As most moviegoers know, the Robin Williams canon currently extends from the tragi-comic bearded figure with a tainted past (as demonstrated in the excellent Good Will Hunting), to the man-child who doesn't quite live in the real world (facial fuzz optional). Given that he struck a previously unfurrowed nadir in the latter as the overtly hairy 10-year-old Jack, it comes as quite a relief that Flubber is an improvement.
For this remake of the 1561 Fred MacMurray vehicle The Absent-Minded Professor, is a pleasant kiddie flick which actually makes Williams' often cloying naivety a watchable asset. Williams is Philip Brainard, the prof in question and a man so caught up in his work that he keeps forgetting to turn up at his own wedding, much to the annoyance of fiancée Sara (Harden); in addition, his robot Weebo fancies him, and the college he and Sara lecture at is in big financial trouble.
The nuptials go awry a third time after Pip stumbles on a revolutionary energy source (a pliable verdant goo whose gravity-defying nature offers the power of flight.) Dubbed "Flubber" (flying rubber) it might be the very thing to save the college, but by this time a student's wealthy dad is keen to get his hands on it, while Philip's furious would-be wife is making eyes at slimy colleague Wilson (McDonald). Can the prof manage to keep hold of the Flubber and win back his beloved? The outcome is not exactly unexpected; after all, this is another one of those concepts in which the storyline is overridden by a barrage of effects.
But while neither these nor the sub-Home Alone slapstick that plugs the gaps, are ground-breaking stuff, Flubber is far more good-natured than many of its like-minded, flashier peers and shows-off some entertaining set pieces (the world's worst basketball team becoming airborne, a deeply surreal mambo number) given over to the green stuff.
Director Mayfield (Miracle On 34th Street) succeeds in adding a dash of sentimentality without overdoing it, and presents the prof's inventions as nigh essential items, let's face it, who wouldn't want to own a chatty flying robot or a stylish Thunderbird car that speeds through the clouds thanks to Flubber in its fuel tank? It doesn't offer anything which hasn't been done a million times before.