sense of her softening towards Adam. How much better spent that first half hour might have been if the real world juxtaposition had been Eve's childhood rather than the pointless Slotnik character, both for comedic social commentary potential and for plot development purposes. But no such luck -- BLAST FROM THE PAST often feels like an assembly-line product made by people who've never seen an assembly line.

BLAST FROM THE PAST does have its charms, enough not to make the experience completely frustrating. Brendan Fraser does have the naif in a strange land thing nailed -- he should, after ENCINO MAN and GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE -- with his big lug build and goofy kid grin; Dave Foley gets the already tired role of the gay best friend, but delivers his lines with zest. Wilson brings a silly energy to the second half of the film, giving it enough cute moments to make it watchable, but he never pulls it all together in a way that's completely satisfying. BLAST FROM THE PAST is a pretty lousy execution of a fairly simple idea, a textbook case of a by-the-numbers plot that just doesn't add up.

On the Renshaw scale of 0 to 10 ha

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