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‘Young Einstein’ (PG)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 04, 1989

Yahoo Serious looks as if he's been sucking on a short circuit. He's an Aussie with great big fat shoes, a figure like a string bean, and an electrified mane of fluorescent protein.

His hair steals the show.

"Young Einstein," a dumber-than-a-bowling-ball blockbuster from Down Under, is supposed to do for Serious and nuclear fission what "Crocodile Dundee" did for sun-dried insouciance. That will depend on how far Americans have moved down the food chain.

Serious's quarky slapstick fantasy is no quantum leap, certainly. But it is kooky and beautifully decorated -- rich with flora and fauna in a riot of Crayola colors. The luxuriant scenery silently testifies to the destructive capacities of nuclear power. And Serious's movie is a protest parody, off-the-wall and zany to a fault. As a troubadour of the MTV generation, he sings, dances and clowns his no-nukes pitch across. Well, Fred Astaire did it too, and for a less worthy cause. Serious message: Make rock, not war.

The fictionalized genius is a humanitarian and an animal rights activist, a sweet-natured country bumpkin who starts popping off theorems after he is decked with an apple crate. "Two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time," declares the dolt. And in no time flat -- time being relative -- Albert invents atom-bashing, roll-and-rock and, by hot-wiring a classical viola, an electric guitar, which becomes a Linus's blankie for him. (The soundtrack, which spawned three top 10 hits in Australia, fuses classical, jazz, blues, cartoon theme music and Yahoo rock -- a kind of Dolby Spam.)

With the help of his pet Tasmanian devil, Albert successfully uses the equation E=mc² to carbonate home-brewed beer. To patent his theory, he makes an epic journey to Sydney, where he carries on an X-rayed, if not X-rated, affair with Marie Curie (delectable Odile le Clezio). The saucy French scientist likewise falls in love with Albert, attracted to his remarkable noggin.

As in a silent movie plot, an unscrupulous patent officer, Preston Preston (John Howard), steals his formula and attempts to rob him of Marie by having him committed to the lunatic asylum. There he is befriended by a group of fellow intellectuals whose unorthodox new ideas are scorned by the rigid Victorian society of the day. After helping him escape, Marie returns to Europe, disgusted when Albert refuses to prevent Preston Preston from building an enormous atomic beer keg that's sure to go boom. The tale intensifies as Albert's mettle is tested in the potentially apocalyptic denouement.

"Young Einstein" is a coming-of-age movie at heart, a dopey but clever comedy for the folks who hang out at Pee-wee's Playhouse. Serious, a hybrid of Li'l Abner, Bozo and Sting, is chock full of dumb, but he is also different. He makes movies the way babies build block towers, without inhibitions.

Serious, who starred, wrote, directed, produced, edited, picked the music and did his own stunts, is a committed auteur. Still, his comedy is juvenile and his movie immature. There are moments, flashes of cracked potential, as when Albert comes upon a backwoods railway station and expectantly sits down beside a skeleton still holding a train schedule in its bony hand. These are as rare, however, as the movie is frisky. It's got energy, it's got velocity, but has it got mass appeal? Audiences may be tempted to split.

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