WHEN Gramps brings in one of those boooring storybooks to his sick grandson, the kid groans. Ensconced in a room of nonverbal gimmickry -- computer games, TV and so on -- the last thing he needs is some kissy Once-Upon-a-Timer.
Except this story, "The Princess Bride," gets the kid (Fred Savage) interested -- thanks to the movies, ironically enough, and screenwriter William Goldman, who adapted this witty script from his book. Add director Rob Reiner's ability to coax great performances from his actors (as before in "This is Spinal Tap" and "Stand By Me"), and you have a percolating comedy. The laughs may not tear your belly up, but they're constant and they dovetail with the story. Aiming modestly, "Bride" achieves much more than most film comedies.
Goldman's tale is of young, blond (natch) lovers Westley (Cary Elwes) and Buttercup (Robin Wright), who must go through a fantasy fandango (a fiery swamp full of oversized rodents, The Pit of Despair and so on) to get back together. That is, if they do get back together. And along the way, they will meet characters you just don't read about in USA Today, including:
Prince Humperdinck (Chris Sarandon), an adept tracker who's also devious and cowardly. He's after Princess Buttercup's hand, even if it means slaying Westley.
Inigo Montoya -- Mandy Patinkin in fine comic fettle as a Spanish fencer hellbent on avenging his father's death. His mission entails finding a villain with six fingers on one hand.
Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), a cocky geek genius -- a sort of fairytale Lex Luthor -- who boasts about his IQ. "Have you ever heard of Plato? Aristotle? Socrates?" he asks. "Morons!"
Fezzik (Andre' the Giant), a gentle lunk who, when fighting an adversary, says, "It's not my fault I'm the biggest and the strongest. I don't even exercise."
Miracle Max (a latexed and comical Billy Crystal), an old Jewish faith healer who revives a dying Westley with bellows and a chocolate-coated pill, then wishes him good luck with a breezy "Have fun storming the castle."
There are others, including Peter Falk as the storytelling grandfather (in a charming Columbo-meets-Burl-Ives role), Peter Cook as a priest with a severe speech impediment and Carol Kane as Billy Crystal's nagging, latexed wife. But "Bride's" success is in its overall presentation. Goldman, who penned "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "All the President's Men" and "Marathon Man," among others, interweaves fantasy, swashbuckling and humor with an instinctive flair. He knows how to entertain without car crashes, dizzying camera coverage or Eddie Murphy, and with memorable gems like this, from a masked sage: "Life is pain. Anyone who says differently is selling something." THE PRINCESS BRIDE (PG) --
At area theaters.