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'Cocoon : The Return'

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 23, 1988


Daniel Petrie
Don Ameche;
Wilford Brimley;
Courtney Cox;
Hume Cronyn;
Brian Dennehy;
Jack Guilford;
Steve Guttenberg;
Maureen Stapleton;
Jessica Tandy;
Gwen Verdon;
Tahnee Welch
Parental guidance suggested

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Don Ameche, Gwen Verdon, Wilfred Brimley and the rest of the intergalactic geriatrics saucer on down to Earth in "Cocoon: The Return." This prune-powered sequel proves a bleak follow-up to the fanciful original, which saw the elder spacemen lift off for a land where they'd never grow old. Now, three years later, they turn their backs on that cosmic fountain of Geritol for perilous mortality, willing to face death just to do a little tea dancing.

The seniors have a chance to rethink their decision to leave Earth forever when the Antareans of their adopted planet mount a rescue mission to Florida. Some of the cocoons (pods with fetal Antareans inside) are endangered and Tahnee Welch, as a luscious alien, again asks her old Earth beau (Steve Guttenberg) for help retrieving them. During the four-day stopover, the seniors realize how much they've been missing families, friends, serious shopping and fabulous babes. Soul-searching ensues.

"The Return" is a bizarre blend of adolescent sex farce and human tragedy from mediocre director Daniel Petrie and first-time feature writers Stephen McPherson and Elizabeth Bradley. Essentially they've come up with a smut 'n' sci-fi action tearjerker -- a crazy combo of comas, comedy and dilithium crystals. Lead geezer Hume Cronyn is romping with bikini-beach bimbos one moment and in intensive care the next. Golden girl Verdon is trying on girlish cocktail dresses one minute and in intensive care the next. Jack Gilford (the friend who stayed behind) is committing suicide one moment and dancing with a sexy motelier (Elaine Stritch) the next.

Why couldn't they have stayed in space and, through their collective wisdom, defeated a big slimy monster? But no, the filmmakers aren't looking at the unique strengths that come with age. They're looking at what is lost. This is a fantasy for old people written with little empathy for, or understanding of, the aging process.

Younger people who write fantasies for older people presume that everybody's dream is to be young like them. Here that means not just sexually active, but hormonal, providing for such peppy repartee as: "Alma didn't sleep a wink last night," as Ameche says of his wife (Verdon). "How'd you manage that?" wisecracks a crony. Hubba hubba.

Aside from everything else, we're unable to believe in the movie's illogical world. Those who know the biblical story of Sarah's postmenopausal conception might buy a 63-year-old turning up pregnant. But would they also believe that this sexagenarian and her husband would sign up for Lamaze class when they were leaving the planet in four days? How come the rejuvenated returnees can heal other humans but not each other? The list is long as an Antarean's arm. (They're like skinny, humanoid fireflies.)

"Cocoon: The Return," depressing as it is dull as it is dumb, tells us heaven can wait. It tells us to forget our dreams of being forever young, even at heart. It tells us that it is noble to die, buys tears cheap, and sells out the characters. If this is metamorphosis, don't get out of the cocoon.

Cocoon: The Return is rated PG

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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