Agreeable performances and a low-key narrative keep this gimmicky family fantasy's feet firmly planted on earth. This Showtime-financed film won a 1997 Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Children's Special. Frank Crosby (Louis Gossett Jr.) and his 15-year-old son Clay (Robert Ri'chard) go to a funky junk shop, at which Frank impulsively buys a pair of gaudy...read more
Agreeable performances and a low-key narrative keep this gimmicky family fantasy's feet firmly planted on earth. This Showtime-financed film won a 1997 Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Children's Special.
Frank Crosby (Louis Gossett Jr.) and his 15-year-old son Clay (Robert Ri'chard) go to a funky junk shop, at which Frank impulsively buys a pair of gaudy wingtip shoes from a mystic gyspy lady (Fiona Reid). Clay has a loving relationship with his ailing dad, and wonders why Frank never talks to his
own parents. That painful matter remains unresolved, for Frank subsequently dies of the cancer that his wife (Barbara Eve Harris) had long treated with herbal medicine. Clay is inconsolable, until he happens to slip on the untouched wingtip shoes, and is instantly teleported to his father's high
school in 1962. Clay has become Frank Crosby, and witnesses how his father's father, Richard (Gossett again), a stern WWII vet, ran the household like a drill sergeant, repressing overt displays of affection and approval for his kids--traits that eventually led to both Frank and his
aspiring-actress sister Celeste (Rachael Crawford) breaking with the old man. Young Frank/Clay also suffers typical bully mishaps at his (racially integrated) high school, but he learns that simply by slipping off the shoes he can safely return to his own era.
Clay repeatedly goes back to 1962, trying to retrieve valuable, collectible baseball cards (he can't), but more determined to find an old postcard Frank had described with his last dying breath as the key to their whole family. Meanwhile in the present, Clay pays a long-deferred visit to his
grandparents, whom he regards in a new light thanks to his flashbacks. When pressed, Richard Crosby declares that despite his hardshelled exterior he always loved Frank and Celeste, and regrets he wasn't able to make peace with them. Clay also locates the postcard; bearing a Leyte Gulf address,
it's Richard's wartime love letter to his bride, revealing the grandfather's gentler side. Clay gives the postcard back to the old guy, and subsequently Richard telephones Celeste for the first time in years. At the gypsy shop, Clay is granted a final, magical vision of his proud dad.
An inveterate punster would doubtlessly dub this movie "Black to the Future," for its resemblance to the 1985 Robert Zemeckis time-warp hit in which Michael J. Fox got to behold his own parents' teen travails. Despite some rather unnecessary special effects, however, IN HIS FATHER'S SHOES takes a
much less larkish approach. Even though he draws astonished stares in 1962 with his anarchronistic hip-hop dance moves, and mentions of other phenomena that haven't yet taken place, Clay apparently can't alter the course of events. What remains, ultimately, is a warmhearted, low-impact primer in
parenting, about a nice kid healing his divided family and better appreciating the man who raised him, geared to a modern African-American audience.
Robert Ri'chard, who won a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Children's Program, is adequately likeable as the young hero. Gossett, an Oscar-winning actor too often wasted in action movies, is okay playing two generations, even though Richard Crosby doesn't quite seem the ogre the
script wants to make him. The movie soft-pedals depictions of American racism ingrained in the time period. The nostalgic 1962 school-age milieu shows remarkably little ethnic intimidation. What name-calling there is mostly comes from Richard Crosby, who offends Clay/Frank through the politically
incorrect terms "negroes" and "colored boys," and disparages Martin Luther King's civil-rights movement as troublemakers.
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