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‘Hook’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 13, 1991

 


Director:
Steven Spielberg
Cast:
Robin Williams;
Dustin Hoffman;
Julia Roberts;
Bob Hoskins;
Maggie Smith;
Charlie Korsmo;
Phil Collins;
Glenn Close;
David Crosby
PG
Parental guidance suggested


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Given family entertainment options this holiday season, Steven Spielberg's "Hook" may win by sheer default. It's the Peter Pan story with all the director's skills and enthusiasms at full tilt, a swirl of pirates, Lost Boys and fairy dust.

But everything's too industrially organized. At his best, Spielberg fuses popular entertainment with sublime art. He can achieve the cinematic equivalent of Norman Rockwell. Here, that fusion occurs fitfully. Peel away the expensive, special-effects surface and there's nothing but formula. It's Hollywood script business at its most mundane.

Peter Pan, played by Robin Williams, has grown up. If you remember your J. M. Barrie, that wasn't supposed to happen. He can't even remember his magical boyhood. At 13, he was adopted by American parents and ushered into adulthood. Now an attorney blathering endlessly into his mobile phone, he's barely aware of wife Caroline Goodall and kids Charlie Korsmo and Amber Scott. This former aerial being is afraid of heights. He's missing his son's baseball games. He's going to have to drop the cellular phone and pick up the mitt.

The exposition is so underlined and re-underlined, you could teach yourself to fly waiting for something to happen. Something finally does when Williams and family jet to London. Of course, it's a corporate matter. Williams is helping dedicate a home for orphans in the name of elderly Wendy (Maggie Smith), his chum during the magical days. A kidnaping later, Williams has to go to "Neverland" in search of everything -- his children, innocence, youth, flight, love, resurrection and a trimmer tummy. Archrival pirate Hook (Dustin Hoffman), who's been dying for a rematch, is waiting.

Although he leads this picture persuasively, Williams's abilities are barely tapped. For all his physical somersaults, quippy rejoinders and straight-ahead acting, he shows far less than he's capable of. As Hook, wax-mustachioed Hoffman adopts memorable tics. His contorted British shtick is cartoonishly amusing. But he spends much of the movie marveling at his adversary. He's an admiring opponent more than a menace.

"This is supposed to be the war to end all wars," he says with understandable disappointment. His mano a mano wish is only minimally granted; the final dukeout doesn't top the movie.

The best performance comes from Bob Hoskins, as Hook's sidekick Smee. Virtually unrecognizable in hat, beard and spectacles, he's amusingly fussy and malaprop. "I've just had an apostrophe!" he declares at one point when an epiphany seizes him. As the noble, aging Wendy, Smith makes her few moments count. It's achingly touching, when, in one glance, she realizes how low Williams has fallen.

Julia Roberts, an American-accented Tinkerbell, is sprightly, enthusiastic and pretty. But it's hard to think of her as anything but Julia Roberts. When she declares undying love for Williams, you wonder what Jason Patric and Kiefer Sutherland are going to think.

Even as sheer entertainment, many scenes in this 135-minute show run a little long. It's wonderful, however, to see fighting that employs splattering paint, eggs and swords rather than firearms. And which kid's going to resist Lost Boys given to butt-speak? "Someone here has a caca mouth," complains Williams, who at that point still hasn't loosened up.

Spielberg-resurrection watchers, you won't be disappointed. Williams undergoes the requisite transformation from adult to child (haloed lighting, music, heavenly voices) before his wide-eyed disciples. Believing in the movie is a stop-and-start activity. There are many wonderful touches everywhere but consistency is fleeting. Perhaps the most poignant magical element is the notion that flying requires thinking a happy thought. Williams comes up with a sweet, resoundingly appropriate one.

Not everyone will leave this movie flying high, however. A big, adult question hangs over "Hook," one about how much residue is left after the fairy dust has dissipated.

   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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