Preachy 'Angus' could use a platitude adjustment

September 15, 1995|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

On what beach did the bottle containing the script for "Angus" wash up? Surely it's been floating adrift on the green seas of the Antipodes for at least 25 years.

I'd like to see what a modern teen, growing up with AIDS and condoms and crack and gangs and diminished horizons, would make of its peppy little pieties, its speeches on brotherhood and intolerance, its smug little lessons. Possibly the word "hoot," as in "hoot it off the screen," is too mild. They'll probably hang the projectionist.

It's so well-meaning that it could have the sponsorship of the PTA and the American Council of Churches. It's about a size-disadvantaged young man named Angus who struggles with peer opprobrium in a suburban American high school, where his girth attracts considerable negative disquisition. In other words, they tease the pants off the fat boy.

Angus, well-played by Charlie Talbert, struggles with his own self-doubts and self-loathing, particularly as the goat of all the jests unleashed in his direction by quarterback Rick Sanford (James Van Der Beek), he of the Nazi profile and the blemish-less, cellulite-free skin. Angus also yearns forlornly for the silky Melissa (Ariana Richards, once chased by raptors in "Jurassic Park"), whom he has adored for years but has never quite had the guts to speak to.

But right away the kind of phony stuff that sets teen-age teeth on edge clicks in, and it becomes clear the movie is written and directed by people who haven't been within sniffing distance of an American high school in several generations. For one thing, there's no sex. For another, there are no baggy trousers, backward hats, beepers and BMWs. Hello, what planet is this?

Then it turns out that Angus is not only a gifted athlete but a tough guy who's punched out the quarterback three or four times. Now in the real world, as opposed to this Hollywood fantasy of it, if any virtues commend an adolescent boy to peer stardom, they are athletics and violence. Therefore it seemed to me literally absurd than the film would represent Angus as being so far to the outside of his high school culture: He'd be ruling it!

The movie pokes along through a number of humiliating ordeals, which Angus must undergo with the help of his wimpy best friend Troy (freckly, feckless Chris Owen). It aspires to poignant family melodrama by providing a garrulous old gramps (the great George C. Scott) as a spiritual mentor, but if you thought that Scott had in him one more titanic, mind-blowing performance, you'll be disappointed to learn this isn't it.

Ultimately, we end up at the school dance, where as a gag, poor Angus has been voted the King of Winter and must dance with the Queen, the very same Melissa. Meanwhile, Rick is plotting against him. But "Carrie" this ain't: No buckets of blood, no orgy of zapping violence. No darn fun, either.

Angus gets through his humiliation and rejoins with a speech of the sort Jimmy Stewart used to give in Frank Capra movies. As in Capra, the sentiments are sweet, but they also feel so irrelevant to the real world that one wants to laugh them off the screen. And, unfortunately, that is the only kind of laughter "Angus" consistently evokes.

"Angus"

Starring George C. Scott and Charlie Talbert

Directed by Patrick Read Johnson

Released by Turner Pictures

Rated PG-13

**

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