FILMS

A nanny, a ninny and a kidnapper

In three movies, disaffected men resort to desperate measures

Brian D. Johnson November 29 1993
FILMS

A nanny, a ninny and a kidnapper

In three movies, disaffected men resort to desperate measures

Brian D. Johnson November 29 1993

A nanny, a ninny and a kidnapper

FILMS

In three movies, disaffected men resort to desperate measures

MRS. DOUBTFIRE Directed by Chris Columbus

One role never seems big enough to contain Robin Williams. In Mrs. Doubtfire, however, the hardest-working multiple personality in show business has room to stretch. As Daniel, an actor who records voice-overs for cartoons, the comic genius behind Aladdin’s genie is in his element. But that is just the warm-up act. Daniel’s wife,

Miranda (Sally Field), divorces him and wins custody of their three children.

To gain access to them, he disguises himself as an elderly Scottish nanny named Mrs. Doubtfire— and goes to work for his ex-wife incognito.

The movie is highly reminiscent of Tootsie (1982), in which Dustin Hoffman’s character masquerades as a woman to get a part in a TV soap opera. In both fdms, the impostor turns into a kindly mother figure for an unsuspecting woman, setting the stage for a climactic revelation. Tootsie is a better movie, with a more sophisticated, adult wit. But Mrs. Doubtfire works as formula farce, an antic comedy

for adults and children that finds the daffiest common denominator. It is hilarious. And Williams turns in a Tootsie role that outstrips Tootsie. Unlike Hoffman’s character, who merely had to pass for a woman, Daniel has to convince his wife and kids—a wild premise that Williams makes amazingly credible. As his career-woman wife, meanwhile, Sally Field is a serviceable foil, even if half her lines get lost in the laughter generated by her co-star. The humor is buffered by liberal homilies about non-nuclear families clearly designed to soothe children of divorced parents. But under the efficient direction of Chris Columbus (Home Alone), broad comedy prevails. Mrs. Doubtfire looks like a surefire hit.

A PERFECT WORLD Directed by Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood has chased a lot of bad guys in his time, either as a cowboy or a cop. But

during the past two years, as a creaky gunslinger in Unforgiven and a Secret Service agent wheezing his way through In the Line of Fire, Eastwood has deconstructed his macho persona with a vengeance. With A Perfect World, the 17th feature that he has directed, he plays yet another lawman engaged in a manhunt—but the tables are turned. While Eastwood casts himself in an extended cameo, the starring role belongs

to Kevin Costner, as a bad guy who is not really so bad. “I ain’t a good man,” he says. “I ain’t the worst either—just a breed apart.” Costner’s performance, the most intriguing of his career, adds some welcome tarnish to the opaque virtue that has become his trademark. And the film, a slowfused tragedy of lost innocence, has a haunting intensity.

A road movie that sprawls across rural Texas, A Perfect World is set in 1963, just weeks before President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Costner plays Butch, an escaped convict who kidnaps a young boy named Phillip (J. T. Lowther) and heads for the back roads in stolen cars with the Texas Rangers on his tail. Phillip, the fatherless son of a strict mother, turns into a willing hostage. And Butch serves as a surrogate dad, offering to fill the gaps in the boy’s education: Halloween costumes, cotton candy and roller coasters.

The chase just moseys along. Butch

seems in no hurry to get away. Red (Eastwood), the cop who pursues him in an Airstream trailer (with an antsy criminologist played by Laura Dern), seems in no hurry to catch him. At times the drama is stilted: when Butch terrorizes a black family, his cruelty comes out of nowhere. But although A Perfect World may be an imperfect movie, its off-kilter vision of America—as a father-son race through Paradise Lost—is darkly compelling.

THE LOTUS EATERS Directed by Paul Shapiro

It is 1964. The Beatles are invading North America. And the times are a-changin’, even on a sleepy island off the coast of British Columbia. That is the setting for The Lotus Eaters, a disjointed piece of comic whimsy that is nominated for 11 Canadian Genie awards. R. H. Thomson stars as Hal, a stuffy school principal marking time in a dull marriage. He and his long-suffering wife, Diana (Sheila McCarthy), have two daughters: Cleo (Tara Frederick), a bored teen who is dying

to see the Beatles, and Zoë (Aloka McLean), a mischievous 10-year-old who dabbles in witchcraft. Hal is poised for a mid-life crisis. The catalyst is a sexy new teacher from Quebec named Anne-Marie (Michèle-Barbara Pelletier), a walking ’60s cliché who wears a miniskirt, drives a VW van and plays her guitar in class. As Hal tumbles into bed with her, his leap from Puritan to profligate makes little sense, even within the heightened reality of a fable that has magic spells whipping up the winds.

Lovingly shot by director Paul Shapiro, the movie has its charms. But the story runs aground, salvaging a bittersweet victory for family values and making a pariah out of the Other Woman. With its canned magic realism and candy-colored nostalgia, The Ix>tus Eaters is big on presentation and slim on substance.

BRIAN D. JOHNSON