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MOVIE REVIEW : TREASURES EMERGE FROM THIS ‘COCOON’

Times Film Critic

Set among the radiant waters of the Florida Gulf Coast, “Cocoon” (citywide) is a sly and salty bit of wish fulfillment that, by its tremendous close, has its entire audience wishing along with it. The combined energy it generates is probably enough to raise the Titanic.

You need only the slimmest suggestion of its story--anything beyond that is robbery. Take a group of friends at a retirement village: husbands and wives Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy; Wilford Brimley and Maureen Stapleton; Jack Gilford and Herta Ware, and great and good friends Don Ameche and Gwen Verdon. (Take, in other words, some of our best and brightest performers of the stage and motion pictures.)

Have screenwriter Tom Benedek capture their wranglings, ribaldries, tendernesses and self-awareness with delicacy, humor and infinite generosity. Then give this story (originally by David Saperstein) a mysterious little shake that sets it off its expected course, put it into the loving and intuitive hands of “Splash’s” director Ron Howard and settle back for the summer’s nicest surprise.

It’s fair enough, I think, to sketch in some of the other characters, a mysterious group of “marine biologists” who rent an empty St. Petersburg estate with a luxurious indoor swimming pool next door to the retirement community. These four are led by a quietly powerful Brian Dennehy and include the striking Tahnee Welch (daughter of Raquel) and Tyrone Power Jr. Add Steve Guttenberg as an affable and not vastly successful rental fishing boat captain, and “The Neverending Story’s” Barret Oliver as the Brimley-Stapleton grandson.

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The movie is about treasure. Treasure wasted: the experience of our older people. Treasure reclaimed: the fealty of a captain for his crew. New treasure: the electricity of sexual attraction. Abiding treasure: the bonds among the eight friends. And one of the greatest treasures of all: self-knowledge.

“Cocoon’s” view is rosy but not mawkish. It may be erring a little on the optimistic side when it gives us three intact couples at an age where widowhood is the rule. And it leans toward this sprightly collection of men to hold our interest and uses their wives--Jessica Tandy excepted--simply to react, not to stir things up. (That seems just backward: The least predictable, most intriguing older people I know are women.)

Someone in a position to influence what films are bought once uttered a sentence at a dinner party that chilled my bones: “Kids today,” he said genially, “want junk.” In the conversational melee that erupted, as three of us went for him, I remember “Breaking Away” being used as a sturdy example to the contrary. It had deeply important things to say, to everyone and especially to the contemporaries of its young cast, but it veiled its message in a mixture of action and humor and it reached its entire audience.

“Cocoon” would seem to be the same kind of picture. It’s doubtful that all that kids want are retread, sniggery sex comedies; it is , with few exceptions, what they’re being given. Give them what Howard seems to be best at--wit, against-expectation situations, tenderness, humanity, a collection of brilliantly fine actors, plus this admittedly all-stops-out ending, which works because we so nakedly want it to, and the kids may just surprise you.

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‘COCOON’

A 20th Century Fox Film Corp. release of a Zanuck Brown production. Producers Richard D. Zanuck, David Brown, Lili Fini Zanuck. Director Ron Howard. Screenplay by Tom Benedek from a story by David Saperstein. Camera Don Peterman. Production designer Jack T. Collis Editor Daniel Hanley, Michael J. Hill. Music James Horner. Associate producer Robert Doudell. Costumes Aggie Guerard Rodgers. Special effects ILM. ILM visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston. Cocoons and dolphin effects Robert Short Productions Inc. Special-creature consultant Rick Baker. Special alien creatures and effects Greg Cannom. With Don Ameche, Wilford Brimley, Hume Cronyn, Brian Dennehy, Jack Gilford, Steve Guttenberg, Maureen Stapleton, Jessica Tandy, Herta Ware, Tahnee Welch, Barret Oliver, Linda Harrison, Tyrone Power Jr., Clint Howard.

Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes.

MPAA-rated: PG-13 (parents are strongly cautioned to give special guidance for attendance of children under 13).

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