[box cover]

The Majestic

Warner Home Video

Starring Jim Carrey, Laurie Holden, Martin Landau,
and David Ogden Stiers

Written by Michael Sloane
Directed by Frank Darabont

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Review by Betsy Bozdech                    

In The Truman Show, Jim Carrey played a gee-whiz guy in a gee-whiz world and got away with it — because everyone knew that world was a construct, a set built to mimic an idealized version of the 1950s, one of the most erroneously sentimentalized eras in American history. From the white picket fences to the aw-shucks neighbors to the tow-headed kids, Truman's world was an artificial paradise, one that he eventually recognized as limiting and unnatural.

Watching The Majestic, at first it seems like Carrey and director Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile) are out to burst a few of the same idyllic bubbles — the film plunges right into the frantic paranoia of the '50s' McCarthyism paranoia and Hollywood's witch hunt for Communists in its midst. The victim is Peter Appleton (Carrey), a B-movie screenwriter who's about to break onto the A-list when his name is named. Turns out Pete attended a meeting of a Red-leaning organization back in college to impress a girl — it's nothing, but thanks to the House Un-American Activities Committee, it's enough to get him fired and dumped by his starlet girlfriend (Amanda Detmer).

Drunk and depressed, Pete goes for a drive up the California coast; swerving on a narrow bridge to avoid killing an opossum, he plunges into a roaring river and gets conked on the head. Not only does the blow give Pete a nasty case of amnesia, but it also effectively kills any chance The Majestic has of questioning the '50s myth instead of celebrating it. Because when Pete wakes up — without a clue about who he is or how he got there — he's taken to the town of Lawson, the most idyllic small town since Mayberry. Lawson boasts a Main Street, a diner run by a sassy gal named Mabel, and even a doctor who goes by (you guessed it) Doc. It's also home to the Majestic, a run-down movie palace that's gone to seed since Lawson lost more than 60 of its young men in World War II and the townsfolk subsequently lost their zest for life.

*          *          *

All that changes when the Majestic's owner, an old man named Harry (Martin Landau), spots Pete in the diner and is convinced that the memory-challenged fellow is his long-lost son Luke, one of Lawson's brave soldiers who went off to fight the good fight, but whose body was never found. With a bare minimum of skepticism, the town embraces Pete/Luke, letting his "miraculous" return restore the hope they thought they'd lost forever. They cheer him, pat him on the back, and even throw him an all-town party out at the Point, complete with Chinese lanterns, dancing, and a heartfelt speech from the mayor. Even Luke's erstwhile fiancé, the lovely Adele (frequent "X-Files" guest star Laurie Holden), buys into the improbable turn of events, snuggling up to Pete and taking him to all of her and Luke's old secret spots.

For awhile, Pete holds back — something in him seems to know that this isn't right, that he doesn't deserve this adoration and this simple, perfect life. But on the night he calls Harry "Dad" for the first time, something changes; now he wants to be Luke, to be the stand-up guy everyone has missed so terribly. To demonstrate his newfound commitment to Harry and the town, he plunges into restoring the Majestic. Naturally, everyone in town pitches in (and of course there's a repair montage), and opening night turns into the event of the decade, a celebration of the town's restored optimism. The neon lights glow, the magic images flicker in the dark, and all is right with the world.

Until, that is, Pete's past catches up with him, at which point The Majestic turns into a soapbox for freedom of speech and democracy and what patriotism really means. Carrey gets his Mr. Smith Goes to Washington moment in front of the committee, but he could never be mistaken for Jimmy Stewart — his eyebrows-raised earnestness smacks of pleading rather than heartfelt conviction or newfound integrity. Perhaps that's the film's biggest flaw; in this age of cynicism, an earnest, Capra-esque tale like this feels forced and false rather than sincere. We can accept gee-whizzes and black-and-white moral certainty from the classics, but it's hard to buy it from a contemporary movie (with some exceptions, of course, including Darabont's own extraordinary Shawshank Redemption).

And as appealing as Carrey is, he does better in roles that allow him, if not a lot of laughs, at least a little bit more of an edge. He never quite finds his way as Pete; despite the film's inflated two-and-a-half hour running time (it feels like more), he doesn't seem to have enough time to convey Pete's journey as a character — we know he's changed because he says so, not because he shows it. In a less-predictable, less-idealized movie that might be forgivable, but in The Majestic, character is supposed to be king, and if 152 minutes isn't long enough for the coronation, the monarchy is doomed to fail.

*          *          *

Give Warner's Majestic DVD a spin, and you'll find out that it could have been even longer — one of the disc's main features is a set of seven deleted scenes, which add up to a total of about nine additional minutes. Most of them elaborate on points that are covered later in the movie with one or two lines of dialogue; considering that, Darabont was smart to cut them (too bad he and editor Jim Page weren't even more ruthless in post-production). The only one that might have been worth leaving in is a scene between Adele and her father, Doc (David Ogden Stiers), after he breaks the news of Luke's return — it feels right to give her a chance to react on screen.

The other main goodie on the disc is the un-cut, five-minute Sand Pirates of the Sahara sequence. Sand Pirates is the swashbuckling tomb raider romance Pete penned for the film's fictional HHS movie studio; it's a fun a spoof of/homage to B-movie classics of the '50s (especially since it stars contemporary B-movie actor Bruce Campbell, a veteran of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead flicks). Other extras include cast and crew credits (with filmographies for Carrey and Darabont), the trailer, and information about the Hollywood blacklist.

On the technical side, no one could accuse Darabont of making an ugly movie; with its neon lights and pretty seaside location, The Majestic is nice to look at (with the exception of some very obvious blue-screen shots during Pete and Adele's tryst at the lighthouse), and that holds true for the small screen version as well. The anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is clean and clear, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio doesn't disappoint. (Other audio options include a French 2.0 track and English and French subtitles.)

— Betsy Bozdech

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