The term "nuclear family" takes on new meaning in "Blast From the Past," a gently satirical and consistently funny new comedy from "WKRP in Cincinnati" creator Hugh Wilson.
"Blast" asks the question "How would a young man brought up in isolation in a locked bomb shelter with his parents since 1962, and who has the values of that era, survive if he were unleashed in modern Los Angeles?"
Extremely well, thank you. Better, at least, than the offspring of parents who, through over-tolerance and neglect, have let their kids raise themselves, and sent them messages like "Marriage bites." "Blast From the Past" posits that if the loss of morals and manners was the price of sophistication, then the price may have been too high.
Call this "Pleasantville" in reverse. But there is another way that "Blast" is the polar opposite of "Pleasantville" - this movie is as funny in its last reel as it is in the first, and it never degenerates into heavy-handed speechifying.
Brendan Fraser is completely charming as Adam, the son of Calvin and Helen Webber (Christopher Walken and Sissy Spacek), who trapped themselves in their time-locked backyard bomb shelter when, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, they mistook a plane crash in their yard as the dropping of The Big One. For 35 years, Calvin, an eccentric but brilliant inventor, educates young Adam, and Helen teaches him what a lady is looking for in a young gentleman.
But when Calvin emerges from his bomb shelter in his radiation suit into a drug den, and then engages a transvestite prostitute in conversation, he decides that the post-apocalypse, mutant-infested world is even worse than he expected! The shock puts him in a sick bed, and Adam is sent to gather provisions before the family locks themselves in for another decade. He's also told that if he can find "a healthy young woman" among the mutants, to "bring her on down."
Adam meets said woman almost immediately, when Eve (Alicia Silverstone) steps in to stop him from being cheated out of a box of immensely valuable baseball cards. She figures he is from "out of town," and, after some coaxing, agrees to help Adam with his shopping.
When he tells her he is also looking for a wife, she says, "Why? Marriage bites."
"Who told you that?" Adam inquires.
"My divorced brothers, my divorced friends, my divorced parents. ... Everybody is divorced," she answers.
"EVERYBODY?" Adam shouts, astounded at this confused new world.
Another great jab at the way someone from the 1950s world and the '90s one might miscomunicate happens when Adam meets Eve's roommate, Troy (Dave Foley of "Newsradio"). "He's gay," she explains.
"Well good for you!" Adam exclaims, pumping Troy's hand enthusiastically. Later, he says to Troy as he is leaving, "And thanks for being so happy!"
Though he has done the naif-in-the-modern-world thing twice before, in "George of the Jungle" and "Encino Man," Fraser is refreshing and energetic as Adam. The success of this movie rests on his charm, and he carries it easily.
Silverstone keeps it low-key as his romantic foil, and that's a wise choice. For once, she's just fine. Foley does a nice job, lending a certain neurotic quirkiness to a role that has become a cliche in other movies, where the lead actress's gay best friend is inevitably the picture's wisest soul.
Stealing their every scene, Walken and Spacek are a scream as the loving but also slightly wacky parents. These are roles that could have degenerated into complete parody, but these two fine veterans also capture the warmth of Adam's parents, not just their anachronistic mannerisms.
Wilson proves here that a high-concept comedy can also have depth if it is well thought out. "Blast From the Past" is one of the best movie surprises in a long time.