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Forever Young

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The last I remember, it was a spring evening in 1967, and I was hanging out with the guys watching The Rat Patrol. Sid asked me to grab some fresh Piels from the freezer that his dad had converted from the backyard fallout shelter, and on my way down, the hatch slammed shut behind me and I must have bumped my head, because when I woke up it was 25 years later-and I hadn’t aged a day. Sid says he’s sorry-the guys thought I’d gone home, and his dad started putting down a patio the next morning, though this does not affect my foul mood. See, I’ve been out for nearly three decades-and nothing has changed. Well, it’s not all the same. For one thing, this new videotape contraption is a honey. I was able to catch the rest of the Rat Patrol episode I’d missed, ) and the whole idea of being able to watch something when you want or replay any scene over and over, is a genuine improvement over the drive-in. But then I caught this tape called Forever Young (1992, Warner, PG, $94.99), and it seems pretty square-even to me. Didn’t movies progress while I was gone? The film is about a guy who becomes a human popsicle and sleeps off 50 years; needless to say, I can relate. I have to admit moviemaking has improved technically in 25 years: Colors are more realistic, sound is richer, and camera work more casually nimble than in movies from 1967 (except for maybe those French films by Truffaut and Godard-anything ever become of those guys?). But in all other respects, this is the sort of numbingly pleasant, romantic-fantasy stuff that was old hat when I went down for the count. The hero is a 1939 aviator named Daniel, played by Mel Gibson, a hunky actor who seems a little like John Gavin with a funny accent. When his lady love (Isabel Glasser) gets hit by a truck and goes into a coma, he’s consumed with grief, so he offers himself up as a guinea pig for his best friend’s suspended-animation experiments. Isn’t that what you’d do? Of course it is. Come 1992, Daniel wakes up in an Army warehouse after a little kid (Elijah Wood) messes with the knobs on his freezer unit. Daniel’s scientist friend (George Wendt) is long gone, no one believes he is who he says he is, and so he’s stuck out of time, hanging around in suburbia with the kid and the kid’s divorced mom (Jamie Lee Curtis). There’s some tension derived from whether or not Mom and Daniel will get horizontal, but he’s still pining for Helen. Though since the filmmakers never gave her a character before she kissed the grill we’re not sure what he ever saw in her. So Forever Young ends up being about Mel Gibson furrowing his brow. I bet he would be a lot better in an action film; as for Wendt and Curtis, they might be more at home in comedy. The only performer who isn’t miscast is Wood, who’s delightful-he’s smart without being a smarty-pants. What makes this all so dispiriting is that before I got clocked, it seemed as if Hollywood was finally heading someplace different-movies were just starting to become less predictable. The gimmick of walking anachronisms was big in the ’40s-you had The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court-but by the ’60s, it had become the province of B pictures and neat little TV shows like The Outer Limits. More and more major movies- Hud, Dr. Strangelove, The Graduate-were starting to entertain in more mature and challenging ways. What happened? Sid tells me Forever Young was a hit in theaters last year, which means one of two things. Either folks will pay to see this Gibson guy in just about anything, or the real world has become so depressing that audiences are ready to fall for the most banal of fantasies. Either way, I’m headed back to the deep freeze. C-