Stars: Jim Carrey, Martin Landau, Laurie Holden, Allen Garfield, Amanda Detmer, David Ogden Stiers
Director: Frank Darabont
Writer: Michael Sloane
Right from the start, with its slow-as-molasses pacing, grandiose music, and soppy acting The Majestic is successful in telling us how overly sentimental and by the book this film is going to be. And when the secondary characters prove more interesting than the leads, a real problem exists. Still, I have no doubt that as a holiday offering, particularly during this post September 11th period, many will come to cherish this simple, feel-good tale.
A blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter suffers amnesia and is mistaken for a missing war hero in the tiny Northern California hamlet called Lawson. It’s 1951 and the quaint town represents all that is good about America: fierce patriotism, wholesome people and food, old fashioned civility. The town’s streets are mostly empty but Mabel’s Diner does a hopping business. The local movie theater, the Majestic, has long been abandoned but is remembered nobly. The citizenry still aches over the loss of 62 young men in World War II but they proudly display their patriotism along with their sacrifices in shop windows all along Main Street. And the town’s good doctor will drop everything at a moment’s notice to comfort and cure whatever ails you.
When Peter Appleton (Jim Carrey) is found washed up on Lawson’s shore, a result of an unfortunate accident, he is immediately recognized as familiar but no one can quite place him until old Harry Trimble (Martin Landau) declares amazingly that Peter is actually his long lost son, the town’s beloved Luke, high achiever, friend to all and ultimate war hero. Everyone rejoices in “Luke’s” arrival home, with all pressuring to remind him of the past and their places in it. Former girlfriend Adele (Laurie Holden), the town’s golden glamour girl, is particularly keen in reacquainting herself with this perfect man. But only her father, Doc Stanton (David Ogden Stiers) has the good sense to wonder what Luke has been doing for the past nine-and-a-half years. Yet, even that is quickly swept under the rug. With no memory of his own, Peter has no choice but to go along with the eager crowd.
Harry tries to recapture the good old days and quickly suggests that he and Pete/Luke refurbish the crumbling Majestic with the help of two former theater workers and the good graces of much of the town. Suddenly, Lawson’s hopeless spirit has been renewed and all is well with the world ….. until ….
The Chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee, with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, ridiculously decides that Appleton’s disappearance signals his position as a top communist leader and he sends his goons out to hunt Pete down. You know it’s just a matter of time before Pete’s true identity is discovered. And just as no one seriously questioned Luke’s magical appearance, no one wonders why their beloved hero is suddenly being named a communist. Pete’s character turnaround and final redemption speech before the HUAC committee is too damn pat to muster the kind of feeling it intends. And when the townspeople rally behind him as you know they would, it feels like just another big setup with little payoff.
Lotta says: Gerry Black sparkles as Emmett Smith, a wise and kindly black man who served as the theater’s only usher. And Laurie Holden is just the ticket playing the love interest. Carrey gives it his all but the script is sparse and he’s asked to do little but alternately look confused and play dumb in love. Martin Landau is all misty-eyed in his disillusionment and although the film is filled with a goodly number of terrific supporting actors, such as James Whitmore and David Ogden Stiers, they all manufacture the same quality. And its that sameness, along with a meager script that leaves us wanting for something less tried and more true.