Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:35 - Released 8/24/01

Although the idea for Blair Hayes's Bubble Boy seems initially like a lame offshoot of the "bubble boy" episode of Seinfeld (which itself probably derived from the comically weepy 1976 TV movie The Boy In The Plastic Bubble starring a pre-Saturday Night Fever John Travolta in melodramatic overdrive), it is actually much different. "Different" is a good word for this film, written by Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio, and Michael Kalesniko, as it almost deserves its own genre. Recklessly weaving its way back and forth between lowbrow slapstick, romantic comedy, and bizarro-world surrealism, Bubble Boy leaves us baffled as to its director's intentions, and to those of Disney-owned Touchstone Pictures, who apparently distributed the film against the protests of Carol Ann Demaret, mother of real (deceased) "bubble boy" David Vetter. Unfortunately, as most of its jokes fall flat, it's just too dumb to get worked up about. Starring October Sky's Jake Gyllenhaal as the innocent but determined title character, Bubble Boy's sense of humor is so offbeat it makes you wonder if you're getting all the jokes.

We learn in an opening monologue that good-natured, hairstyle-challenged Jimmy Livingston was born without an immune system. To allow him to come home from the hospital, his parents construct an elaborate system of plastic bubbles and tunnels in their Palmdale, Calif., home. Although his closet-Nazi mother (Swoosie Kurtz) tries to protect him from the outside world (altering fairy tales to include bubble-bound main characters who invariably die when they venture outside), he eventually notices girl-next-door Chloe (Marley Shelton), and over the years the pair develop a deep friendship based mainly on their mutual love for the vintage TV show Land Of The Lost. Eventually, however, Chloe begins seeing a boorish lout named Mark (Dave Sheridan), who admits that he just wants to get into her pants. Heartbroken, Jimmy watches as Chloe and Mark get serious and finally announce their engagement. After they leave for Niagara Falls, he decides he must follow them and stop the wedding so he can tell Chloe of his love.

After constructing a mini-bubble in which he can walk around, Jimmy begins his cross-country journey. Pursued by his panicked parents, he encounters a vast number of truly bizarre characters, including a bus full of brainwashed religious cultists whose leader is played by Fabio, a boxcar full of circus freaks owned by midget Verne Troyer ("Mini-Me" of Austin Powers fame), a good-hearted Latino biker (Danny Trejo) and an Indian ice cream/curry vendor, all of whom end up chasing Jimmy or each other to Niagara for various kooky reasons.

The style of this film is not unlike Pee-wee's Big Adventure, as it follows a comically innocent weirdo around the country, through all sorts of strange adventures and characters. But while Paul Reubens's Pee-wee was a loud, wildly energetic leading character who seemed to propel the comedy by virtue of his outlandishness, Jimmy is the least interesting person in this movie; Gyllenhaal's attempt at an affable leading man comes off as bland and simple-minded. In fact, he is so outperformed by all the goofy people that surround him, one can't help but wonder if freshman director Hayes didn't intentionally go for the bizarre in order to compensate for his leading actor's lack of character. At any rate, this film's uncomfortable mix of style and the lackluster quality of its milquetoast hero begets many comic misfires and many downright weird situations, and, unless you're on drugs or in the mood to be baffled, offers precious few laughs for the buck. **

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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