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Tom Hanks Puts the 'Gump' in Gumption : In "Forrest Gump," Tom Hanks plays an Alabama boy with an IQ of 75 who winds up a wealthy war hero, participating in major American events from recent history. (Rated PG-13.) :

July 14, 1994|LYNN SMITH | Lynn Smith is a staff writer for the Times' Life & Style section

Teen-agers who like to see the underdog come out on top like this movie, some crying and sniffing along with the adults in this poignant role for Tom Hanks.

"I thought it was cool to see a guy who supposedly is sub-ordinary become extraordinary," said Peter Goff, 13. "Everybody thought lesser of him, but he became better than them."

Gump's improbable life story is told in voice-over in the movie, as an older and reminiscing Gump sits on a bus bench relating his adventures to anyone who sits next to him. Peter's favorite part was when Gump pulls out a Fortune magazine with himself on the cover, proving to a skeptic he did, indeed, make millions in the shrimping business. (The movie is also a big success, taking in an impressive $32 million in its first five days.)

"It was sad. It was good. You felt for the character," said Molly Curtin, 14. "I could kind of identify with him. It was kind of realistic, but then in a sense, it isn't. Could that many things actually happen to one person?"

No way.

But the techniques used by director Robert Zemeckis to insert Hanks into historical footage of real events did manage to convey a sense of history to youngsters about the period we have just left behind: the war in Vietnam, the bloody, rainy reality of the soldiers and the drug-laced reality of the protesters, the assassinations of a President and a presidential hopeful.

Some of the war scenes could easily be too explosive and gruesome for younger children. Gump's sweetheart is an incest victim and drug addict.

Some said the references were too oblique and the movie too long.

Jessica Morines, 7, was so bored she couldn't even remember the most boring parts.

"I don't know if it's really a movie for kids," said Sarah Goff, 16. "I was walking out and heard one kid saying to her mom, 'What were they talking about?' "

Some teens said they understood one scene in which Gump phones in a burglary in progress he witnesses while staying at the the Watergate Hotel. Others said they had to have it explained.

Nicole Wong said she didn't understand who the U.S. soldiers in Vietnam were talking about when they said they had to chase "Charlie"--the all-purpose phrase used for the enemy.

Sarah wondered whether the movie portrayed some historical events or people too lightly. In one scene, Gump appears on a Dick Cavett show with John Lennon, who asks the host, what if there was no religion, no possessions, too? Cavett replies, "It's hard to imagine."

When President Johnson asks to see Gump's war wound, he pulls down his pants to show him.

The youngsters agreed the acting was splendid, particularly Robin Wright as Gump's sweetheart Jenny and Gary Sinise as Lt. Dan. And especially Hanks.

"I thought he was excellent," Sarah said. "It had to be difficult. A lot of people would get angry if you portrayed a person who was retarded in a disrespectful way. He'd get in a lot of trouble for that."

Despite his slow, Southern accent, his straight-backed conservative manner, Hanks never gave the impression he was acting, Sarah said. "He was Forrest Gump."

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