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The Majestic

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The notion that everything good and right about America survives best in idyllic small towns filled with uncomplicated, good-hearted folk gets a repeated airing in The Majestic, another inspirational tract in movie form from Frank Darabont (The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption). Following the Robin Williams career path of alternating comedies with opportunities to stare mournfully, Jim Carrey stars as a wide-eyed budding screenwriter who, in 1951, suddenly finds himself a victim of the day's anti-Communist witch hunts. Not that Carrey's past includes anything so questionable as socialist leanings; he simply made the mistake of trying to impress a girl in college by attending, once, a meeting of the Bread Instead Of Bullets Club. His contract terminated, along with his romance with a pretty actress, Carrey drunke.nly hits the road, muttering complaints to a stuffed-monkey companion. The next day, he wakes up alone on a beach, the victim both of a car accident and amnesia. Taken in by the small town of Lawson, he's soon mistaken for a local hero named Luke, who shipped off for WWII nine and a half years ago and never returned. Soon, Carrey is working with Luke's father (Martin Landau) to reopen The Majestic, a palatial movie theater which—symbolism alert!—closed when the war took 60 of Lawson's best and brightest. (From the look of it, it apparently went out with a closing-night riot, in which patrons ripped out rows of chairs, tore up the screen, and introduced a small army of cobweb-producing spiders.) Even though, based on their saint-like recollections of Luke, the townsfolk (including Luke's sweetheart, Laurie Holden) should be able to recognize Carrey as a doppelganger due to his inability to heal the lame and the blind, they nevertheless allow him to warm their hearts and restore their spirits. But will Lawson continue to support Carrey when his memory and the anti-Communist forces catch up with him? In interviews, Darabont has acknowledged his professional debt to Frank Capra, but the comparison tends to overlook the fact that his Capraisms (and here, those of screenwriter Michael Sloane) usually hit the screen half-formed. Sure, Capra wasn't afraid to bring out The Big Speech to move a story along or tie it up, but he knew how to earn it. He also knew how to keep a story moving, and how to spice it with humor. Here, in a film as dull and dour as The Green Mile, though mercifully a little shorter, Darabont seems to remember only the big speeches and the virtuous small towns. Maybe he simply thought that Carrey would fill in the blanks. But while Carrey has shown signs of developing into a good dramatic actor elsewhere, his work here is as uncompelling as the material. He wears his sincerity like a mask he itches to remove, and his expressions of wonder and confusion look every bit as posed as his exaggerated comic mugging in other films. It's only too appropriate that he can't summon up a genuine moment for a film that has precisely the same problem.