[Screen It]

"BUBBLE BOY"
(2001) (Jake Gyllenhaal, Swoosie Kurtz) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: After the girl of his dreams announces she's to be married in Niagara Falls, a young, immunodeficient man in a plastic bubble sets out on a cross-country trip to stop her, despite having lived his entire life in a protective envelope inside his bedroom.
PLOT:
Jimmy Livingston (JAKE GYLLENHAAL) is a young man who's lived his entire life in his bedroom in a protective, germ-free bubble due to having an immunity deficiency since birth. While his parents (SWOOSIE KURTZ and JOHN CARROLL LYNCH) have fulfilled most all of his needs, Mrs. Livingston's well-intentioned but misguided ways have left him with a warped sense of reality.

His best friend is Chloe (MARLEY SHELTON), the pretty girl next door, and while the two of them are very close, she decides to marry a local jerk, Mark (DAVE SHERIDAN), her boyfriend from the past several years. Realizing he must tell Chloe how he feels about her, Jimmy then builds a mobile bubble suit and proceeds on a cross-country trip to stop the wedding that's to take place in just three days in Niagara Falls.

Unfortunately, Jimmy has no way to get there, but then finds various people willing to help him out or at least take him part of the way. Among them is a busload of cult members from the Bright and Shiny sect who are off to see their leader, Gil (FABIO), as well as Slim (DANNY TREJO), a macho Hispanic biker. After various moments and adventures with them, he runs into Dr. Phreak (VERNE TROYER) and his traveling "freak" show, as well as Pushpak (BRIAN GEORGE) an Indian ice cream and curry truck driver and Pappy (PATRICK CRANSHAW), an old taxi driver.

As the hours count down to the wedding and Mrs. Livingston sets out to find and retrieve her son, Jimmy does what he can to make it to the nuptials and stop Chloe from marrying Mark, all while finally experiencing the real world outside his normal, sheltered life.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
When it comes to writing a movie script, one can only hope that it's not a common case and that there are all sorts of inspired reasons behind the genesis of screenplays, but it often seems that they're written by formula where a given scribe chooses a certain genre template and then fills in the various blanks need to complete the script.

While one may never know the hows and whys behind screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio's decision to pen and/or otherwise work on "Bubble Boy," one can question certain particulars about their choices for this story. For instance, did the duo start with the titular character and then build a tale around him, or did they choose the road trip template and then simply pick such a character for that particular fill in the blank variable?

If it was the latter, was it the fish out of water potential of such a character on such a journey, the metaphor of everyone being trapped inside their own particular bubble, or simply the visual gag of seeing a teen walking, bouncing and otherwise being knocked around in his unique attire?

Whatever the case and whatever the intention, the scribes' work has drawn the ire of parents and others associated with those suffering from immune deficiencies in that they see the film using such people as the butt of a big, cinematic joke. While no one has lived their entire life in a bubble since David Vetter - whose story inspired the TV movie "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble" with John Travolta - a certain stigma has remained attached to the condition, leading to the now famous/infamous "Bubble Boy" episode of TV's "Seinfeld."

Thus, I can understand their concern about this film, but while a boy in that condition is the focus of the picture, the film sports a take no prisoners approach where all sorts of people are subject to attack. Accordingly, it's almost certain to offend most everyone, least of which are those who favor well-made films as this one's a poorly made piece of trash.

Yes, this picture that seems relatively family friendly - at least to some degree - from its advertising, is in reality a dark and often mean spirited little comedy where "bubble boys" are not even the main target. Instead, overly religious homemakers, the physically deformed, Hindus, Hispanics and Asians are all in this picture's sights, and it certainly lets many of them have it.

In the old days, various subjects were taboo, especially when portrayed in a comedic fashion, but it seems that pretty much anything goes today. I supposed that's all right as long as both the material is smart, funny or clever and those who are being ridiculed would find it that way. Unfortunately, as far as this film and its material are concerned, neither is the case.

Of course, if you enjoy the sight of a dead cow being run over by a truck and its blood and guts splattering onto a stereotypical caricature of a Hindu, then you may find the film to your liking. It does show its cinematic chutzpah for not holding back on anyone or anything, but while a few such moments are momentarily amusing, the majority of the film simply doesn't work.

Beyond the misfired attempts at comedy, the filmmakers responsible for this effort -- director Blair Hayes and screenwriters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (all of whom are making their feature film debuts) - have fashioned a poorly made picture that doesn't work on even its most basic level. Even accepting the general premise of an isolated and naive teen trying to make his way across the country in a mobile bubble to stop a wedding, the film misses a goldmine of potential while focusing on firing its many mean spirited volleys on various subjects.

While both "fish out of water" and "road trip" stories have become somewhat tiresome through repetition and lack of enough original material to sustain them, this film doesn't take full advantage of either. A similarly themed but far superior picture in regards to the former was found in "Blast From the Past," where a young, sheltered man finally made it out into the real world where his parents' protective education of him obviously clashed with reality.

Although there's a smattering of that here, the filmmakers were obviously more content with their scathing and zany comedy than in doing some smart, observational humor. It doesn't help that the young protagonist is mostly reactive rather than proactive in his goal (letting happenstance guide his way rather than his active decisions and actions) or that his wide-eyed portrayal by Jake Gyllenhaal ("October Sky," "Josh and S.A.M.") doesn't really work in engaging or eliciting much sympathy from the viewer. It's the sort of role that probably would have gone to Brendan Fraser had he not already done "Blast From the Past" and one in which a younger Johnny Depp could have done wonders with (after remembering him doing something somewhat similar in "Edward Scissorhands").

Swoosie Kurtz ("Get Over It," "Citizen Ruth") appears as the highly opinionated religious zealot mother figure, and her performance is likely to split viewers into those who think she's gone too far over the top and others who might find her portrayal amusingly dead on.

The same pretty much holds true for the characters and performances by Brian George ("Keeping the Faith," "Inspector Gadget"), Verne Troyer ("How the Grinch Stole Christmas," "Austin Powers 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me") and Danny Trejo ("Spy Kids," "From Dusk 'Til Dawn") in their respective roles, although their characters are too much of simple, stereotypical caricatures to have the same effect. Marley Shelton ("Sugar & Spice," "Valentine"), however, can't do a great deal with her girl next door/object of the protagonist's attention character.

Sloppily assembled in a very haphazard and episodic fashion where many soundtrack songs are present to create, elicit or drive home certain story points that the filmmakers can't manage to do in a more traditional sense, the film simply doesn't work that well from a comedic or basic storytelling standpoint.

While some potential - however questionable - existed in the basic premise and certain story and character details, most every aspect of the entire execution is bungled, resulting in a mean spirited film that's not funny, clever or imaginative enough to make the barbs and jabs easier or at least more entertaining to swallow. Deserving to be popped or at least deflated, "Bubble Boy" rates as just a 2 out of 10.




Reviewed August 20, 2001 / Posted August 24, 2001


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