First-rate talent in front of and behind the camera fails to save HERO, an insistently Capra-esque social comedy, from being a lumbering bore. Bernie LaPlante (Dustin Hoffman) has tried to live a low-profile life. In fact, it's his creed, which he tries to pass on to the young son, Joey (James Madio), of his ex-wife, Evelyn (Joan Cusack). But the only result...read more
First-rate talent in front of and behind the camera fails to save HERO, an insistently Capra-esque social comedy, from being a lumbering bore.
Bernie LaPlante (Dustin Hoffman) has tried to live a low-profile life. In fact, it's his creed, which he tries to pass on to the young son, Joey (James Madio), of his ex-wife, Evelyn (Joan Cusack). But the only result is that Bernie has a low life to match his low profile. A small-time Chicago
thief, he's about to be put into prison for trying to sell stolen house paint. Though his main business is stolen credit cards, he moves just about anything and everything from the dreary walk-up where he lives alone.
Fate intervenes when Bernie finds himself at the scene of a plane crash and, against his nature, helps the survivors--including hot-shot TV reporter Gale Gayley (Geena Davis)--escape. Bernie tries to fade back into anonymity, but Gayley's station offers a million-dollar reward for the first
exclusive interview with the "Angel of Flight 104." Before Bernie can come forward, he's arrested yet again in a credit-card sting. Meanwhile, a homeless man who had given him a ride home from the crash, John Bubber (Andy Garcia), claims the reward.
Lionized by the media, Bubber sincerely enjoys being a popular inspirational figure and doing good works under his hero's mantle. But his good-heartedness comes back to torture him for living a lie. Bernie comes to Gayley's attention when her credit cards, which Bernie stole from her while
rescuing her, surface after his arrest. But before she can put two and two together, Bubber is out on a high ledge threatening suicide. Bernie joins him there and brings him back in with a deal--Bubber can remain the "hero" and Bernie will stay in the background for a piece of the million. On the
way in, Bernie slips and almost falls, saved only by Bubber's quick reactions. Bubber gets to be a hero after all.
It's beginning to seem as if Hollywood is systemically unable to get anything right. Most of the time, stories feel over-digested and too thought out, betraying a craven fear of giving offense to any group or individual among the two hundred million-plus potential audience. Directed by the usually
incisive Stephen Frears (MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE, DANGEROUS LIAISONS) and written by the usually elegant and eloquent David Webb Peoples (BLADE RUNNER, UNFORGIVEN), HERO seems fatally under-digested. It's difficult to quite know either what it's about or what it's "about," though the main target
seems to be the press.
Gayley is a pneumatic airhead accurately described by her assignment editor (an uncredited and bald Chevy Chase) as a reporter pretending to be a real person. HERO revolves around her willingness to accept style over substance in taking Bubber at face value rather than investigating him. That he's
a sensitive, photogenic hunk is enough for both her and her viewers, who will Bubber into the role with such conviction that he is soon charming chronically ill children at the hospital, even as Bernie is trying to call his bluff.
None of this is particularly amusing, let alone trenchant, meaningful or believable. Moreover, the film insults its audience by depicting them as a teeming mass of grubby idiots prone to mindless worship of any empty-headed sex symbol foisted upon them by a pandering press. As such--and this has
been true of most Hollywood press satires of the past decade or so--HERO reveals less about the fourth estate than it does about a filmmaking establishment that feels itself arrogantly above the scrutiny of mere reporters and accountability to mere moviegoers.
Aside from a few moments of comedy between Davis and Chase (in a relationship lifted almost unaltered from THE FRONT PAGE), HERO is an embarrassment best forgotten by everyone involved.
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