Saturday, September 6, 2014

Fun, But By No Means Good: Flubber Fizzles!

The Good: Moments of performance and direction
The Bad: Utterly predictable, Simplistic character arcs, Erratic execution of special effects
The Basics: Flubber is a flop of a family film, despite having an impressive cast.

As the world copes with the suicide of Robin Williams, many of us are finding solace in watching his works. For me, that means rewatching films of his that impressed me, like The Fisher King (reviewed here!); for my wife, it means revisiting the films that delighted her in her childhood. It was she who wanted to watch Flubber, which I had never seen. While I was suitably pleased with the quality of the cast, Flubber is a ridiculous movie that sacrifices most of its moments of merit in order to be family-friendly. The humor is slapstick, the plot and character arcs are thoroughly predictable and the direction is so sloppy in relation to the special effects that only a child will not notice.

Flubber is a Disney live-action film that trades on simplicity and a sense of movement that is more significant than anything in the movie is substantive. As a result, the film features a villain who is adversarial for the sake of being antagonistic, an utterly unrealistic savior (in the form of big business!), and human relationships that are so poorly-conceived as to border on the ridiculous. Despite its many faults, Flubber is fun and easy-to-watch, is more than can be said for some of Robin Williams’s other films geared toward children.

Professor Philip Brainard is such an absentminded professor that he has missed his wedding to Dr. Sara Jean Reynolds two times before. While he promises not to miss it a third time (this time planned to be a big event purposely so he might remember it), Brainard’s floating robot, Weebo (who does all of his scheduling) fails to remind him of it the night before. As a result, the next day Brainard’s experiments in trying to create a sustainable power supply explode and distract him long enough to miss his own wedding. In the process, Brainard inadvertently creates a semi-conscious goo that is exceptionally elastic and has the potential to be used for an unlimited power supply.

But Brainard’s discovery does not solve all of his problems. Instead, Dr. Reynolds is wooed by Brainard’s competitor at the college, Wilson Croft, and the college is due to be shut down due to the machinations of Chester Hoenicker. To try to thwart both, Brainard uses the flubber to help the basketball team thwart their rivals – which costs Hoenicker quite a bit of money and helps Reynolds win a bet against Croft. While Hoenicker sends goons to steal the flubber, Brainard illustrates its uses to Reynolds and together the two work to save the university.

The flubber is a bright green goo that moves on its own and causes anything to which it is attached to bounce in violation of all of the traditional laws of physics. The creation serves as an excuse to have characters like the basketball players bounce across the court in a single leap or bounce back when they fall on their butts. Brainard uses the flubber to make his car fly and that becomes the method by which he and Dr. Reynolds figure out a way to earn enough money to save the college.

The character arcs in Flubber are painfully predictable. Brainard is set up as such an unfocused genius at the outset that any sort of wholesale change to the character in the course of the film would be unrealistic. As a result, much of the character development in Flubber is focused on how the other characters interact with him. Croft is a generic adversary for Brainard in both the personal and professional arena. Croft somehow has survived at the college long enough to live in Brainard’s shadow and steal some of his prior discoveries . . . without ever being reprimanded for it. Similarly, Croft only seems to have any potential for a relationship with Reynolds by the fact that he shows up. Reynolds seems not at all interested in him, but his advances are met with something other than indifference once Brainard misses their third wedding attempt.

While I am always thrilled to see Wil Wheaton in any of his post-Star Trek: The Next Generation roles, his part as Bennett Hoenicker is a distracting enemy that is essentially a third goon from his father. Wheaton’s role is entirely unnecessary and it interfaces poorly with Brainard’s storyline. At least Clancy Brown and Ted Levine might be relegated to the roles of Hoenicker’s goons, but at least they are supposed to be somewhat generic thugs: the addition of a son for Chester adds nothing to the story. Robin Williams and Marcia Gay Harden have fine on-screen chemistry, even if they are not a great cinematic couple.

Flubber makes decent use of Robin Williams’s manic physical acting style, but director Les Mayfield is sloppy with the special effects. The flubber moves at an incredible speed and Mayfield does not make sure to line up the eyelines of Williams or most of the other characters. As a result, most of the characters are not looking anywhere near the flubber or flubber-affected characters when they are bouncing around.

The result is that Flubber is a disappointing film that is utterly forgettable even though it is not unenjoyable while it is on.

For other Disney live-action works, please check out my reviews of:
Saving Mr. Banks
The Lone Ranger
Oz The Great And Powerful
The Odd Life Of Timothy Green
John Carter
Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
Tron: Legacy
Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time
Alice In Wonderland
Old Dogs
Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End
Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe
Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl
The Princess Diaries 2: A Royal Engagement
The Princess Diaries


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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