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‘The Road to Wellville’ (R)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 28, 1994

"The Road to Wellville," Alan Parker's satire on the American obsession with health, is enough to make you sick. Based on the novel about physician John Harvey Kellogg, who invented the cornflake, the film is billed as "a comedy of the heart," but in reality it's more like a gondola ride through the alimentary canal.

Not even Monty Python ever dabbled so gleefully in things excremental. Whether this sort of thing can be considered enjoyable is, of course, a matter of individual taste.

Like E.L. Doctorow's "Ragtime," T. Coraghessan Boyle's book attempts to provide a snapshot of its turn-of-the-century setting through a conjunction of historical and fictional characters. Will and Eleanor Lightbody (Matthew Broderick and Bridget Fonda), the film's protagonists, fall into the second category.

Eleanor is making her third visit to the famous sanitarium of Dr. Kellogg (Anthony Hopkins). But Will, whose stomach has been wrecked by a combination of alcohol, opium and red meat, is a Wellville virgin, and he responds to the doctor's torturous therapies as he would to a medieval chamber of horrors. And so he should.

The patients at "The San" are dipped, purged, spanked and pumped full of yogurt by an able staff employing a variety of gadgets so invasive that they would impress the Marquis de Sade. Most of the laughs in the movie come from the sheer outrageousness of the good doctor's methods.

A fervent believer in vegetarianism and sexual abstinence, Kellogg is portrayed as a rabbit-toothed extremist whose dedication to sound health practices is second only to his obsession with the care and functioning of the bowels.

More a cartoon than a real character, Kellogg is the center around which the film's various plot lines pivot, but because Hopkins is buried so deeply beneath his makeup, there's very little pleasure in the performance. In addition, the exaggerated choppers he employs turns him into a mush-mouth, making much of his dialogue unintelligible.

Not that there is much worth hearing. Parker, who wrote the screenplay, attempts to approximate the expansive, Dickensian feel of Boyle's original, but the subplots involving Kellogg's putrid son George (Dana Carvey) and the efforts of a bumbling entrepreneur (John Cusack) to launch his own cereal company refuse to connect with the main action.

The result is a sort of tiresome cacophony with a lot of fancied-up poo-poo jokes. It's the cinematic equivalent of a whoopee cushion.

"The Road to Wellville" is rated R for nudity and various scatological references.

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