In The Majestic, Jim Carrey plays Peter Appleton, a screenwriter in 1951 Hollywood who’s used to having his scripts dumbed down by philistine producers. But Appleton is so undone by a House Un-American Activities Committee charge that he was a member of a Communist organization in college—the (false) accusation alone costs him his job and the affection of his girlfriend—that he gets drunk, crashes his car, and passes out. And when he comes to, with no memory of who he is, he’s in Lawson, Calif., a little town that time forgot, not far, as nostalgia flies, from Frank Capra’s Bedford Falls.
The townspeople remember him, though: They think his name is Luke Trimble, that he’s the war-hero son of old Harry Trimble (Martin Landau) gone missing for over nine years, and that he’s in love with Adele Stanton (Laurie Holden), daughter of the local doc (David Ogden Stiers). And maybe he is. Maybe this well-loved Luke is who his neighbors want him to be, a good fellow who, with his father, reopens the old movie house in town—the Majestic—thus allowing his neighbors to dream in the dark again.
There are so many achingly earnest themes in this strange and long movie from length-be-damned director Frank Darabont (The Green Mile), so many cadged elements from other, greater, earlier films (including all of Capra’s and some of Preston Sturges’) in the unashamedly rhetorical script by Darabont crony Michael Sloane, that it’s easy to recoil from the film’s blatant recycling and stubborn squareness. Yet it’s exactly The Majestic‘s naked fetishization—of twisted history, of imitative moviemaking, of Carrey’s conflicted desires as a performer to simultaneously conceal and reveal himself—that makes this so fascinating a failed project. Is being a good, productive liar (in service to the public’s hunger) sometimes as ethical as speaking the truth to ears that don’t want to hear? Jack Benny—and Jim Carrey—might answer, ”I’m thinking….” C+