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'Majestic, The'

Whole town is clueless about Carrey's identity in '50s drama 'The Majestic'

Friday, December 21, 2001

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle was, second only to Chaplin, the richest and most popular film comedian in the world until the 1921 sex scandal that turned him into a pariah. He never worked again except for a pathetic stint directing lousy two-reelers under the humiliating pseudonym "Will B. Good."

 
 
'The Majestic'

RATING: PG for language

STARRING: Jim Carrey, Martin Landau, Laurie Holden

DIRECTOR: Frank Darabont

WEB SITE: movies.warnerbros
.com/themajestic/

CRITIC'S CALL:

   
 

Be it political or sexual, the Hollywood blacklist is a terrifying and ever-fascinating thing, probed anew in director Frank Darabont's "The Majestic."

Our hero is Peter Appleton (Jim Carrey), rookie screenwriter basking in the success of his swashbuckling "Sand Pirates of the Sahara" -- but not for long. It's Joe McCarthy's '50s, and, to his horror, Peter finds himself a target of the House Un-American Activities Committee for alleged "communist leanings" back in his college days. Film people are losing their careers right and left, and unless he cops to the false charge and ruins others by "naming names," Peter will lose his.

Instead, he loses his memory in a sudden car accident, from which he staggers into the nearest California coastal village. There, he is mistaken for -- and joyfully welcomed as -- the town's heroic favorite son, thought to have been killed in World War II.

Most thrilled by the boy's miraculous "return" is kindly old Harry (Martin Landau), who raised him and who used to run the town's long-defunct Majestic theater. Together, they'll try to heal each other and the town by reviving the old movie palace to its former operational glory.

Ah, but HUAC pegs Peter as a guilty Com-Symp on the lam, and villains Hal Holbrook and Bob Balaban are hot on his trail. There's a lot of you-know-what going down here, destined to hit the fan.

Director Darabont ("Shawshank Redemption," "The Green Mile") demonstrates an earnest desire to contribute something uplifting to Blacklist lore and the First Amendment subject, aiming for something like Woody Allen's "The Front" in highly romanticized form. But Martin Sloane's script makes his job -- and the suspension of disbelief -- difficult. Is everyone here astigmatic? Nobody ever notices or looks for any facial difference between the characters or some mole or blemish or record of a molar filling to confirm identity.

This town is in desperate need of dentists and optometrists. If they're such perfect genetic twins and even the beloved pre-war girlfriend (Laurie Holden of "X-Files") is fooled, you oughtta put a line or two about it in the script, or have the girlfriend tragically blinded or SOMETHING to explain the communal recognition meltdown. Otherwise, it's like Clark Kent and Superman: For the yarn to work, you have to buy into the ongoing premise that a pair of glasses automatically fools everybody -- a big stretch.

It's not the star's fault. He had no need to prove himself a "serious" actor after excellent dramatic portrayals in "Truman Show" and "Man on the Moon," compared to which the role and film at hand are inferior. (His best-ever performance, in my jaundiced view, is still "The Mask.") In "The Majestic," as ever, he gives his full commitment and almost -- but not quite -- manages to Carrey it off.

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