Poor teen comedies. All they want is to have a few cheap laughs at everyone else's expense, and they have to put up with all these party poopers.
On the very day that "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back" barrels into theaters amid cries of homophobia from gay organizations, "Bubble Boy" bounces in as well, preceded by harrumphs of disgust directed at Walt Disney Productions from the Immune Deficiency Foundation. Chief among the protesters is the mother of the late David Vetter, a victim of a rare genetic immune system disease who spent his 12-year life in an environmentally protected bubble. How, argued the foundation, could you fashion a burlesque from a tragic, life-destroying situation?
They have obviously not seen "Life Is Beautiful." Still, we approached "Bubble Boy" armed with trunks of indignation. Could such a worthy advocacy group possibly be wrong? Well, yes, but then again, no. A frenetic whoopee cushion of a road comedy, "Bubble Boy" dishonors not the real-life child whose memory it so marginally invokes but rather the mothers of such immune sufferers, at whom it wags a ridiculous finger of blame.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Jimmy Livingston, a 17-year-old suburbanite who has been raised in a huge bubble-protected bedroom to safeguard his immune-deficient system from germs. Jimmy's bubble is really a metaphor for the airless upbringing provided by his mother (Swoosie Kurtz, at full tilt), a religious zealot who bakes her son nutritionally augmented cookies in the shape of crucifixes while insulating Jimmy from the heathen influences of the outside world.
Fundamentalist-phobes will be comforted to know that not all children of ber- Christians turn into prom-rampaging Carries. Jimmy is a sweet-natured but hormonally ripe virgin who, despite mother's clutching influence, falls hard for the blond wench next door (Marley Shelton). When Jimmy hears that his beloved Chloe has skipped town to marry one of the neighborhood cavemen, he launches out to Niagara Falls in a bubble suit to stake his claim.
Like Jay and Silent Bob, Jimmy has but three days to get cross-country, albeit in the opposite direction. But "Bubble Boy" traces a broadly satirical route across America's inner belly that parallels Kevin Smith's stoner comedy for sheer rudeness.
Among the strangers who befriend and beleaguer Jimmy are a band of circus freaks led by a foulmouthed midget, a Hindu ice cream and curry vendor, a club of raving Chinese American mud wrestling fans, a surly Chicano biker with a heart of gold and, in a game stab at "Pee-wee's Big Adventure"-style absurdism, a busload of robotically cheerful cultists trekking toward their charismatic leader (Italian model Fabio, in an ingenious bit of cameo casting).
Any 10 minutes of "Bubble Boy" expose the tunnel vision of protest groups, who can rarely see beyond their own special interests. Where is foundation's rebuke for the film's freewheeling racial stereotypes or its knee-jerk distaste for Republicans and Jesus freaks? As the Broadway love affair with "The Producers" (a vehicle whose taste was reviled as a film) has validated, we have become all but immunized against PC sensitivities. "Bubble Boy" simply has the gall to make light of one of the last untouchable left in America: disease.
Director Blair Hayes' raffish clown mask dares you not to laugh: It's possible to be appalled by the oafishness of Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio's screenplay one minute (there is a Jewish slur as old as "The Merchant of Venice") and disarmed the next by a visual joke (the Siva on the Hindu's truck with an ice cream cone in each of its multiple hands). Best is the Candide-like guilelessness of Gyllenhaal, who, along with his lead in the upcoming "Donnie Darko," is a shoo-in for the It-boy title of 2001.
With his Jerry Lewis waddle and pointy Brendan Fraser hair, Gyllenhaal softens the on-screen and off-screen circus that surrounds this bubble boy.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for language and crude sexual humor. Times guidelines: "crude" and "puerile" are the operative words.
Jake Gyllenhaal: Jimmy Livingston
Swoosie Kurtz: Mrs. Livingston
Marley Shelton: Chloe
Danny Trejo: Slim
A Touchstone Pictures presentation, released by Buena Vista Distribution. Director Blair Hayes. Producer Beau Flynn. Executive producer Eric McLeod. Screenplay by Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio. Cinematographer Jerzy Zielinski. Editor Pamela Martin. Costume designer Christopher Lawrence. Music John Ottman. Production designer Barry Robison. Art directors Troy Sizemore, Christa Munro. Set decorator Garrett Lewis. Running time:1 hour, 24 minutes.
In general release.