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NewCityNet Counting the Days

Han Solo grows old.

By Frank Sennett

JUNE 15, 1998:  Harrison Ford squealed into America's pop-culture consciousness in a film, 1973's "American Graffiti," that was aimed squarely at young Baby Boomers. When the Boomers' babies started going to the movies later that decade, Ford strapped on Han Solo's laser gun and became a star of cross-generational appeal.

Ford may not have been the main reason people flocked to see the first "Star Wars" film, but special effects be damned: it's his quirky, longhaired flyboy attitude - his irresistible panache under fire - that makes us recall that series and the blockbuster Indiana Jones pictures so fondly. Wry, handsome, macho - viewers from 5 to 55 either wanted to be Harrison Ford, or be with Harrison Ford.

But with "Six Days, Seven Nights" (and, to some extent, last year's "The Devil's Own" with Brad Pitt), Harrison Ford is making the transition back to star for the Baby Boomers alone. Like Silent Generation stalwart Paul Newman in "Twilight," he'll still get the younger women. But beyond the pervasive Hollywood fantasy that matches Jack Nicholson with Helen Hunt without blinking an eye, most of Ford's onscreen moves from here on out will mirror the fact that he's moving ever closer to life's final reel.

"Six Days, Seven Nights," a pleasant enough romantic adventure comedy of the "Romancing the Stone" variety, creates a workable template for Ford's future mature roles. Like Clint Eastwood's underrated "Absolute Power," this film takes pains to acknowledge that the protagonist is not getting any younger, while pointing out emphatically that he is in prime shape for a man of a certain age. In "Six Days, Seven Nights," we watch Ford strip down to his shorts and parade through scenes with his shirt open. He's got the muscles of a much younger dude, but the slack, older-man stomach is also on display. And don't think for a minute that a star of Ford's caliber couldn't have scotched some of the overhead close-ups of his spiky, thinning hair. He knows what he's doing, aging with grace and lots of humor on screen.

When action-adventure stars pass middle age, they inevitably play satiric versions of their earlier tough-guy persona. Anne Heche, Ford's lovely young co-star this time out, vents her frustration when she discovers that the pilot who's stranded her on a deserted island isn't "one of those guys" - you know, she adds, one of those guys "with skills," who can tromp into the forest and "build you a shopping mall." You want skills? he asks. I'll show you skills. Then he inserts a finger into his mouth and makes a wet popping sound against his cheek. Later, he emerges from the jungle wearing a small hut made of hacked-away fronds. This elicits a laugh - but the camo enables him to hunt down a tasty dinner.

And when the chips are really down - when pirates with machine guns are fast on their trail, or a callow, shallow, romantic nerd (played with zero aplomb by David Schwimmer) wants to sweep her away to a nest of hollow love - Ford shows he's got just enough wit and stamina to save the day.

Watching "Six Days, Seven Nights," I couldn't help recalling the 1954 John Huston film "Beat the Devil," in which an aging Humphrey Bogart romances both Jennifer Jones and Gina Lollobrigida while disentangling himself from a get-rich-quick scheme involving uranium rights. Bogey, who looks and acts physically tired but mentally sharp, is a down-at-the-heel hustler who's driven around a sleepy Italian town by his ex-chauffeur in his ex-car. He's getting a finder's fee for hooking up a group of ex-Nazis and other sleazy businessmen (including Peter Lorre, in a delightful turn) with the mining rights to some African land. Delivering lines penned by Truman Capote, Bogart is at his best, world-weary droll self. But when someone needs to be punched out, look for those aging fists of fury.

Like "Beat the Devil," "Six Days, Seven Nights" has its over-the-hill star involved with two young lovelies. But this being the nineties and John Huston and Truman Capote not taking on much film work anymore, the love triangle between refugee-from-reality Ford, big-city tourist Heche and bosomy native tiki dancer Angelica (Jacqueline Obradors) plays out in unsurprisingly rote fashion. The one thing keeping the Heche-Ford relationship from being obnoxious is that both the characters and the actors playing them acknowledge the daddy-daughter paradigm at work. "This feels nice," Heche says as she snuggles against her protector under the night sky. "Nice... and safe."

One of the nice things about Harrison Ford growing older is that he's more likely to go beyond the safe blockbuster parts of yore (with the exception of maybe one more Indy picture) and sink his teeth into meaty character roles. Like Newman did starting with "The Verdict," and like Eastwood seems to be doing almost every time up to bat these days. The teenyboppers may have moved on to Leo and Matt, but the Boomers - and a lot of their not-so-young kids - will stay loyal to their classic Ford.

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