As of the time of publication, this film is available for streaming on HBO Go & HBO Now.
Every once in awhile we come across a movie that, on paper, should be terrible. Mostly poor acting, awkward dialogue, and Christopher Walken? Blech, no thank you! But hold on just a second, because that movie also has an original story, beautifully executed comedy, and Brendan Fraser! I knew that would get your attention. For this week’s Throwback Thursday we’re discussing the appropriately named Blast from the Past, a 1999 film that should have been terrible but wasn’t.
Other comedies released around the same time as Blast from the Past include She’s All That, Jawbreaker, and the cult classic Office Space.
Hugh Wilson’s Blast from the Past follows Adam Webber (Fraser), a 35 year old man who was born and raised in a Cold War Era fallout shelter, as he ventures out into the world (or more specifically, Los Angeles) for the first time. The movie co-stars Christopher Walken and Sissy Spacek as Adam’s parents, Calvin and Helen Webber. Calvin is a genius scientist who’s a little too afraid of commies, while Helen is the stereotypical 1960’s housewife/borderline alcoholic. Opposite Fraser is Alicia Silverstone as Eve, a sassy and streetwise woman who acts as Adam’s guide in this new world (their names are Adam & Eve. Get it?)
The film opens in 1962 with Calvin and a pregnant Helen hosting a dinner party for about a dozen friends. In quiet tones we hear the guests gossiping about the Webbers, pointing out that Calvin used to be a highly respected professor at Cal Tech, that he made a fortune selling his inventions, and also warning each other not to discuss the Soviets in front of him or he might go nuts. As the party goes on so does the gossiping, and after a particularly bad joke from Calvin about a skeleton at the bar a man rushes into the house and tells Calvin to turn on the television. After a brief speech from President Kennedy on the Cuban Missile Crisis, Calvin decides it’s best if everyone leaves and waits for it all to blow over. Once the guests have departed the Webbers rush down into an underground bunker Calvin has built, just as a precaution. These scenes are inter-cut with shots of a military pilot losing control of his fighter jet; the pilot ejects and the plane begins to fall from the sky. As the Webbers descend the ladder, the downed jet crashes into their home, sending flames and debris shooting down the shaft of the shelter. Naturally, Calvin assumes an atomic bomb has been dropped on LA and he activates the time-locks on the fallout shelter; the doors are sealed and cannot be opened for 35 years. Oh and then Helen goes into labor, how convenient.
What follows is an extended montage showing Adam aging throughout the years. He’s learning various foreign languages, how to roller skate, proper manners, everything you could expect from a boy being home-schooled and home-everything else by his genius 1960s father. Also during this time we see how the Webber parents react to life underground: Calvin revels in it, while Helen hates it and begins drinking heavily to cope. While the Webbers live life underground, we also get shots of how the land above is changing. It goes from suburban home to cute diner, then to a music club, and eventually a dilapidated heavy metal bar.
After 35 years have passed the Webbers are sound asleep when suddenly the hydraulic locks kick in and the bunker doors open. After a quick venture to the surface which includes a barkeep having a religious experience and a transgender woman offering “services”, Calvin quickly rushes back into the bunker and declares that the radiation has mutated the people above (“They can switch their gender at will!”) and they should stay underground for a few more years. Unfortunately they only planned for a 35 year stay, so Adam is sent to the surface to gather supplies.
Once above ground Adam tries to sell his set of vintage baseball cards and this is where he meets Eve (Silverstone), an employee in the memorabilia shop who stops her boss from ripping Adam off and is subsequently fired as a result. What follows is a lot of snarky comments met with dim-witted innocence which eventually ends with Eve agreeing to help Adam sell his baseball cards and buy the supplies he needs (though he doesn’t tell her what they’re for, she thinks he’s from Alaska).
Even though Blast from the Past was released 18 years ago, there’s a decent chance a lot of you haven’t seen it so I won’t go into too much plot detail after this point. The bulk of the film focuses primarily on Adam learning about the world with a child-like wonder while trying to reconcile his 1960s brain with 1990s reality. There are moments where it’s painfully obvious how out of touch he is, such as shouting “Oh my lucky stars! A Negro!” when he sees an African-American mail carrier, to using his unique knowledge to impress others, like when he throws on a suit and proceeds to charm two very attractive women by swing-dancing with them simultaneously. Besides love-interest Eve, Adam is also guided through this new world by Eve’s witty, gay (a word which, to Adam, still just means ‘happy’) roommate Troy (Dave Foley).
Despite the, let’s just call it ‘sub-par’, acting in Blast from the Past, the jokes are surprisingly well done not only in content but in execution. I don’t think anyone here would doubt Fraser’s comedy chops, so it’s no surprise that he took on this goofy and childish character and made it his own. Spacek and Foley are both delightful in their supporting roles and help to bring different styles of comedy to complement Fraser, while Silverstone ranges from just “pretty good” to “pretty bad”. Then there’s Christopher Walken who, like in every other movie of his career, is just Christopher Walken in a costume. Hold on…
**CONSPIRACY THEORY ALERT** What if it seems like Walken always plays the same character, because he actually is playing the same character. Maybe Calvin Webber snuck out of the bunker to raise Frank Abignale Jr. and then, after Adam moved away and Frank Jr. got arrested, he relocated to the Amazon to hunt for treasure?
Welcome to the Walkenverse(TM), folks.
Anyway, back to Blast from the Past. Cinematically there isn’t anything special about the movie, the music is perfectly fine and the cinematography pretty unremarkable but it’s a cheesy 90s comedy, you’re not watching for stunning visuals. Blast from the Past is a fun movie with beautifully executed (and mostly clean) comedy, an original story, and a lot of heart. If you haven’t already seen this movie, go give it a shot. If you have seen it, well go watch it again. There isn’t much that can cheer someone up better than peak Brendan Fraser.
Final Score: 7/10