“Forever Young” has the manner of something that was made in the kind of perfect vacuum that can be achieved only in a Hollywood bell jar. Here’s a romantic comedy in which Mel Gibson plays a pre-World War II test pilot who, accidently defrosted after spending more than half a century in a cryogenic capsule, learns about life and love in 1992.
When first seen in 1939, Daniel McCormick (Mr. Gibson) seems to have the world in the palm of his hand. He’s not only at the top of his class as a flier, but he’s also in love with and loved by an ideal woman, Helen (Isabel Glasser), a successful magazine photographer. Daniel has one small failing: marriage scares him, though for no reason more special than that the story requires it.
When Helen is suddenly run over in the street and declared brain dead, the distraught Daniel volunteers to be the first human guinea pig in a cryogenic experiment. After all, he’s not going anyplace, nor is Helen. He accepts his deep-freeze willingly. What with one thing and another, including World War II, he’s forgotten until two small boys of the 1990’s come upon his abandoned but still icy crypt in a warehouse. It’s at this point that “Forever Young,” which has been unraveling for some time, really starts.
Written by Jeffrey Abrams (“Regarding Henry”) and directed by Steve Miner, “Forever Young” has nothing much to do with anything except the movie conventions of an earlier time when near-fatal accidents, wild coincidences and miraculous resurrections were the way life was lived on the silver screen. Plausibility is not important in this sort of movie; everything depends on the charm, style and verve with which it’s played.
This is Mr. Gibson’s department. He passes through “Forever Young” with the self-assurance of a Hollywood star of the great studio era, someone who in good pictures and bad remains magically and consistently his own idealized self. Mr. Gibson is good enough to give the film substance, making “Forever Young” far easier to sit through than it has any right to be.
Jamie Lee Curtis also is attractive as Claire, the gutsy 1990’s woman who befriends Daniel and with whom he has a brief flirtation, almost forgetting his still strong commitment to the memory of the brain-dead Helen. I shouldn’t reveal more about the plot except to emphasize that, brain death aside, it is a romantic comedy.
This is not always apparent while one is watching the film. Though “Forever Young” initially would have you believe that Daniel and Helen share some kind of transforming passion, Helen is forgotten for much of the running time. The heart is earnestly warmed instead by Daniel’s friendship with Claire’s 11-year-old son, Nat (Elijah Wood), whom he teaches to fly. There are also some obligatory Rip Van Winkle gags about Daniel’s reaction to television, telephone answering machines and such.
“Forever Young” looks to be very much a star vehicle. Because of that, it may not be fair to blame either the writer or director for its lack of narrative focus. The star is the center of everything. The physical production is handsome and elaborate, but nothing deflects attention from Mr. Gibson for any length of time, not even Ms. Curtis. Ms. Glasser is not around long enough to establish her own screen presence. Even George Wendt, the formidably funny “Cheers” star, who plays the inventor of Daniel’s deep-freeze chamber, does not make much of an impression.
The only thing that gives Mr. Gibson competition is a great Billie Holiday recording of the Ray Noble standard “The Very Thought of You.” Daniel and Helen consider it their song. It later turns up as a favorite of Claire in 1992. Lady Day was not exactly a household name in 1939. That Daniel and Helen should have cherished her then lends them more class and character than anything else in the movie.
Forever Young (1992)
Directed by: Steve Miner
Starring: Mel Gibson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Elijah Wood, Isabel Glasser, George Wendt, Nicolas Surovy, David Marshall Grant, Veronica Lauren, Joe Morton, Millie Slavin
Screenplay by: J. J. Abrams
Production Design by: Gregg Fonseca
Cinematography by: Russell Boyd
Film Editing by: Jon Poll
Costume Design by: Aggie Guerard Rodgers
Set Decoration by: Jay Hart, Jan Pascale
Art Direction by: Bruce Alan Miller
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
MPAA Rating: PG for some language and domestic conflict.
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures
Release Date: December 11, 1992