Three decades in the life of a mental midget (I.Q., 75) who leaves giant footprints on his twisting path, in rather sharp contradiction of the feather-on-the-wind visual motif at movie's beginning and end. The traversal of so much history permits the filmmaker, Robert Zemeckis, to resume his wrong-end-of-the-telescope examination of past absurdities and archaisms, in the vein of his Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, I Wanna Hold Your Hand. But his is essentially a flippant, a cold-blooded sensibility, and his efforts here to deepen it and warm it ought by rights to arouse less in the way of support than in the way of suspicion. His sentimentality over the holy-fool type (same family tree as in Rain Man, Regarding Henry, Awakenings), his "concern" about the cycle of abused-child-battered-woman (Robin Wright, not so much a character as a makeup-and-hairstyles model), his "awareness" of the great events of recent times -- all these give off a scented air of insincerity. What's more (what's worse), the changes in tone begin to approximate the personality profile of the certified psychopath. A firefight in Vietnam will be as harrowing as anything in Platoon, but this will follow directly on a stretch of service comedy in the mode of, albeit better written and acted than, Gomer Pyle. The tearjerking bits are mere technical exercises -- strenuous, but more productive of sweat than of tears. And the centerpiece performance of Tom Hanks (with a Southern drawl compounded by Jerry Lewis glissandi) and the sporadic special effects (the Birth of a Nation pastiche to illustrate the Ku Klux Klan activities of the hero's forebear and namesake, the computer-doctored newsreel footage that puts the present-day actor in the company of JFK, LBJ, Nixon), no matter how diverting on their own, occupy a separate plane from the unspooling storyline. Hanks in particular, although able to fatten up his thespian portfolio, always seems more an actor than a character; and the events of the narrative take a very long time to catch up to his evident age. By then, the movie has grown disfiguringly overlong and overlarge. With Gary Sinese, Sally Field. (1994) — Duncan Shepherd
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