Blast From the Past
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 1999
Stars : Brendan Fraser (Adam Webber), Alicia Silverstone (Eve Rustikov), Christopher Walken (Calvin Webber), Sissy Spacek (Helen Webber), Dave Foley (Troy), Scott Thomson (Junkie), Deborah Kellner (Miss Sweet)
Hollywood loves its time-bending fish-out-of-water stories, whether that be sending '80s teenager Michael J. Fox into the mid-'50s in "Back to the Future" (1985) or unfreezing '60s-era British superspy Mike Myers in the 1990s in "Austin Powers" (1997). Seeing the members of one generation wallowing helplessly in another time and place is always good for a few yuks and even some amusing commentary on inter-generational differences. Of course, the problem is coming up with new and inventive excuses to move characters between eras. The latest member of this genre, "Blast From the Past," comes up with something of a doozy: the idea that a family has lived in a fallout shelter for 35 years.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, Dr. Calvin Webber (Christopher Walken), described as a "certified genius, borderline nutcase," moves himself and his pregnant wife, Helen (Sissy Spacek), into an elaborate underground fallout shelter. A series of coincidences convinces them that a nuclear war has taken place, and they lock themselves down there for 35 years. During those three decades, their son, Adam, is born and raised to be a man.
When the time is right, Adam (Brendan Fraser) is sent to the surface where he encounters modern-day Los Angeles in all its ... well, glory might not be the right word. One of the earliest jokes the movie makes about modern society is that it could be mistaken for an atomic wasteland filled with mutants. Calvin is actually the first member of the family to venture above-ground, and on a rainy night he finds that where his home once stood is now a degenerated ghetto filled with pornography stores, drunks vomiting in the street, homeless schizophrenics, and transvestite prostitutes. When he goes back down to explain the situation to Helen and Adam, it's not hard to see why he misinterprets the poverty and social wasteland as the results of nuclear fallout and subsequent mutation.
However, "Blast From the Past" is essentially a love story, with Adam searching for the right woman (after all, he is a 35-year-old virgin who's never had any contact with another human being except his parents). He, of course, falls in love with the first girl he meets, who happens to be Alicia Silverstone. She plays Eve, a typical '90s Los Angelite who references her own shallowness and never manages to hold a steady job. She lives with her gay roommate, Troy (David Foley),and naturally Adam mistakes "gay" for "happy."
After the lengthy set-up explaining the Webber family's situation, the rest of the film details Adam's exploits in the modern world as he stocks up on several years' worth of supplies for his family (Calvin thinks they should stay underground for another 10 years). He enlists Eve's help, and through the course of the film she slowly falls in love with his innocent enthusiasm for life. Adam is like kindness and decency personified; his parents, being good, God-fearing people of the early '60s, have raised him with the kinds of manners, respect, and morals that not many people have today. Eve is shocked when Adam prays before eating, surprised when he opens the door for her, and is eventually enthralled with the idea that he is everything all of her previous boyfriends were not.
"Blast From the Past", which was directed by Hugh Wilson ("The First Wives Club"), isn't always the most original or daring film, but it is certainly passable comedy and even mildly thought-provoking in its critique of modern society. Its vision of 1962 as clean-cut and value-laden is something of a dreamworld, but it makes an interesting contrast to much of what we have today. When Eve and Troy are walking down a squalid back alley that covers the ground where the Webbers' house once stood, and Troy notes that the area used to be filled with small houses and orchards, Eve laments, "Great, look how far we've come."
Comically speaking, some of the jokes fire better than others. One long-running gag involving a man who believes the Webbers are messengers from God because they keep appearing out of the ground is funny at first, but once he starts a cult to worship them, it grows a bit tiresome. The script (by Wilson and David Kelly) sets up a number of contrivances and coincidences that make everything work out to complete perfection. Sure is lucky Calvin collected baseball cards in 1962 so Adam can sell them for thousands of dollars apiece in 1997; it's also a good thing he bought all that cheap stock in IBM, AT&T, and Polaroid. Plus, those boxing lessons Calvin gave his son come in handy when Adam gets in a fight at a bar, and all those dance lessons from Mom turn him into a real '40s-style swinger on the dance floor.
But, that's just the kind of movie this is. Brendan Fraser is amiable in the lead role, although sometimes his wide-eyed naiveté is forced to work overtime when better characterization would have been more welcome. Silverstone is well-cast in the role of Eve, although it's not much of a stretch for her. However, Walken and Spacek are quite hilarious in their roles as Adam's father and mother. Walken seems to be almost parodying his own borderline psycho movie persona, and Spacek shows a real comic flair in her exasperation at her husband's overreactions to everything. They give "Blast From the Past" just the right comedic push it needs, even if the movie as a whole never turns out to be anything better than satisfactory.
©1999 James Kendrick