Disney sure flubbed with 'Flubber' Review: This remake of an early charmer suggests studio is more desperate than it should be.

November 26, 1997|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STUFF

"Flubber" is a flop.

It's pointless, soulless, humorless and relentlessly unimaginative. It substitutes special effects for story, makes one of Hollywood's most energetic actors act like he's had a lobotomy and thoroughly trashes an old Disney workhorse ("The Absent-Minded Professor") that many baby boomers remember fondly.

Watching this remake may make them doubt their memories; surely, nothing this bad could have descended from anything good.

Robin Williams, who must have been either paid a ton of money or blackmailed into taking this role, is the 1997 version of the absent-minded professor. How do we know he's absent-minded? Well, he walks into the wrong classroom, can't remember people's names and leaves his bride waiting at the altar three times.

He is a brilliant scientist, however, and the result of his brilliance is flubber (the name is a blend of "flying rubber"), a mound of green goo that packs one heck of a bounce: Spread some on a bowling ball, bounce it off the road, and it'll return to Earth sometime tomorrow.

Professor Brainard hopes to accomplish two things with flubber: use the money he earns from selling it to save his beloved university from bankruptcy, and use the goodwill thus generated to win back his thrice-spurned fiancee, who also happens to be the university president (Marcia Gay Harden, struggling gamely to find a reason she -- or we -- should care about this guy).

Of course, nefarious forces are arrayed against him, including a rival suitor and a corrupt business tycoon determined to steal the flubber for himself.

Doctoral candidates could write dissertations about all the things wrong with "Flubber." For one, Williams walks through the film as if he can't wait for it to be over (a feeling to which audiences should relate). His professor isn't absent-minded; he's just got a "This Space For Rent" sign between his ears.

The role doesn't seem all that demanding, but compared with Williams, the endearingly fumble-mouthed Fred MacMurray, who played the title character in the original 1961 film, deserves an Oscar.

Then there's flubber, which screenwriter John Hughes (augmenting Bill Walsh's 1961 script) has decided to turn into a living, thinking creature. Why? Maybe to force the professor and his creation to interact? Maybe to allow flubber to have a say in its own destiny? Maybe for some dramatic effect, one that actually enhances the story?

Nope. Flubber is given life simply so it can star in some big production numbers (it does a pretty mean mambo) that give the special-effects boys a chance to show off and provide Disney's marketing geniuses with something to market. Otherwise, there's no reason for flubber to live (except for the unsavory notion that bits of a living creature are being ground up and sprayed on the soles of some basketball players' shoes so they can cheat and win the big game).

As for laughs, it's downright hilarious when one of the bad guys swallows flubber and it shoots out his er, it comes out the other end. Must have taken Hughes 10 seconds to think that one up.

And that was the comedic high point.

It's hard to believe Disney is so creatively bankrupt that the best it can do is dumb-down its own past. Then again, "Flubber" follows hard on the heels of "Rocket Man," which was about as charming as a case of tetanus, and serves as a warm-up for the planned Christmas release of "Mr. Magoo" -- which, judging by the trailer, promises to be as funny as a bankruptcy hearing.

That sound you hear is Walt turning over in his grave.

'Flubber'

Directed by Les Mayfield

Starring Robin Williams

Released by Disney

Rated PG (comic violence)

*

Pub Date: 11/26/97

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