GREEN SIDEKICK FITS MOVIE-STAR MOLD.
It co-stars with Robin Williams, it looks like snot, and it is featured prominently in a juvenile bowel-movement joke.
It can't miss.
Disney has dusted off the story behind its 1961 comedy ``The Absent Minded Professor'' and spiced it up with the finest in 1997 computer-generated special effects to make ``Flubber,'' which opened Wednesday, to the delight of school-age kids and their parents who fondly recall the Fred MacMurray version.
But this time the green goo, whose name is shorthand for flying rubber, has a personality all its own.
Even Williams, accustomed to being the scene stealer, steps aside from time to time to let the computer-animated green stuff hold the spotlight.
``I end up literally playing straight man to the goo,'' Williams says. ``I was the stimulus for the flubber. The flubber gets the laughs. It does all this stuff that normally I would be doing.''
Williams may be giving away too much of the credit. After all, the flubber wasn't even in the scenes yet when Williams filmed them, holding his empty hand out, making ``eye contact'' with a green glob to be added later, then ducking, jumping, bobbing and weaving as the unseen blob careens around the room like a Super Ball on speed. In that sense, it was Williams who set the tone and pace of the scene.
He plays Phillip Brainard, a chemistry professor at a small college who has a makeshift lab in his home basement. In his spare time, he tinkers with very volatile elements in his quest to develop a miraculous polymer that, when applied to inanimate objects, can make them fly through the air at great speed.
When he finally gets the formula just right, it's such a momentous accomplishment that Brainard forgets he should be marrying Medfield College president Sara Jean Reynolds (Marcia Gay Harden). While he is celebrating his discovery, she is waiting at the altar - for the third and what seems to be last time.
There's the boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-back love story, and bad guy elements in the form of an opportunistic fellow scientist (Christopher McDonald) who is not above stealing a colleague's work, or even his girl, and two thugs who figure in many of the sight gags.
But the focus is on the special effects - flubber that in one scene multiplies into several dollops to perform a mambo number that would do Busby Berkeley proud; a hovering, talking computer sidekick named Weebo; and a vintage Thunderbird that, when fueled by flubber, has great pickup and up and up and up.
There is plenty in ``Flubber'' to appeal to kids, including the memorable scene when McDonald's character, Wilson Croft, accidentally ingests the bouncing glob and then fires what Williams calls ``the true rectal rocket.''
But Williams points out that the movie does not talk down to its audience.
``Children today are so sophisticated, besides having access to the Web and logging on as 25-year-old bisexuals,'' he says. ``There is this kind of amazing intelligence that they have that you've got to try and put in. It's playful, but I'm also trying to put in a level of intelligence, I hope.''
Keeping it real
There were two technical consultants on the set, one of them a postdoctoral chemistry whiz who stressed the accuracy of scientific details such as the scripted terms and the convoluted connection of beakers, flasks and tubes from whence flubber sprang. The other was TV's Bill Nye the Science Guy, who helped Williams and director Les Mayfield remember how to make science fun.
Williams says back in his school days he was ``good in biology, mediocre in chemistry and physics,'' so he welcomed the technical coaching.
``It really helps give you a little bit of a base,'' he says. ``It's not just technobabble, not to try and go, `Look over here, boys, you're carbon-based,' but to really try and see if there's anything there when he gets fixated on an idea.''
Co-star Harden said when she began working with Williams, she learned that he lives up to his wild reputation.
``He's completely unpredictable and completely professional, so it's a dichotomy to say that in a way,'' Harden says. ``I also thought that when I first met Robin it would be wild, wild, wild all the time, and I'm really happy to report that there's plenty of room for him talking to people one on one and from the heart. So I didn't have to be the audience laughing hysterically unless I wanted to - which I did most of the time.''
Williams is good at keeping everyone else on the set in stitches, prompting a few retakes because of the crew's unstifled guffaws or chuckles. What makes him laugh?
Mayfield says it was a simple piece of business, a moment when the thug played by Ted Levine repeatedly spritzes Williams in the face with the professor's water pistol.
``It's the only time Robin would laugh,'' the director says. ``He doesn't laugh at anything, but if you watch it he barely keeps a straight face. For some reason, it just tickled him so much that we did countless takes.''
Photo: (1--Cover--Color) `FLUBBER' MAN
Robin Williams checks in as an absent-minded professor
(2) Professor Phillip Brainard (Robin Williams) plays the straight man to the hyper green goo he invents in ``Flubber.''
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|Title Annotation:||L.A. LIFE|
|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Nov 28, 1997|
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