Judge David Ryan wishes that he spent the first half of his life in a bomb shelter so that Alicia Silverstone would fall in love with him.
A fish-out-of-water tale with a nuclear twist—is there Communist subversion at work here?
This film contains not one, not two, but three of my all-time favorite actors (including #1 on the list, Chris "Cowbell" Walken), plus a Kid in the Hall. Hence, I'm probably giving it about 500% more benefit of the doubt than a completely impartial viewer would. Caveat emptor.
Facts of the Case
Okay, follow me here: A paranoid-yet-brilliant guy takes his pregnant wife into their elaborate, house-sized bomb shelter as a precaution during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, whereupon a jet crashes into their home, convincing him that the Big One has been dropped. So he closes up the door, which is rigged to a timer that won't allow the door to be opened until 35 years have passed.
Still with me? Okay—so he and his wife have to raise their son in the bomb shelter for 35 years, then send him off into the world outside to gather supplies. Logical, right?
Well, no. Not logical at all. Yet that's the underlying premise of Blast from the Past. The parents in question are the Webber family, professor dad Calvin (Christopher Walken, Pulp Fiction, The Dead Zone) and loyal but unhappy mom Helen (Sissy Spacek, Coal Miner's Daughter, Carrie). Their 35-going-on-16-year-old son (Brendan Fraser, The Mummy) is named Adam (for semi-obvious reasons). They all live in a fantastically huge fallout shelter underneath the San Fernando Valley. But one day the locks are released and Calvin emerges to investigate the expected wreckage. Instead, he finds himself in the underbelly of the valley—it looks to be North Hollywood or upper Van Nuys, by my reckoning—surrounded by bums, hookers, and porn shops. He returns to give his report, and promptly has a heart attack (or maybe just a panic attack). In any event, it's up to young Adam to surface and look for new supplies for the shelter. Mom gives him $3000 and a list of things to buy, and off he goes.
Adam brings his dad's baseball card collection—which, natch, is ridiculously valuable—with him as a potential source of income. Discovering that the price of food has increased just a wee tiny bit since 1962 (he is, after all, shopping for the long haul, and $3000 doesn't go as far as it used to), he brings the cards to a sports memorabilia shop. The friendly storekeeper offers him $500 for the whole collection, which Adam is happy to take until the keeper's sass-talking assistant (good grief—I can't believe I just used the adjectival phrase "sass-talking…"…) informs him that one of his Mickey Mantle cards is worth $6000 all by itself. She promptly gets fired for her trouble after Adam rethinks the transaction. She also discovers that she's now obtained a new (and obviously unwanted) friend in Adam, who follows her like a puppy. You see, he's never really seen a girl, and this one's a cutie. She introduces herself as—you guessed it—Eve Rustikoff (Alicia Silverstone, Excess Baggage, Clueless), and tries her best to ditch him. She finally gets rid of him by agreeing to take him to a Holiday Inn (his mom told him to stay at one if he needed to spend the night) in exchange for one of his Rogers Hornsby cards (worth $4k). And that's the end of that.
Except…well, Eve gets a bit of guilt in her. She comes back to the Holiday Inn the next day to return the card, because it's just too valuable for her to accept. Adam winds up hiring her to help him search for supplies. And so an odd, charming relationship begins. Toss in Dave Foley as Eve's gay roommate Troy, stir several times, and serve over ice with a twist of orange.
This sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? There's no way this stinkburger could possibly hold one's attention for more than about 15 minutes, right? Well, in most cases, yes. But this ain't one of those cases. Blast from the Past turned out to be an above-average film—not the greatest romantic comedy ever, but a pretty smart one that focuses more on character development than the average entry in the genre. Most of all, though, it's yet another example of Brendan Fraser playing a sincere and likable character (in other words, a Canadian) to perfection.
I've been a big Fraser fan since he single-handedly made Encino Man an arguably great film, when it should have been unwatchably bad. His career has been decidedly spotty—for every critically lauded achievement like Gods and Monsters, there's a weak performer like Bedazzled. The Mummy films have now guaranteed his financial well-being for some time, so maybe we'll see him take some more risks in his roles in the future. But I digress. The point here is that this film's lead character—a kind, gentle, polite, but incredibly naïve 35-year-old man-child—is almost tailor made for Fraser. So it's no surprise that he brings a great deal of life to the character, and never breaks out of the character's somewhat confining background setup. (Credit is also due to the writers for giving him some good material to work with.) It would be easy to cop out and make Adam "secretly" street-smart, or have him rapidly learn street smarts, in order to make him wittier and/or more dramatic. But Fraser doesn't do that—and it's crucial to the movie's success. Fraser almost makes us believe that someone could wind up like this after 35 years in a bomb shelter, just through the sheer sincerity of his performance. Without Fraser, this film falls apart completely.
Silverstone does quite a bit with the Eve character, too. When given half a chance, Alicia can do very good work. There was one dramatic decision made by the writers of this film that I really liked: While most light romantic comedies have the principals fall in love about halfway through, then throw some hindrance at them to create dramatic tension, this one doesn't. The tension in the film comes from Eve's stubborn, cynical nature, and her refusal to accept that she really likes the freakish Adam. She doesn't fall for him until late in the film—but Silverstone plays it well enough that we can see her subtly falling, bit by bit, throughout the entire film. Her character, although somewhat clichéd, is also more realistic than most female characters in the genre. It's the little things that add up here—the subtle smile (and the way her eyes light up) when she hears that Adam didn't leave the bar with the two women with whom he had danced; the flashes of happiness she briefly shows when he does something gentlemanly that are quickly suppressed by her stubborn pride; and the pouting. (Alicia can pout with the best of them.) I don't know why we don't see more of this Alicia Silverstone on our screens. She's like a thoroughbred that's only trotted out for the Breeder's Cup. We're never going to know her true potential if she isn't raced more often. Fire your agent, Alicia, or do whatever you need to do—just do more work. Please. We want to love you.
But I digress. Walken has a limited role, but plays it with his usual panache. Foley manages to be gay without being too stereotypically gay, and is entertaining. There's a humorous subplot featuring Joey Slotnick (Twister) as a near-bum who owns the run-down shop where the fallout shelter's exit now lies, who is convinced that the Webbers are the second coming of Jesus, Mary, and God. There's a happy ending, and I'm sure that Adam and Eve eventually had two extremely cute boys, one of whom wound up killing the other and being banished to Ethiopia or Canaan, depending on who you talk to. There may have been apples involved, too.
The DVD transfer of this film is pretty good. There's a choice of either a pan-and-scan full screen version or an original-ratio widescreen presentation, both on the same side of the disc. Both versions have no significant issues with graininess, scratches, or color bleeding. The Dolby 5.1 audio track is just fine—while this film doesn't contain a great deal of sound design, the few sound-intensive scenes are well balanced. A stereo "surround" track is also available.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
On the other hand…this is a very, very silly premise for a story. The story itself is fine once we get Adam up on the surface in the present—but the premise? Good grief. Calvin's bomb shelter is more complex and self-sufficient than Biosphere 2. And he built it in his spare time? On a professor's salary? I don't think so.
Also, there isn't much on this DVD except for the movie itself. The extras are paltry—you get the trailer, cast and crew bios (taken almost straight from IMDb), and a "love meter" that's a video recreation of the old carnival nickel-operated Love Tester machine. No commentary, no deleted/extended scenes, no behind-the-scenes material. Nothing. Zip. Nada. Bubkis. Okay, so there are two full versions of the film on the disc, and that takes up space, and there probably wasn't any room left, but still…what's worse is that (per IMDb) the German version of the DVD (Eve und der Letzte Gentleman—"Eve and the Last Gentleman") does have deleted scenes and other extras. Why do the Germans get that when we don't? Didn't we win the war?
If you have a DVD-ROM drive on your computer, you can access (and print, if you so desire) the full text of the shooting script—that's a nice touch. But not enough.
One more thing—if you don't speak or read English, you're out of luck. There are no alternate language audio or subtitle tracks.
Cinema requires one to suspend disbelief. This particular piece of cinema requires a little more of that than usual. But if you stop thinking about the phenomenally goofy premise of the film, and if you aren't looking for DVD extras, you'll discover a remarkably entertaining little film. Blast from the Past is no worse than most of the light romantic comedies I've seen in my life. In fact, it's better than most, because the relationship between the two principals is more interesting than usual. It's not the Citizen Kane of light romantic comedies, but it's definitely the Citizen Kane of naïve-bomb-shelter-residents-who-fall-for-Alicia-Silverstone movies. And really, isn't that enough?
Whatever sins this film may have committed have been purged by time served. Communism? Not present. Have you left no sense of decency, sir? Have you no sense of decency?
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