leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh
A heartwarming melodrama pickled in calculated old-fashionedness. Hollywood, 1951: Screenwriter Peter Appleton (Jim Carrey) is on a roll. His "Sand Pirates of the Sahara" just opened at the bottom of a double bill with THE AFRICAN QUEEN and his next project, a hard-hitting drama about striking coal miners, is in pre-production. He has a starlet girlfriend, a snazzy car and a contract with HHS Studios. Then it all comes tumbling down: The blithely apolitical writer is accused of communist sympathies and warned that HUAC is about to subpoena him. The coal miners' picture is cancelled, his contract is cancelled and his girl dumps him like a red-hot potato. Inebriated and miserable, he goes for a spin up the Pacific Coast Highway and drunkenly drives his car off a bridge, smacking his head on a pylon: Cue the fade to black. When Appleton awakes, he's on a beach not far from the small coastal town of Lawson, without the faintest idea who he is or how he got there. But the people of Lawson, who lost 62 young men in the war, think Appleton resembles local hero Luke Trimble, missing and presumed dead after the Normandy invasion. Luke's grieving father, Harry (Martin Landau), embraces Appleton as his long-lost son, and others follow his lead including Luke's smart, beautiful girlfriend, Adele (Laurie Holden, who bears a striking resemblance to noir siren Lizabeth Scott). Why wouldn't they want to believe in a miracle that's brought one lost Lawson son home? The rejuvenated Harry even makes the symbolically freighted decision to reopen the town's lavish, but sadly deteriorated, Majestic movie theater. Meanwhile, the FBI is hot on Appleton's trail: His sudden disappearance has convinced them he's the biggest commie in Tinseltown. What will shatter Appleton's idyll first the arrival of the FBI or the return of his memory? And how will Lawson weather one more cruel loss? Screenwriter Michael Sloane and director Frank Darabont seem to have conceived this nostalgic tear-jerker in the tradition of HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO, without noticing that Preston Sturges's response to small-town patriotism was an astringent shot of satire, not Capra-esque comfort food (and contrary to what many contemporary filmmakers seem to think, Capra was not a naive sap). That Carrey, who's a bit old for the part, always seems one facial muscle away from a smirk doesn't help matters; Bruce Campbell projects more convincing guileless charm in his cameo as the star of "Sand Pirates of the Sahara."