Rated PG - Running Time: 2:32 - Released 12/21/01

Jim Carrey resumes his bid to be taken seriously with another standout performance in Frank Darabont's The Majestic, a whimsical feelgood romance written by Michael Sloane with dark overtones and heroic aspirations. Darabont, director of similarly-toned films The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, produces another nice story that forces us to overlook many practical considerations to achieve its emotional impact. Regardless of its shortcomings, The Majestic is a good popcorn movie, especially since it is partially based on the Hollywood of the early 1950s and begins with its main character eating popcorn at the movies.

Carrey plays struggling screenwriter Peter Appleton, who is just on the brink of success with what he considers his breakthrough masterpiece when he is blacklisted for being a communist sympathizer. Despondent, he goes for a drunken road trip which results in an accident, a bump on the head, and a classic, TV-sitcom case of "bump on the head amnesia." It happened to Fred Flintstone dozens of times. When he comes to, he is discovered by an old man (James Whitmore) who leads him into the nearest town. As it turns out, Lawson, California, has lost so many young men to World War II that it received honorable recognition from President Franklin Roosevelt. As it turns out, nearly every household in the sleepy village mourns the loss of at least one of its sons. And as it turns out, Peter Appleton, who has no recollection of who he is, looks exactly like one of those lost boys: Luke Trimble.

Welcomed with open arms by most of the community, Peter (now going by the name Luke) tries desperately to remember what everyone keeps telling him was his life. His father Harry (Martin Landau), who owns the town's decrepit and long-abandoned movie theater, The Majestic, regales him with stories of how they filled it with jujube-chewing patrons until the war; his aspiring-lawyer girlfriend Adele (Laurie Holden) takes him to all their former romantic spots; his piano teacher (Susan Willis) tries to get him to play Liszt like he used to. But nothing registers. Still, embracing his newfound home with cautious enthusiasm, Luke joins his dad in the reconstruction and re-opening of the theater, starts banging out boogie-woogie tunes, and gets busy making out with Adele. Then, just as his new life couldn't get any sweeter, his former life finally catches up with him. The HUAC-sponsored G-men, who have been on Peter Appleton's red trail ever since his suspicious disappearance from L.A., trace him to Lawson and arrest him.

As I mentioned, this film is not one for credibility enthusiasts. But its performances and its creepily homey atmosphere divert our attention away from this. Although it is not explained how a missing soldier from the European theater of WWII would wash up 9 years later on the beach of his former hometown, Landau's tragically hopeful Harry definitely believes. While a beautiful young girl, having learned of her fiancé's demise in 1945, would have probably moved on and married someone else in the intervening years, somehow, Holden makes it seem feasible. And Carrey, whose role calls for him to be emotionally and mentally confused throughout most of the movie, again restates his ability to rise to the challenge with grace and believability. Also notable are David Ogden Stiers as Adele's father, the town doctor, Gerry Black as the wise and friendly ticket-taker, and Bob Balaban as the stern congressman who vows to nail Peter and all his red friends to the cross.

The Majestic is an old-fashioned film, and its dated tone and subject matter may turn some viewers off. But there's no question that it showcases Carrey's talent and that of its capable supporting cast. ****

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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