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NewCityNet Going 60s

By Ray Pride

FEBRUARY 23, 1999:  "Blast from the Past" is a glossy romantic comedy with a few ideas in its head: a rare enough species.

It's a fond parody of 1950s sitcoms. Adam (Brendan Fraser) spends thirty-five years in a Los Angeles bomb shelter with dad Christopher Walken and mom Sissy Spacek. But it's also a bubble-gum romance - Adam must meet his Eve, in the angelic form of Alicia Silverstone. Silverstone took some knocks for her role in the eccentric and often very amusing "Excess Baggage" (which she also produced at a callow age), but she's swell here as a modern girl with confidence but absolutely no faith in men, let alone romantic gentlemen who have just crawled out of a hole in the earth. As directed and co-written by "WKRP in Cincinnati" and "First Wives' Club"'s Hugh Wilson, the result is what can only be called smart dumb fun.

The 54-year-old sitcom veteran and Virginia native has been described by his co-workers as "a country gentleman," and Wilson punctuates his drawling manner with deadpan self-deprecation and the occasional chaw of Nicorette. Reviewers who have missed the charm of the movie have complained there's not enough of the mostly-hilarious bomb shelter gags with Walken and Spacek, and Wilson predated their choruses when we spoke.

"Y'know, there was a lot more of the bomb shelter, which I personally liked. But I got talked out of it. When we tested, it got the highest score when it had the most bomb shelter in it. But everybody said, 'Naw, you can't, you can't do that in a movie.' The movie does have an inherent structural problem. It's like chapter one and chapter two, like 'Full Metal Jacket.'" He laughs at his comparison. "Y'know, you train and then you go to war. Which I'm very aware of. I thought that stuff was really, really interesting. But test audiences want to get to the two young stars, to get up top as soon as possible. I've seen a lot of fish-out-of-water movies, but I thought the first part was pretty cool. Not that I want to put down the second part, bless Alicia's heart."

Some filmmakers express regret when their movie gets mangled by testing or misrepresented by marketing. "Yeah, you do a movie, you work like crazy on them. It takes a year, and at the end of the day they take you out in the Valley to a bunch of kids in baggy pants with their hats on backwards, and it's Judgment Day. And you go, 'Oh no, this is the jury?'" Wilson slips into sotto voce: "'Uh-oh, I think I fucked up!'" The contrast between the daffy but idealized past and the grungier present isn't played for all the laughs it could be, yet Wilson's gentle play with the idea of "family values" carries the day. "I thought that kind of Ozzie and Harriet stuff is much maligned. I liked the script because it was very gentle with these people. I found them likable and it didn't make fun of their values."

Brendan Fraser pretty much has the lock nowadays on the sweet-tempered boy-man role, and he's already shot another movie with Wilson: "Dudley Do-Right." As for "Blast," Wilson says, "I had seen 'George of the Jungle' and I had not liked it that much; but I really, really liked him. We did the usual thing that always happens in every Hollywood movie. When you finish, you offer it to DiCaprio. We did that. And then we got Brendan." Fraser, Wilson says, is willing to swim against the current most young actors pursue. "When you do these sweet type comedies and send them out to actors, they always go, 'He wants to do something dark and edgy. Something with a gun.' See, Brendan doesn't mind playing the guy who's not cool. This movie kind of shoots the bird at cool and hip."

Wilson thinks for a moment, then continues: "It makes me mad when I hear 'he wants to play someone dark.' I always say, 'Well, I hope your goddamn dark and edgy movie opens the same weekend as mine, 'cos we're up to our ass in dark and edgy. That's why I have high hopes for this, 'cos it's going the other way. I mean, where I live, people are kinda sick of dark and edgy. We've seen enough of that. When everything is noir... Please!"

Still, Wilson is adamant he hasn't made a movie only for teenagers. "No, no, no, I don't think so. I think it's what they call a flyover movie. It tested all right [with teens] but I've been just screaming bloody murder, 'I didn't make the movie for these people! Take it to Cincinnati, take it to Kansas City!' 'No, no, no,' they'll tell you, 'This Valley right out here is the country.' But I don't believe it."

So has he grown into a family values kind of guy? "I dunno. I'm a swing guy on that. But I know I wouldn't've made this movie a number of years ago. I'm a product of the sixties. Pretty much nothing I haven't done. And now I don't smoke and I don't drink and I drive carpool and study with my kids. I was ready to do this kind of movie. It's just where I am in my life." He waits a sly beat before his eyes brighten. "I don't recommend it for everybody."

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