'Being Human' spans 6,000 years badly

April 29, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

Because of incorrect information from the distributor, The Sun reported yesterday in Maryland Live the wrong opening day for "Being Human." The movie opens next Friday at the Timonium Theater.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Of most follies, it is at least possible to say, "Well, it probably looked good on paper." But I can't believe "Being Human," which opens today at the Timonium, ever looked good on paper! It wouldn't have looked good painted in bear blood on the wall of a cave.

One of those inane "human cavalcade" numbers, it's set "down through time" as it follows "a man" on a mythic quest for his family and his place in the world. But what it's really about is Robin Williams' facial hair. Really.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

In the beginning, when he's Uga Bugga the caveman, he has a big snarly, curly beard that almost covers his eyes. Is he a man or a Chia Dog? Next, as a medieval peasant roaming Europe during the Hundred Years War, he's got a more modestly Hemingwayesque full facial brush. Then, as a Portuguese grandee marooned on the coast of Africa during the age of exploration/exploitation, he's down to a natty little goatee and 'stache. Finally, in New York in the '90s, it's raw face and not very pretty. (I do cheat by failing to mention that Time Trip No. 2 sited him in Roman times, where his hair was shorn.)

But the movie is simply preposterous, despite the fact that the brilliant Scottish director Bill "Local Hero" Forsyth wrote and directed. Chalk this one up, along with "Toys" and "Sorcerer" and "Heaven and Earth," as a movie a talented director simply had to get out of his system. Having got it out of his system, it will soon be gotten off the planet, and everyone involved can go on to better things.

The stories are somehow too specific and not nearly resonant enough for the purpose Forsyth intends: They're too full of interfering extraneous details that obscure the clarity of myth that underlies, and presumably is, the point of the exercise. If you're going to do something this nutty, do it! Write it in mock poetry and shoot it on a bare stage. Call the hero Man, not "Hector." Instead, Forsyth tries to make it all naturalistic, except for an excruciatingly coy voice-over in the form of a dialectal between Williams and Theresa Russell on the subject of a story )) that invents itself.

In the first and nearly wordless vignette, cave comedian Williams and his family live on a fruited plain in a Nazi calendar-art dream of Aryan purity, but it's so sentimentalized it's offensive. He's a gentle hunter who doesn't kill. But there's no such thing, except in a flaccid Eden of a movie dreamer's soft-focus mind.

When obscure "raiders" come to kidnap his wife and children, he doesn't even fight them! What a weenie! Like, it's the Stone Age, man. Crush their brains. Cut their throats. Hack their limbs off. You're a cave man! It's allowed! Robert Bly won't be born for

another 6,000 years! Don't go moo-mooing weepily into the rocks in mourning.

At any rate, this pre-historic loss essentially sets the myth in movement: He will look for his children for the next 6,000 years, always moony, mopish, self-pitying and completely ineffectual. Certain motifs will thread through the stories: windmills, for example, and necklaces, the name Hector, and most absurdly . . . chickens. Yeah, chickens.

But each little vignette raises more questions than it answers. In the modern one, for example, he's a divorced dad who returns from overseas to make a stab at reacquainting himself with the kids, who are now smart-aleck American teens. But the sequence opens, pointlessly, with him on the site of a building he owns in Queens through an investment scam, in which a woman sitting on a toilet has fallen through the floor into the apartment below. What is that all about? It is never subsequently dealt with and becomes no factor in the rest of the tale.

Of the episodes, the only amusing one is the Romanesque, which finds Williams the body slave of the daffy yuppie trader Lucinnius, played with goofy intensity by John Turturro. Lucinnius, facing ruin, is ordered by his creditor to commit suicide; naturally he assumes his slave Hector will be eager to join him. But Hector is thinking, "Like, let me out of here!" That story, sketchy as it is, at least has a sense of dramatic completeness; the others are interrupted in the center and seem to be only small parts of other larger stories, which are never satisfyingly closed.

This is a strange and indeed foolish film. It's not a giant megaflop whose mendacity is itself perversely amusing, or the neurotic passion of a twisted genius auteur off on a narcissistic bender. It's just a complete write-off. What drivel. It gives being human a bad name.

"Being Human"

Starring Robin Williams

Directed by Bill Forsyth

Released by Warner Bros.

PG-rated

... **

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