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A smart thriller? Forget about it

September 24, 2004|Carina Chocano | Times Staff Writer

If you've seen the trailer for "The Forgotten," you've seen a woodland cabin explode and a federal agent get sucked into the sky as if by some kind of cosmic Dustbuster. In other words, you've probably already gathered that "The Forgotten" is more than a quietly creepy psychological thriller.

The premise, as advertised, involves a mother who loses her 9-year-old son in a plane crash only to be told later that she imagined the whole kid. But that, it turns out, is just the lead-in to the actual premise, which posits that forces more powerful than simple mind-tricks were involved in the boy's disappearance. That's right. Forces. Of the type that inspire one character to say "I'm having a National Enquirer moment," and another to gasp, "Who could erase our lives? Who could do that?" and a third to sputter, "The ... truth won't fit in your brain. It won't fit in anybody's brain!"

Directed by Joseph Ruben from a script by Gerald Di Pego, "The Forgotten" doesn't try to keep its secrets for long. This is a good thing, because the plot is as porous as a luffa, not to mention being governed by some seriously wobbly internal logic. But such unabashed ludicrousness can be fun, in a brainless sort of way, especially when it's coupled with lots of sudden defibrillator jolts underscored by crashing cymbals. If there's one thing "The Forgotten" has, it's plenty of cardiac moments.

Telly Paretta (Julianne Moore) is a bereaved mother trying to cope with the loss of her son, Sam, whose camp-bound plane disappeared over the ocean 14 months earlier. Obsessed with Sam's memory, Telly spends hours each day sifting through old photos and videos.

One day the traces of Sam's existence begin to disappear, and Telly blames her husband, Jim (Anthony Edwards), for the missing mementos. That's when her therapist, Dr. Munce (Gary Sinise), breaks it to her: Her memories are not memories at all, but post-traumatic delusions, the result of a late-term miscarriage.

At this point, "The Forgotten" makes a choice. Rather than dwell on things like the vagaries of memory, perception and the disturbing way in which truth seems always to require consensus, the movie whisks Telly away from any and all pesky metaphysical questions, rushes her through her remaining stages of grief and shoves her into some new ones of its own devising.

Catapulted from teary incredulity to defiance, she then goes through a peer-bonding phase, a law-evasion phase, an amateur-sleuthing phase (am I the only one reminded of certain '70s TV detectives when her full name is mentioned?) and, finally, a phase in which she launches into the kind of fierce maternal action not seen since Sigourney Weaver last took on an angry "Alien" sow -- only not quite as viscous or exciting.

Along the way, Telly teams up with Ash (Dominic West), a handsome-in-a-dissolute-way former hockey player who also lost his now-forgotten daughter in the accident.

Clad in jeans, her hair longer than usual, Moore could almost pass for an action heroine; she is as nervously luminous as ever. She and West have a thick, depressive chemistry, which she does not share with the nebbishy Edwards. (It makes Jim's subsequent memory erosion not entirely infelicitous.)

Things take a turn for the really dumb when Telly and Ash are joined -- at first just in solidarity, later on Long Island -- by Det. Ann Pope (Alfre Woodard), a New York City detective with too much time on her hands. Upon learning that both Telly and Ash have been told that their dead children never existed, she's immediately on the case, without a body, a crime or even so much as a lost wallet to compel her.

If the detective's credulity strains credulity, I had a harder time with the movie's villain, played by the menacingly bland-faced Roache. Eventually, he lets Telly in on the big, plot-capping secret. Suffice it to say that there's some scientific research involved, but from the sound of it the methods wouldn't pass muster at an eighth-grade science fair.

It's not hard to forgive "The Forgotten" for a lot of things, but un-empirical science by advanced life-forms is not one of them. You don't get halfway across the universe by fudging your data.


'The Forgotten'

MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense thematic material, some violence and brief language.

Telly...Julianne Moore

Ash...Dominic West

Dr. Jack Munce...Gary Sinise

Det. Ann Pope...Alfre Woodard

Jim...Anthony Edwards

A Jinks/Cohen Co. production, released by Columbia Pictures. Director Joseph Ruben. Producers Bruce Cohen, Dan Jinks, Joe Roth. Executive producers Steve Nicolaides, Todd Garner. Screenplay by Gerald Di Pego. Cinematographer Anastas Michos. Editor Richard Francis-Bruce. Costume designer Cindy Evans. Music James Horner. Production designer Bill Groom. Art director Paul D. Kelly. Set decorator Susan Tyson. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.

In general release.

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