"Hearts in Atlantis" is that new breed of Stephen King movie, the kind that's sort of warm and fuzzy, where supernatural elements exist only in the margins. Call me crazy, but I prefer the old, scary Stephen King movies -- the kind that were usually lousy, sure, but at least you knew what they were. This one's an uncomfortable mix of the supernatural and the sweet, and neither side emerges victorious.It is set in 1960, with detail-perfect sights and sounds evoking a lovely, nostalgic warmth. It is also accompanied by the grown-up version of the protagonist saying sappy things like, "Why do we always expect home to look the same?" and, "Funny how when you're a kid, a day can seem to last forever."
"Let's bring back the old, evil Stephen King."
That kid, Bobby Garfield (played by Anton Yelchin at age 11, David Morse as an adult), lives in Connecticut with his poor, working-girl mom (Hope Davis). His best friends are Sully (Will Rothhaar) and Carol (Mika Boorem), with whom he spends his summer days running through forests and crossing streams.
One day a new tenant moves into the upstairs apartment, one Ted Brautigan (Anthony Hopkins) who gives no clues about his past but who seems gentle and kindly enough. He takes to Bobby right away, and it turns out Ted has psychic powers of some kind, with Bobby now exhibiting signs of the same stuff in himself.
Like so many movies, it sounds like a good idea. Psychic stories can work, and so can serene nostalgia pieces. This film makes a case, however, for the notion that such opposing concepts should not be mixed.
The supernatural powers are not played up enough to make it thrilling, chilling or fascinating, and while the re-creation of 1960 white suburbia is vivid ... well, so what? We've seen such things done in other movies -- in other movies based on Stephen King stories, even ("Stand by Me").
There is also some serious confusion as to the relationship that should be the focal point. Is it Bobby and his mom? Bobby and Ted? Bobby and Carol? None of these pairings influences the others enough to turn it all into a rich tapestry of life. It's more like several soups splashed together into the same pot.
Which isn't to say "Hearts in Atlantis" is bad. On the contrary, it is quite expertly directed by Scott Hicks ("Shine"), and the acting from Hopkins and young Yelchin is consistently strong.Above all else, it is a very sweet movie. Hokey, yes, but hokey can be pleasant when it's done this slickly. Just don't count on it staying in your memory for very long.
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originally posted: 09/29/01 09:32:07