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By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 29, 1993


Peter Weir
Jeff Bridges;
Isabella Rossellini;
Rosie Perez;
Tom Hulce;
John Turturro;
Benicio Del Toro;
Deirdre O'Connell;
John De Lancie
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My track record with predictions is laughable. I was sure that no thinking adult would fall for "Field of Dreams." I thought I'd never get married. And I figured I'd be rolling in dough by now. So, prepare for my latest "vision": "Fearless" will be a huge hit. OK, it could be a huge hit -- and I'll tell you why.

In "Fearless," which is a very good movie but not a great movie, air crash survivor Jeff Bridges learns to live with a new, surrealistic lease on life. But survival is only the first hurdle. He has to undergo deeply touching psychological turbulence, which -- for a Hollywood movie -- is fairly well treated.

But "Fearless" will pack 'em in for one simple, non-artistic reason: total fear of death from the air. As in, one minute you're up, the next minute you're rapidly descending Spam. See, it didn't matter that box-office hits "Fatal Attraction," "Falling Down" and "Indecent Proposal" were, at best, respectably made. Americans crowded the theaters, scaring fire marshalls all over the country, because of the buzz -- brought about by the specific nerve endings those movies pressed upon.

"Fatal Attraction" was about marital infidelity and the difference in sexual morals between the genders. "Falling Down" was for anyone who'd ever had a bad day. "Indecent Proposal" was about our disgustingly malleable desire to make money -- even to the point of seeing bad films on the subject.

Even though "Fearless" fits right into that rubbernecky, jangled-nerve genre, you can still feel good about seeing it. Like the other three movies, it's nothing you'd confuse with art. But it comes closer. In fact, there are times when "Fearless" really soars, thanks to bouts of good writing by Rafael Yglesias and direction by Peter Weir and a stellar performance by Bridges.

The ill-fated incident is actually sliced up into fragmentary flashbacks, as San Francisco architect Bridges, over the course of several months, breaks through a temporary, shock-induced amnesia and remembers what happened. After walking away from the plane's smoking hulk -- and guiding several other passengers out of it -- Bridges enters a world of his own. Suddenly, he feels invincible and, thanks to the enrapt appreciation from the people he helped, messianic. He walks confidentally in front of oncoming traffic, stands perilously on roof ledges and eats strawberries, which normally sends him into deadly allergic convulsions.

But even though he has beaten death, he can't reconnect with the living -- especially his family. His wife, Isabella Rossellini, and his son, Spencer Vrooman, watch in anguished disbelief as he maintains close contact with fellow survivors, including a child (ironically Vrooman's age) whom he saved. The real threat to the household comes when Bridges gets close to Rosie Perez, a mother (and survivor) battling guilt for losing her child in the tragedy. Also watching from the frustrating sidelines are Perez's husband, Benicio del Toro, airline therapist John Turturro and slick lawyer Tom Hulce.

For the most part, "Fearless" is enthralling, sometimes even spiritual. But it inevitably finds itself in the easy-solution flight corridor. There are a few scenes that smack of TV-affliction-of-the-week drama -- particularly when Bridges and Perez meet at an encounter session (in which participants mouth all-too-diagrammatic, case-study reactions).

As for Turturro and Hulce, they barely transcend their hackneyed roles. Turturro shows concern as he attempts to bring Bridges and Perez together, but he's little more than the movie's roving shrink authority. Hulce remains the "lawyer," pushing for the biggest settlement he can get out of the airlines. But the pair are just supporting acts for the movie's centrifugal thrust -- that fear of flying, as well as the quest for immortality -- and the readjustment of Bridges and Perez. Whether you're going to watch "Fearless" for its dramatics or the various neuroses it taps into, you'll be glad you took the flight.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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