The Majestic Review

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His life in ruins, blacklisted screenwriter Peter Appleton flees 1950s Los Angeles. Suffering amnesia when he arrives in the tiny town of Lawson, he is recognised and embraced as the local hero who never returned from the War by the man's father, fiancée.


n theory, this Capra-esque comedy-drama of a lost man rediscovering his identity, purpose and moral values in smalltown America couldn't miss. The film and its star were considered Oscar contenders even before the cameras rolled. And then, uh, people saw the movie.

The Majestic isn't bad, but so earnestly does the film wear its heart on its sleeve, and so tireless is its referencing of greater films, that many will find it syrupy and vexing. Its treatment of McCarthyism is crudely satirical and simplistic, too. But disappointed expectations always incite more sarcasm than pictures we always knew were going to be head-on crap.

This is a sweet, patriotic, romantic fable in which good, traditional Americana - neighbourliness, decency, the defence of freedoms - is upheld, along with nostalgia for the diner, dances under the stars, strolls down leafy streets, and picture palaces where hopes, dreams and everything important in life were affirmed by the movies showing.

This mood starts when ambitious screenwriter Peter Appleton - studio contract, flash convertible and blonde arm-candy all in place - scores a hit with pastiche B-adventure Sand Pirates Of The Sahara, and begins pitching his important opus, Ashes To Ashes, which he envisions as a work of "pain, nobility, the human condition, truth - my Grapes Of Wrath!" just like the hero of Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels. A scene in which the shallow, acquiescent Peter witnesses his script being absurdly punched up by unseen execs (voiced by Matt Damon, Sydney Pollock, Carl and Rob Reiner) recalls The Player. But then Peter is investigated by the House Committee On Un-American Activities for flirting with Communists at college. Production of his film is suspended, and nobody wants to know him.

When traumatised Peter lands in the perfect mythic American town of Lawson, the redemption plot is assembled from Hail The Conquering Hero, The Best Years Of Our Lives, The Return Of Martin Guerre, Random Harvest, Cinema Paradiso and Frank Capra's greatest hits.

The depressed community, numbed by its heavy losses in World War II, wills itself to believe Peter is Luke Trimble, miraculously returned and pitching into the restoration of old man Trimble's derelict cinema as a communal act of faith and rebirth.

Ironically for a buff who does a swell Jimmy Stewart impression, Carrey is likeable in the kind of role synonymous with Stewart - but so carefully restrained he's flat, only releasing his twinkle in the inevitable Mr. Smith Goes To Washington bit for a feel-good resolution. Now, we'd really like to turn him loose in Sand Pirates Of The Sahara.

It’s rather lovely, made with obvious affection and appealing sentiments. But it’s seriously over-long and laboured, without capturing the magic of the films to which it pays homage. You wonder how many times they watched It’s A Wonderful Life befo