THE MAJESTIC desperately wants to be a heartwarming classic, the type that is a staple of family gatherings and the holiday memories of a million people. It is intent on warming the cockles of the heart, but screenwriter and Hollywood native Michael Sloanr, even abetted by GREEN MILE and SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION director Frank Darabont, has little or no understanding of how that toasting should be done. Instead, he has crafted a simulacrum of sentiment with, at its core, a cold and stony organ where a heart should have been. This overdone caramel-coated pile of stale corn comes across as nothing so much as a cynical attempt to win over an audience by people whose idea of a Hallmark moment is a fat bottom line. The result is a lingering mean-spiritedness that undercuts each and every hokey moment with its carefully calibrated attempts win us over with the warm and fuzzies. At least SANTA CLAUS VERSUS THE MARTIANS had its heart, one that actually beat, in the right place.
Jim Carrey, who will not do much for his career by attempting the leap from movie weirdo to romantic leading man, at least projects an ingenuous sincerity. For whatever reason, you never doubt that he believes in this material with all his being, and would that the force of his conviction helped. Unfortunately, and you knew that there would be an adverb like that coming up next, he tries way too hard. Hes like that last puppy in the pound who looks at you with desperately begging eyes. Its almost too painful to bear, because at least with a puppy, you can put an end to its sadness by giving it a good home. With Carrey, theres nothing you can do to stop his 2 ½ hours as a would-be Tom Hanks clone in a film that only gets worse as the minutes tick by oh so very slowly, short of storming the projection booth, confiscating the film and running into the street with the wasted celluloid streaming behind you like a banner proclaiming your good taste and dont think I wasnt tempted to do just that.
Carrey plays Peter Appleton, a promising screenwriter in 1951 Hollywood whos just penned his first B movie. Hes got a career on track and the love of a good starlet when disaster strikes in the form of the blacklist. It seems Peter had the hots for a nubile Commie back in his college days and hormones being what they are, went to a few political meetings in the hopes of getting lucky. Whether he did or not is moot, but when the House UnAmerican Activities Committee gets wind of it, goodbye career and goodbye starlet.
The insidious nature of the blacklist, an institution that cost innocent men and women their livelihoods and sometimes their very lives, is merely a plot device here so that Peter, feeling despondent has an excuse to drink himself blind, get in a car, have an accident and get amnesia. Of course, he doesnt have the inevitable accident because hes drunk, no, he and his car tumble into a river because hes an animal lover and he swerves to avoid hitting a possum on a bridge. I kid you not, a possum.
He is washed up (nice metaphor there) in the small coastal community of Lawson inhabited solely by stock small town characters that populate B movies. Theyre full of the sorts of the homespun wisdom and the wholesale innocence that small town characters of this nature always have. Theyre also the sorts of characters who see a stranger with no memory and decide as one that hes one of their own, Luke, one of the 62 boys from Lawson killed or missing in action from WWII. And because it would just mess up the plot, no one thinks to do anything like, oh, check dental records, blood types, or even if hes the same height and shoe size as Luke, not even the girl he left behind. That would be Adele a brainy and beautiful newly-minted lawyer, who, one might expect, would have a more than passing interest in finding out if Mr. Right has returned from the dead. In short order, hes given the town, stuck in the doldrums of post-war decimation, the will to live just by being there, symbolized by the restoration of the Majestic Theater. The theater is packed, love is in the soft summer air, and the filmmakers are hope that the soft focus will help us to forget a few things.
No explanation is offered, for example, about things such as how his father, played with hammy schtick by Martin Landau, has been supporting himself all these years while living over the former source of his income, the Majestic. And why is its electricity, no small expense, is still connected? Or, for that matter, what about Gerry, the African-American former usher at The Majestic, who still lives in the theaters basement listening to jazz albums? Does he have a paper route or something? In fact, the entire film offers nothing challenging, surprising, or even intriguing beyond plot holes and tripe presented as sentiment. Its shamelessness resorts to a character having a heart attack on cue during a moment of celebration so that there can be the would-be moving deathbed scene or, as it is known in more jaded circles, the Oscar(tm) bid. Stock characters, stock situations, and when all else fails, pull out the stars and strips for us to rally around at the HUAC hearings, not because McCarthyism was evil, but because Carreys character needs to make a big speech to impress the folks back in Lawson. Its all just a little too calculated, from the constant din of swelling music to let us know that something important is happening, right down to having the real Lukes voiceover of a letter home be done by Matt Damon, Private Ryan himself.
Kudos to Mr. Carrey for wanting to stretch himself as an actor. And kudos again for wanting to be part of film of substance that appeals to an audiences better nature. Too bad he didnt succeed, but, and I truly mean this, better luck next time.