Jim Carrey’s bid to be taken seriously will be further delayed by The Majestic, a hokey, overlong misfire from director Frank Darabont, maker of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.
This is a well-meaning movie containing some good moments, but Lord God is it a preachy one, and Carrey’s muted performance doesn’t help. Carrey plays Peter Appleton, a 1950s Hollywood screenwriter who is accused of being a communist. Appleton then crashes his car, gets amnesia and is mistaken for a missing war hero, and as Appleton, Carrey is just boring as all hell.
It’s not that it’s a bad performance. Carrey is simply struggling with material that is plastic and makes no sense—an uncomfortable, sometimes unbearable thing to watch. The film barely allows him to establish his pre-amnesiac character, and then forces him to do the “I don’t remember” shtick. None of it is believable, and it’s often far from entertaining. It’s also too damned long … you’ll strain your wrist from checking the time.
After his drunken car wreck, Peter wanders into Lawson, Calif., a small town that has lost many of its sons in WWII. Harry (Martin Landau) spots Peter walking by a diner window and immediately pegs him as his long-lost son Luke. With few detractors, the town accepts this man as Luke the war hero, as long as Peter conveniently remains oblivious to his past. It’s the sort of set-up that may have worked in movies made many years ago, but it feels cheap and easy at today’s movie house. The whole amnesia gimmick went out when Happy Days ceased production.
The Majestic of the film’s title is an out-of-business movie theater that Harry chooses to resurrect, and it runs movies that, to the best of my knowledge, had not been released at the time this movie takes place. When one of the films showing is an Appleton-scripted picture, David has a moment of remembrance and his identity returns. Then The Majestic becomes something altogether different, as Carrey becomes a crusader for equal rights.
Do we really need another movie that not only explores Hollywood blacklisting, but also trivializes it? After the amnesia garbage is resolved, the film morphs into some sort of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington offspring, as Peter must testify before an anti-communism task force headed by Hal Holbrook. A drawn-out sequence where Carrey delivers a tired speech about the American Constitution feels like something that has been seen a thousand times before in better movies starring Jimmy Stewart.
It’s not a bad thing that Darabont and company wanted to make some wholesome family entertainment with a big heart. Their movie looks good (perhaps a little too good), and paying homage to Frank Capra is a nice gesture. Trying to re-create that Capra feeling of films made 50 years ago, however, is not a good idea. What was warm and fuzzy back then feels a little phony today. If The Majestic were more of a comedy, they might’ve pulled it off. As a straight drama, it’s ridiculous.
One thing I thought I’d never see is a wooden Carrey performance, but that’s what he delivers. It can be argued that Carrey does just about the best job he can with such silly and simple material. I like the rapport he shares with Landau, but that only takes up a small part of the film. The rest of the movie is just Jim Carrey looking like he doesn’t have a clue as to what’s going on. Tedious.
It’s always difficult to watch a good actor and a capable director misstep. Considering the big talent on hand for The Majestic, we are talking major letdown.