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DON'T JUDGE `BOGUS' BY ITS TITLE.

Byline: David Hunter Hollywood Reporter

Given its humdrum concept of a parentless boy sent to live with a crabby godmother, ``Bogus'' defies expectations and reveals itself as a charmer - a sentimental sleight of hand that's magical and manipulative but altogether inoffensive. Well-executed family fare, director Norman Jewison's best film since ``Moonstruck'' has modest box-office potential if it can avoid getting crunched in the postsummer pileup.

A boy of 7 with the perfect mom, Albert (Haley Joel Osment) is enthusiastic about school and magic. Single Lorraine (Nancy Travis) works as a Vegas showgirl and has a special bond with Albert. They are best friends, but she's out of time as the story kills her off early in a car wreck.

Brave little rascal Albert pleads with Lorraine's magician boss (Denis Mercier) to stay in Vegas as a pint-size illusionist, but the deceased's will requests he be raised by one Harriet Franklin (Whoopi Goldberg). On the way to Newark, N.J., and a very different life with Lorraine's childhood soulmate Harriet, Albert creates an imaginary friend and begins to have conversations and adventures with the big, lovable pal only he can see.

Strangers, schoolmates and Harriet are mystified by Albert, who comes to rely a great deal on gentle, wise Bogus (Gerard Depardieu), a towering Frenchman with a never-ending stream of advice. Wonderfully underplayed by Depardieu, the idea that Bogus is a facet of Albert's psyche may confuse some young viewers. But many will respond to self-critical Albert's belief in honesty as he tries to control his emotions and go on living.

At the center of all the best scenes, the talented Osment (``Forrest Gump,'' ``The Jeff Foxworthy Show'') plays lonely, precocious Albert as an unwilling victim who wins the heart of unmotherly Harriet and every adult who crosses his path. Heartrending scenes of his alienation at school and further rejection by Mercier's character near the conclusion are nicely contrasted with his bold spirit and feisty relationship with Harriet.

Goldberg is solid as an honorable screw-up who has a short fuse but a good heart. An orphan herself, which is how she became best friends with Lorraine, Harriet is kindly but self-absorbed, cranky but fair-minded. When the story calls for her to get inside the head of Albert and try to deal with Bogus - by whom she is unthreatened but wants to replace - Harriet sheds some of her modern cynicism. Thankfully, there's no epiphanous moment or childlike devolution to endure.

The screenplay by two-time Academy Award winner Alvin Sargent (``Julia,'' ``Ordinary People''), based on a story by co-producer Jeff Rothberg and Francis X. McCarthy, is superior work. The combination of comic interludes with serious emotional battles is free of the usual genre distractions such as a villain or a time constraint linked to a climactic event.

``Bogus'' presents a believable escalation of Albert's pain of loss that does become mighty fanciful. Jewison's direction rivals the artistic sensitivity of 1950s technicolor entertainments by the likes of Vincente Minnelli and Alfred Hitchcock. Even drab East Coast streets and tenements sparkle with life, while the handling of Depardieu's character and the early scenes in Vegas are spectacularly successful.

Cinematographer David Watkin (``Out of Africa,'' ``This Boy's Life'') hasn't worked with Jewison since ``Moonstruck.'' Along with the excellent work of production designer Ken Adam (``The Madness of King George'') and costumer Ruth Myers (``How to Make an American Quilt''), ``Bogus'' is classy-looking and memorable. With composer Marc Shaiman (``The American President'') carefully enhancing its many moods, the film is a rare one that lives up to its promise.

THE FACTS

The film: ``Bogus''(PG; mature themes).

The stars: Whoopi Goldberg, Gerard Depardieu, Haley Joel Osment, Denis Mercier, Nancy Travis.

Behind the scenes: Directed Norman Jewison. Written by Alvin Sargent. Released by Warner Bros.

Running time: One hour, 40 minutes.

Playing: Citywide.

Our rating: Three Stars.

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Photo

Photo: In ``Bogus,'' Gerard Depardieu plays the imaginary f riend of a boy (Haley Joel Osment) trying to cope with the loss of his mother.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

 
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Movie Review
Date:Sep 6, 1996
Words:667
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