In 'Forever Young,' love takes wing, plot does nose dive


December 16, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

In "Forever Young," Mel Gibson plays a test pilot but the movie never gets off the ground.

The subject, unusually enough, is true love, blind love, heroic love, un-ironically celebrated. That's a value that has all but vanished from American films, where everything has an attitude, though quite possibly "Forever Young" cranks the pendulum back to the past with such maniacal eagerness it comes to seem a little nuts. In fact, the true love that is the center of "Forever Young" is so mindlessly radiant it all but blows away the rest of the movie; it's almost sick, but the movie never notices.

It opens in 1939, with Gibson, in an Errol Flynn pompadour, busily taking a prototype B-25 bomber through its paces, then --ing off to be with his girlfriend, played by Isabel Glasser. Though their relationship seems like a normal girl-boy thing of its era, unconsummated and respectful, the movie insists on finding in their banal patter and romantic byplay a love beyond the ages, a love that transcends death.

If the movie seeks to make the point that love from an era where nobody slept together until saying "I do" is more binding than love from an era where nobody sleeps together until saying "hello," it fails to do so vividly enough to make a difference.

When Glasser is put into a supposedly irreversible coma, a depressed Gibson agrees to undergo a cryogenics experiment that will put him to sleep for a year, like a stalk of frozen broccoli, so that he will get over his grief. But whether he sleeps for a night or a year or 50 years, it'll still be only the next morning when he wakes up, right?

The next morning, of course, is 50 years later, by subterfuge only hastily and haphazardly sketched. So this romantic '30s guy is thawed into the beginning of the loveless, bleak '90s, still missing his true love. Where does the movie go from here? Into a tailspin, that's where. It crashes and burns.

The screenplay, by Jeffrey Abrams, can't develop a consistent idea to sustain the momentum, so the movie just seems to stagger around, hunting for something to be about. It isn't very interested in the contrasts between eras, and director Steve Miner only plays a throwaway game or two in which Gibson runs chug-a-lug into modernity -- seven-unit, all-digit phone numbers, for example. Next, the plot dumps Mel into a dysfunctional modern family (abandoned mom with two young sons), where his old-fashioned dutifulness makes him attractive, although mother Jamie Lee Curtis' willingness to have him sleep on her couch seems pretty irresponsible to me.

This peters out quickly enough and so the movie wanders into another completely bogus area, becoming something like a chase, as the FBI, the Air Force and concerned scientist Joe Morton try to track him down for the "scientific secrets" he holds. Another dud: A lot of feckless running and chasing that makes all but no sense. Gibson is one-night's sleep removed from being a captain in the Air Corps in an era when the legitimacy of authority was unchallenged and J. Edgar Hoover was a national hero. He would run from the FBI? I don't think so. He would run to the FBI!

Things get loonier still. By plot conveniences too absurd to detail, a nice, fully loaded B-25 happens to be standing around on the runway -- there's maybe 13 of these airplanes left in the world, and one of them just happens to be where he can get a hold of it! -- and he and a child steal it for one last romantic journey. Critical ethics will not permit me to disclose the destination of their flight but it ain't 30 seconds over Tokyo, I'll tell you that.

Still, the movie's big happy ending left me a little sick in my stomach: What he gives up -- a life -- for what he gets hardly seems the stuff of triumph.

Gibson seems a little goofy throughout. He needs attitude, edge, danger, to undercut his baby-doll beauty and bring him to life, as the makers of the "Lethal Weapon" films know and the makers of this one do not. He's like a sloppy, blue-eyed, big-footed puppy, always running around trying to win some attention. As for Curtis, she's just OK, and nobody else shines.

Actually, the best performance in the movie is turned in by that wonderful old plane.

Miner may intend it to be a symbol for the kind of things they don't make 'em like anymore, just as he intends the movie to be an archaic '30s fantasy of romance and possibility of the sort they don't make 'em like anymore, too. But that old bomber is the only thing in the film that gets beyond ceiling zero.

"Forever Young"

Starring Mel Gibson and Jamie Lee Curtis.

Directed by Steve Miner.

Released by Warner Bros.



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