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Laramie Movie Scope:
Grand Canyon

A dull treatise on the meaning of life

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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February 11, 1992 -- ``Grand Canyon'' is a bit like ``The Big Chill'' revisited by the same director, Lawrence Kasdan, who brought you that film. It isn't quite that good.

This film seems to evoke strong responses either for or against it. For instance television critics Siskel and Ebert liked it a lot and Denver Post critic Howie Movshovitz hated it. Siskel and Ebert liked it because of its positive message, Movshovitz thought the positive message was nothing but naivete.

I was willing to suspend my disbelief enough to overlook the film's simplistic approach to serious social issues and I wouldn't dismiss it solely because of its naivete, but there are plenty of other flaws in the film besides those.

The dialogue in the film does not sound like real people are speaking. Most of the time the dialogue sounds as if it was written for some kind of existential stage play, or a bad soap opera. The other big problem was the lack of honest emotions in the film, many of them seemed contrived.

The screenplay tries to come to grips with a lack of spirituality, a lack of basic moral values in modern day Los Angeles, set against a backdrop of crime and violence and despair. It tries to say that miracles still happen, a baby found under a shrub and the woman decides to keep it, a man helps another out of a jam, and grateful, that man in return helps the first by playing matchmaker and by getting his sister's family out of a crime-ridden neighborhood.

In the end, all of these soap opera-type problems are set in contrast to the majesty of the Grand Canyon, a place where each of the characters can feel their own insignificance in the overall scheme of things.

The message is, ``don't despair, each one of you can make a difference.'' The message is positive, but it is also hollow. There's no real philosophical hook on which to hang that message, no real reason is given for any of the characters to have a change of heart. It's almost as if some of the characters underwent a religious conversion without the religion. A much more convincing ``conversion'' of this sort was in a film that did not pretend to be realistic, as in Tom Hanks' conversion scene on the raft in ``Joe Versus the Volcano.'' That film was light, this is deadly serious.

Only the movie producer character played by Steve Martin remains relatively unchanged at the end of the film, reverting back to his old ways of producing schlock action movies featuring mega violence, and even he is thinking of getting married and making an ``honest woman'' out of his girlfriend. After seeing his reaction to his own life-threatening situation, you wonder why all the other characters in the film did not react the same way.

I liked the positive message of the film and some of the performances were good, especially Steve Martin and Mary McDonnell, but I would have preferred some believable motivation for the characters, better dialogue and a little more humor. It rates a C.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)