In this sweet, unsubtle adaptation of the 17th-century play L'Illusion Comique, Kirk Douglas plays a curmudgeonly movie director whisked away from his deathbed by the gentle specter of a former co-worker. Why? So Mr. Scrooge—er, no, Mr. Baines—can atone for his selfish life and reconnect with his estranged illegitimate son. But at its core, Illusion is a film about films: Three of them are contained within the feel-good plot. We watch with Baines in an ethereal theater as he views a trio of cinematic clips in which son Christopher (director Michael Goorjian) pursues the woman he loves (Karen Tucker).
First we see teenage Christopher romancing unappreciative beauty Isabelle. This first episode spooked me: The pace and mood scream made-for-TV teen flick. Stilted dialogue, bullying jocks, dashing motorcycle rescues—all quite cheeseball, I thought. Then I realized—ah-ha, that's the point. As the second segment makes clear, Goorjian uses different genre conventions in each chapter. So next Christopher and Isabelle meet 10 years later in a gothic, Mad Hatter tale. Lastly, they're a more emotionally weary pair of thirtysomethings still struggling to close the deal amid confusion in a sun-filled, slow-moving rural town.
OK, it's all pretty hokey, but so was It's a Wonderful Life. That Douglas has (mostly) recovered from a stroke and recently suffered the death of an adult son only makes it more unabashedly sentimental. So when Baines, like George Bailey (or Scrooge, for that matter), is given a second chance to literally direct his son's life to a happy ending, you're happy for him, happy for the lovers, and happy that Goorjian has finally escaped the long shadow of Party of Five. (PG-13)