Considering the vintage of its cliches, it takes a fair amount of chutzpah to title the new Mel Gibson film "Forever Young." Maybe the idea was that cliches never grow old--they just get recycled. By that reckoning, "Forever Young" (citywide) is one of the most ecologically correct movies ever made: It's fashioned entirely from recycled goods.
Gibson plays Daniel McCormick, a test pilot flying B-25s for the Air Corps, circa 1939. He's an aw-shucks daredevil flyboy with a disarming shyness around his childhood sweetheart Helen (Isabel Glasser). He just can't muster the gumption to ask her to marry him.
Tragedy strikes. Desolate, Daniel volunteers for a top-secret cryogenics experiment cooked up by his best buddy Harry (George Wendt). He awakens in 1992 when two rascally 10-year-olds accidentally throw the switch on a discarded piece of military hardware. Daniel re-enters a brave new world still moony for his would-be fiancee but surprisingly nimble considering his 50-plus years lazing in a fixed position. Given the quantity of product plugs in this film, how come there were no mattress company endorsements?
Screenwriter Jerry Abrams is still in his 20s but the scenario seems keyed to an even younger mind-set: It's spirituality, preschool-style. Like Abrams' earlier script for "Regarding Henry," this one appears to have been composed in a treehouse. It's all about big guys galumphing about like little guys; for adults, the getting of wisdom apparently involves turning yourself into a peewee. Nat (plucky Elijah Wood), the fatherless boy who befriends Daniel after liberating him from the deep freeze, is Daniel's precocious playmate; his mother (Jamie Lee Curtis) would like to be another kind of playmate to Daniel but he's still in a fog over Helen. Is his friend Harry still alive to save him, or will Daniel succumb to the ravages of post-cryonic-syndrome?
Are the people involved in this movie aware of what a glob of Harlequin and Hardy Boys it really is? More likely, everybody put their wits into a state of freeze-dried suspension. Director Steve Miner works up a few giggly time-travel barbs that work on an "Encino Man" level but mostly he takes the high, virtuous road. He doesn't camp up the material. (It's integrity of a sort.) He doesn't have much sense of place, though, which is damaging in a film (rated PG for strong language) that's supposed to transport you between eras. We need more than Billie Holiday on the soundtrack to make us hanker for 1939.
Gibson is such a disarming actor that he actually makes this big-kid fantasia vaguely watchable, although he's beyond the point in his career where he ought to be playing a flyboy Peter Pan. One might have thought that, with Steven Spielberg moving on to dinosaurs and advancing middle-age, this sort of twinkly sexlessness would no longer be enshrined on our screens. Recycled goods are bad enough but recycled innocence is really the pits.
Mel Gibson: Daniel
Jamie Lee Curtis: Claire
Elijah Wood: Nat
Isabel Glasser: Helen
A Warner Bros. release of an Icon production in association with Edward S. Feldman. Director Steve Miner. Producer Bruce Davey. Executive producers Edward Feldman, Jeffrey Abrams. Screenplay by Jeffrey Abrams. Cinematographer Russell Boyd. Editor Jon Poll. Costumes Aggie Guerard Rogers. Music Jerry Goldsmith. Production design Gregg Fonseca. Art director Bruce A. Miller. Set designer Jann K. Engel. Set decorator Jay R. Hart. Sound Jim Tannenbaum. Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes.