We gave it a C-
Many adults will find Powder difficult to watch, because it taps into adolescence with such fervent conviction that its emotions seem terribly overwrought and exaggerated. Powder is a teenage boy played by Sean Patrick Flanery (on TV, he was the title star of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles). Born an albino, the character has been kept in a basement room since birth. But in addition to being unsocialized, Powder possesses an extraordinary intellect, as well as superpowers that have something to do with electricity he picks up through his…well, writer-director Victor Salva would have you believe it’s all due to Powder’s cosmic oneness with the universe.
With his pale skin, social awkwardness, and ability to do things like magnetize any piece of metal he encounters, Powder is the one thing anyone of teen age doesn’t want to be: different. Salva asks his audience to identify with Powder’s intense self-consciousness and alienation, and then to idealize himas a genius-saint. The movie sucks up to teenagers by saying to them that just like Powder, you feel awkward because you’re different, but you’re also deeply wonderful.
Set in a small town apparently cut off from all major media (why else wouldn’t CNN and Hard Copy be all over Powder pronto?), Powder is populated by Jeff Goldblum and Mary Steenburgen as educators perpetually wide-eyed at Powder’s abilities, as well as by Lance Henriksen as a kindly sheriff. There are a lot of mean teenage boys who pick on Powder, and even in the midst of their cruelty, they always seem to be stripping off their shirts as Salva moves his camera in for a pan along their rippling musculature. You don’t have to be aware that Salva was convicted of molesting a boy in 1988 to sense the film’s barely latent homoeroticism. In any case, it’s an artistic mistake, since Salva’s own script calls for Powder to fall head over heels in love with a girl (played by Missy Crider). Flanery gives a nicely morose, droopy-limbed performance, but he’s not enough to save the director from melodramatic pretensions and well-post-adolescent angst. C-