The Majestic (2001)


(director: Frank Darabont; screenwriter: Michael Sloane; cinematographer: David Tattersall; editor: Jim Page; music: Mark Isham; cast: Jim Carrey (Pete/Luke), Martin Landau (Harry Trimble), Laurie Holden (Adele Stanton), David Ogden Stiers (Doc Stanton), James Whitmore (Stan), Jeffrey DeMunn (Mayor Cole), Ron Rifkin (Kevin Bannerman), Hal Holbrook (Congressman Doyle), Bob Balaban (Elvin Clyde), Amanda Detmer (Sandra Sinclair), Gerry Black (Emmett Smith), Catherine Dent (Mabel), Karl Bury (Bob), Allen Garfield (Leo), Bruce Campbell (Roland/Brett Armstrong), Susan Willis (Irene); Runtime: 143; Warner Brothers; 2001)
“This self-promoting Hollywood film wants everyone to feel good about Hollywood.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Frank Darabont (The Green Mile/The Shawshank Redemption) makes overlong films that are very corny and contrived. They are ‘feel good’ films that are steeped in nostalgia and made unbearable because of their falseness. The Majestic, named after an old movie theater, is anything but a palatial film; it’s a load of mush that runs for an annoying 143 minutes. The only challenge this predictable formulaic melodrama presents, is if you can sit through it without snoozing or gagging. There’s little chance at laughing, as all the comedy was sanitized and removed. The comic star, Jim Carrey, has been stripped of his comic moves and has little to do dramatically but look surprised and smile at appropriate times and be likable. This humorless Frank Capra type of social conscious flick takes itself very seriously and shamelessly hammers away at patriotism and the theme of the little man fighting the Goliath for the sake of democracy. The only problem, is that there’s nothing to get excited about. The hero is a shallow guy who is nice but untalented, the bad guys are so obviously bad that they are plainly the evildoers. The good guys in the unreal town where the hero lands are so saintly that they are hardly credible. It made for a self-righteous film exploiting the subject matter of Hollywood’s blacklist — a black mark in American history. The filmmaker twists the facts to make it seem that the Hollywood of the Golden Age acted courageous when that was not the case.

The film is set in 1951 and Peter Appleton (Carrey) is earning a good living in Hollywood as a hack script writer. In the film’s best scene, Peter is attending a movie production meeting with the unseen studio honchos voicing their opinions about what kind of story would make good box-office and with him obnoxiously agreeing with their nonsensical storylines. I have the feeling that’s how it was when putting this bowl of slop together.

Peter soon learns from his studio head Kevin (Rifkin) and their lawyer Leo (Garfield), that he’s been blacklisted and will be subpoenaed tomorrow to appear before the House of Un-American Activities Committee. He’s called because someone dropped his name as a red for attending a communist party meeting, which he attended only because he wanted to meet a girl he was stuck on. He did so after going to college under the G. I. Bill. During WW 11, he did routine home-front army service.

Upset that his career might be over he gets drunk and goes for a ride into Northern California, where he tries to avert a rat on a bridge (speaking about heavy-handed metaphors) and slides off the bridge. He washes ashore on a beach in Lawson, California, and becomes an amnesiac. A friendly resident, Stan (Whitmore), takes him to the town doctor, Doc Stanton (Stiers), whereby the owner of the abandoned Majestic Theater, Harry Trimble (Landau), mistakenly says he must be his army hero son Luke who never came back from WW 11. He has stubbornly refused to believe that his son is dead, and clings to the belief that this is his son because of the resemblance. He therefore moves him into his apartment above the broken-down theater, and has a shit-eating grin of contentment because his son is back where he belongs.

Peter becomes Luke because the sleepy small-town needs to have a live hero returned, as they lost many of their sons to the war. The rewards come fast and heavy for him. Luke’s fiancée is Doc’s girl, the dreamy blonde sweetheart who became a lawyer after watching the film Zola, Adele Stanton (Laurie Holden). The romance between those two blossoms even though she’s not quite sure he’s Luke. A great deal of screen time is wasted on Peter buying into being Luke even though he knows he’s not, and of him finding his new mission in life is to get the town to help rebuild the theater and bring the magic back to this mourning community. This heavy-handed metaphor goes on for an excruciatingly long period, as the theater is restored elegantly with a fancy marquee and reopens with owner Harry being the projectionist and the two old-time employees, the decent black man who sleeps in the basement, Emmett (Black), and the loyal candy seller, Irene (Willis), there to run the theater.

No one should question the film’s praise of the soldiers who gave their life for the WW 11 cause, or its call to respect the Bill of Rights and obey the Constitution, or its attack on the politicians responsible for the blacklist and the right for citizens to defend their rights. But the story itself is pure bull and deserves to be ridiculed for its heavy-handed style, its manipulative nature, its insincerity, and its failure to say anything meaningful that wasn’t obvious. It was not an entertaining or artistic film, but one that can bore you to death or get under your skin for the contempt it had for its audience’ intelligence. It put on such a hokey show that was filled with fake sentimentality and covered its tracks by its false ring of patriotism, that I found this film to be not only bad filmmaking but a false look at America (Lawson was a saintly town only Hollywood could invent). This self-promoting Hollywood film wants everyone to feel good about Hollywood and the products they put out and it ties that in with hero worship for the Greatest Generation. I found that too much, and the ultimate feel good ending — where Carrey offers heroic resistance to the Hollywood blacklist — becomes for me the last straw. The film is merely a self-serving vehicle for Hollywood and Jim Carrey.