Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

An Energetic 'Hook' Fails to Charm Spielberg's Latest Childhood-Fantasy Film Tries Too Hard to Be Magical and Relevant to the '90S

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

An Energetic 'Hook' Fails to Charm Spielberg's Latest Childhood-Fantasy Film Tries Too Hard to Be Magical and Relevant to the '90S

Article excerpt

'THE boy who wouldn't grow up." That describes Peter Pan, of course. But many would apply it just as readily to Steven Spielberg, director of the movie, "Hook."

Mr. Spielberg's career has reached its highest points in pictures like "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark," snappy celebrations of childhood and adolescent fantasy. Even his attempts at grown-up moviemaking, such as "The Color Purple" and "Empire of the Sun," portray much of their action through the eyes of youngsters.

One could say Spielberg is a perpetual child himself - stalled in immaturity, and primed to give us 12-year-old movies for the rest of his life. Or one could say he concentrates on kids as a matter of intellectual choice to establish himself as Hollywood's leading specialist in cinema for and about the young.

Either way, he has undeniable talent as a filmmaker, and it's a pity he rarely focuses this on material of real substance. He's an expert at reflecting the world of youth, but he almost never explores it in any depth.

"Hook" is Spielberg's attempt at a big, bold hit after the disappointment of "Empire of the Sun" and the outright dullness of "Always," the last picture he directed. "Hook" certainly has impressive ingredients: a timeless story, a budget reported at $60-80 million, and a cast teaming Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman with Julia Roberts and lots of winsome children.

It also has Spielberg's usual energy. The trouble is, much of the movie seems wired and overeager when it ought to be refreshing and relaxed. Everybody sweats and strains to be magical, and while they often succeed, the onslaught of so much aggressive charm is exhausting.

It's also confusing. Not content to simply retell "Peter Pan," Spielberg has injected it with '90s relevance, and scrambled the story in the process. Peter is now a grown-up American lawyer who's forgotten his fantastical past; he even neglects his own children, missing Jack's softball game and chattering on his cellular phone during Maggie's school play. While visiting Granny Wendy in London, the kids are kidnapped to Neverland by Captain Hook - and if Peter's going to save them, he has to forget his legal training and remember the Happy Thoughts that will let him fly to the rescue. …

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