Review: ‘Bubble Boy’

Jake Gyllenhaal, Swoosie Kurtz

"Bubble Boy" is an anarchic comedy fatally lacking a genuinely anarchic guiding sensibility. It's a vignetteish goofball farce about a young man living inside a germ-resistant bubble who undertakes a cross-country road trip to prevent his sweetheart's marriage to another.

“Bubble Boy” is an anarchic comedy fatally lacking a genuinely anarchic guiding sensibility. A vignetteish goofball farce about a young man living inside a germ-resistant bubble who undertakes a cross-country road trip to prevent his sweetheart’s marriage to another, this unlikely Touchstone/Disney entry seems bent on creating equal-opportunity offense to many groups, but more often than not is appalling simply for its silliness and lack of comedic control. Bringing to mind “Freddie Got Fingered” in its arbitrary outrageousness rather more than is advisable, pic might appeal to a few giggly teenage boys but is destined not to rise commercially above the scrap heap of other late-summer studio releases.

Looking from one angle like a nutty variant on current thriller “The Others,” which is about a mother who cloisters her kids in a house for fear of solar contamination, “Bubble Boy” is rooted in the similarly paranoid compulsion of a prim and proper mom (Swoosie Kurtz) to keep her son “pure” from the pernicious influences of the modern world on the excuse that he was born without any immunities. Ignoring the subject’s potential for ironic observations on the theme of contemporary parental overprotectiveness, first-time scripters Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio instead opt for easy jibes at Mom’s Catholic and Republican affiliations before indulging in boner jokes and other cheap shots that rightly indicate freshness of imagination will not be among the film’s attributes.

Strangely, given her watchdog vigilance, Mom allows Jimmy (Jake Gyllenhaal) an electric guitar and regular visits from next-door hottie Chloe (Marley Shelton). Equally inexplicably, latter falls for the sweet-natured but ineffectual lad, who remains unassertive until he learns Chloe is going to marry crude musician Mark (Dave Sheridan). Finally equipped with a reason to rebel, Jimmy flees his Palmdale, Calif., home to head for Niagara Falls to rescue his damsel in distress.

Little that takes place during the first 20 minutes prepares the viewer for the subsequent hour, which is devoted to unveiling a catalog of some of the freaks, literal and figurative, populating the American landscape.

As the penniless Jimmy, still encumbered by his bubble, makes his way toward his destination, his adventures include falling in with some sideshow freaks fronted by “Mini-Me” Verne J. Troyer, who’s once again good for some laughs; hitching a ride from an Indian ice cream and curry truck driver who flips out when they hit a cow on the highway; and winning some welcome prize money mud-wrestling at an Asian nightclub.

Visible somewhere in the middle of all this is the sort of offbeat, even surreal picture that could have resulted from a genuinely eccentric or visionary filmmaker tackling similar material. As it is, commercials whiz Blair Hayes’ debut feature is hopelessly compromised and quickly sunk by the mismatching of mild Farrellys-style mainstream caricaturing and gross-outs with weird societal highlighting that could have used the touch of an Errol Morris or Werner Herzog.

The politically correct police will duly note the potshots taken at Christians, Jews, Hindus, Asians, the disabled and even David Lynch’s Disney release “The Straight Story.” Unfortunately, the questionable taste is not served up in an entertaining cause, and even the enthusiastic efforts of the personable cast can’t stem the tide of dud satire and sputtering buffoonery. Pic gets points, however, for coming in at a blessedly trim 84 minutes.

Bubble Boy

Production

A Buena Vista release of a Touchstone Pictures presentation of a Bandeira production. Produced by Beau Flynn. Executive producer, Eric McLeod. Directed by Blair Hayes. Screenplay, Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor, Panavision widescreen), Jerzy Zielinski; editor, Pamela Martin; music, John Ottman; music supervisor, John Houlihan; production designer, Barry Robison; art directors, Troy Sizemore, Christa Munro; set designers, Beck Taylor, Jeff Ozimek, Peter Davidson, Martin Mervel; set decorator, Garrett Lewis; costume designer, Christopher Lawrence; sound (Dolby Digital/SDDS/DTS), James Thornton; supervising sound editor, Andrew Dechristofaro; special character effects, Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr.; visual effects, the Secret Lab; bubble suit and special makeup, Amalgamated Dynamics; assistant director, Michael Amundson; second unit director, casting, John Papsidera. Reviewed at the Avco Cinema, L.A., Aug. 20, 2001. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 84 MIN.

With

Jimmy Livingston - Jake Gyllenhaa l Mrs. Livingston - Swoosie Kurtz Chloe - Marley Shelton Slim - Danny Trejo Mr. Livingston - John Carroll Lynch Chicken Man - Stephen Spinella Dr. Phreak - Verne Troyer Mark - Dave Sheridan Pushpak - Brian George Pappy/Pippy - Patrick Cranshaw Mark's Sister - Ever Carradine Flipper Boy - Geoffrey Arend Li'l Zip - Bettlejuice Human Sasquatch - Matthew McGrory Rubber Woman - Bonnie Morgan Shlomo - Jason Sklar Dawn - Randy Sklar Gil - Fabio Emcee - Ping Wu Bus Stop Man - Zach Galifianakis Cashier - Boti Ann Bliss
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