Eye candy

WITH LAST YEAR’S Gods and Monsters, Brendan Fraser proved himself capable of serious dramatic roles. But no number of Oscars will ever obscure his most obvious attribute. Which is to say, Brendan isn’t exactly hard on an audience’s eyes.

But plenty of other Hollywood meat puppets may claim a sweet countenance and robust physique. Why has Fraser’s box-office draw slowly inched upward over the decade, finally securing him a shot at decent roles, while countless other heat-seeking hunks have gone from Tinseltown to the dinner-theater circuit before they’d even developed complete secondary sexual characteristics?

Because Brendan Fraser has found his niche. He is cinema’s leading man in what my ex-boyfriend once loosely dubbed Anachronism Theater.

I’ll explain. Every Sunday morning, my former paramour would rip through the comics to find “Hagar the Horrible,” and guffaw loudly as he pointed out historically impossible artifacts furnishing the mighty Viking’s ship. In particular, if a clock or a wristwatch vexed him, he’d laugh for hours. Similarly, Fraser excels at roles requiring adaptation to an environment in which his character is woefully out of place: a working-class Jew at a snooty ’50s prep school (School Ties); a South American baseball phenomenon transported to the majors (The Scout); a simian simpleton loose in San Francisco (George of the Jungle). No matter how scant his character—or costume—Brendan’s best work combines silliness, sexiness, and sincerity to overcome unfamiliar obstacles.

Blast from the Past

directed by Hugh Wilson

starring Brendan Fraser, Alicia Silverstone, Sissy Spacek, Christopher Walken

opens February 12

Blast from the Past is classic—and, for that matter, literal—Anachronism Theater. Fraser plays Adam Webber, born and raised in a Los Angeles bomb shelter. Back in ’63, Adam’s paranoid pop, Calvin (Christopher Walken), had been preparing for the Big One to drop. When an airplane accidentally crashed on the lawn one fateful evening during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Dad sealed himself and his pregnant wife, Helen (Sissy Spacek), in for safety . . . for 35 years. Thus young Adam is reared in a snug cocoon of home schooling, reruns of The Honeymooners, and Helen’s ever-present highballs.

The timed locks finally pop open, and the Webbers prepare to return to civilization. But what Calvin finds outside—transvestite hookers, adult bookstores, and gun-wielding gangbangers—promptly triggers a coronary. So Helen sends her son off with a fistful of greenbacks and orders him to bring back groceries and a healthy bride—preferably a nice girl from Pasadena. Enter Eve (Alicia Silverstone), who rescues our babe in the woods from being ripped off on his first night out. Unable to figure out why this guy’s such a clueless rube, Silverstone is presented with ample opportunities to do what she does best: display lip-biting expressions suggesting that she’s just been confronted with a very hard multiplication problem.

But Eve’s a hardened Woman Who Loves Men Who Love Themselves Too Much, and thus is immune to Adam’s antiquated chivalry and impeccable table manners. (Like these qualities are commonplace in handsome straight guys. As if.) Silverstone ignites Blast from the Past with the one thing Fraser can’t generate alone (at least, not onscreen): chemistry. The couple fires up some very believable sensual tension with just the stroking of a palm. When Adam gingerly bandaged Eve’s skinned knee, or crooned “On the Street Where You Live,” I had a hard time suppressing my jealousy.

PERHAPS HEARING THE name “Eve” repeatedly just put me closer in touch with my Inner Bette Davis. Sublimated sex is only one aspect in which Blast from the Past deliberately evokes filmmaking practices of yore. (And hardcore Fraser fetishists are forewarned: This one features zero bare-ass Brendan, though he briefly sports a fetching pair of short pajamas.)

The film’s humor opts for sweet and simple, driven by ridiculous situations rather than de rigueur gross-out gags or violent slapstick. The movie also resurrects two oft-neglected silver-screen traditions: a) alcoholism is funny; and b) fags always fire off the wittiest zingers. After champagne cocktails and a giddy jitterbug routine, plus a wardrobe overhaul (alas, no changing-room montage sequence) courtesy of Eve’s gay roommate, Troy (Dave Foley), Adam’s gee-whiz disposition begins to wear her down. Then he attempts to seal the deal by revealing the Whole Truth, and Eve decides he’s cuckoo. Some may grumble that the all-too-tidy happy ending fails to address the essential question of how Adam’s Betty Crocker values will ultimately acclimate to modern living. But if that seems so important, you’re probably the sort of sap who doesn’t appreciate the hilarity of a cartoon Viking wearing a wristwatch. Fortunately, Brendan Fraser suffers no such shortcomings. If only I’d learned that reading the Sunday funnies with him.