Hollywood seems to have a preoccupation these days with body-swapping: Little boys and grown men find their minds and bodies reversed, ala 'Like Father, Like Son' and more recently, 'Vice Versa.'
But in 'Big,' directed by Penny Marshall and starring the versatile comic actor Tom Hanks, the body swapping is not just the set-up for a series of wacky and predictable situations. 'Big' is about a little boy trapped inside the body of a man, about his wide-eyed innocence and intelligence, about the things children have to teach adults, and about the sad reality of growing up.
That doesn't mean that 'Big' ignores the opportunities for pranks and low-humor. 'Little' Josh Baskin goes to an adult cocktail party in gloriously inappropriate attire and munches ravenously, and sloppily, on the snacks. In other scenes, the boy-man interviews for a job as a computer specialist, and then cashes his first paycheck, demanding the cash in singles and one $100 bill.
But there is a genuinely sweet childlikeness -- not childish at all - that underlies most of this movie, making it at once tender and melancholy. This little boy doesn't belong in the adult world; he still needs to play. As Marshall and Hanks interpret this predicament, the adults don't belong in that kind of fast-paced, greedy world either; they don't play enough.
By movie's end, it's like the close of a good vacation, one where you got to unwind and have fun. But it's sad too, because there's no going back for adults -- and probably, as Elizabeth Perkins, playing the sophisticated executive who falls in love with this little boy-man, you wouldn't want to go back anyway. 'It was hard enough the first time.'
Josh, a 12-year-old from a New Jersey suburb, is transformed into a 35-year-old man by a carnival wishing machine. But it'll be six weeks before the now grown-up Josh can track down the same wishing machine. He must get a job and bide his time, which he does with particular aplomb, landing the job of vice president at a New York toy company by convincing the company president, played by Robert Loggia, that he knows just what kids really like.
During his six weeks as an adult, Josh makes over a Manhattan loft into the most spectacular playground a 12-year-old ever imagined, and wins the heart of a lonely young woman who's convinced the adult Josh acts more like an adult than her greedy and small-minded lover, played by John Heard.
He also learns some of the less savory aspects of adulthood, and almost forgets he's a kid until his best friend reminds him.
What makes this all work, of course, is Hanks himself, who brings remarkable authenticity and simplicity to the role. He makes being a kid seem as wonderful as it was, and as scary and as confusing too. But mostly, Hanks reminds us of the magic and fun of life, something children need no reminding of at all.
This movie is rated PG. Film has some sexual content.
RAMBO III -- Sylvester Stallone is back as John Rambo in an expensive and lavish production that pits the reluctant hero against a large contingent of Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan. The politics may seem Medieval, but the action is pure 1988. Stallone and co-star Richard Crenna have no trouble giving the audience what they have come to expect and demand. The special effects and exotic weaponry play key roles in this film, and Stallone does all his own stunts in a truly spectacular show of strength and physical conditioning. Directed by Peter MacDonald. Rated R.
WILLOW -- Directedby Ron Howard and based on a story by George Lucas, 'Willow' is quite literally a fantastic film -- all about fantasy and the very real world of emotional courage. Its form is owed to Lucas's previous film efforts ('Star Wars'; 'Indiana Jones'), but Howard brings the movie a sweet soul. It is an excessive movie, but glorious, just like a child's fantasy, and something no one should grow too old to appreciate. Starring Warwick Davis as the elf-like hero, Val Kilmer as the warrior who helps the hero on his adventure, Jean Marsh as the evil queen and Patricia Hayes as the good sorceress. Joanne Whalley plays the beautiful princess in the fable. Rated PG.
LADY IN WHITE -- Written and directed by Frank LaLoggia, this film manages to combine the eerie and ordinary in a fanciful and melancholy ghost tale. The ghost story is told from a 10-year-old's point of view, and not since 'E.T.' has a director so poignantly captured the fears, lonliness and bravery of a child up against the cruelty of an adult world. What makes this ghost-murder mystery so good is that it has as its core both the real and imagined fears of all of us as children. Rated PG-13.
JUDGMENT IN BERLIN -- A well-intentioned courtroom drama based on a true story of the hijacking of a Polish airliner by an unemployed East Berlin waiter, the movie plods along dutifully, with little flare, and at times, a little rockily. Scenes end abruptly, and transitions are stiff and cliched. About the only bright spot is a performance by director Leo Penn's son, Sean, who proves himself -- again -- one of America's finest young actors. Also starring Martin Sheen and Sam Wanamaker. Rated PG.
COLORS -- Sean Penn and Robert Duvall play a mismatched team of cops on a special anti-gang task force on the Los Angeles Police Department. The screenplay by Michael Schiffer is explosive; cinematographer Haskell Wexler presents scenes of Los Angeles's inner city rarely seen. 'Colors' is an awesome look at a state of war in one city in America, and may help define a generation that feels hopelessly cut off from the society. Directed by Dennis Hopper. Rated R.
ABOVE THE LAW -- This heavy-handed, preachy movie about the amoral goings on of the CIA is directed by Andrew Davis and stars Steven Seagal, an authentic black-belt martial arts expert. But 'Above the Law' has enough off-beat updates on the cops-and-robbers theme to at least make the film visually interesting, and Seagal combines the steely-eyed bravado of Clint Eastwood in his Dirty Harry films with a dash of martial arts and a touch of urban street-smarts. Also starring Henry Silva. Rated R.
BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY - Michael J. Fox, Keifer Sutherland, Dianne Wiest and Jason Robards star in this film based on the Jay McInerney novel of the same name. Fox acts his heart out in the tale of a cocaine-addled writer at an emotional crossroads, and his Jamie character reminds you of a 1980s Holden Caufield of 'Catcher in the Rye.' But often, Jamie seems little more than a spoiled-brat coke addict who deserves everything he gets, and it's the supporting roles, especially those for Robards and Wiest, that add some much-needed perspective. Directed by James Bridges. Rated R.
LITTLE NIKITA -- Sidney Poitier, 10 years absent from the screen, is now back with a vengeance. His latest film, 'Little Nikita,' directed by Richard Benjamin, follows close on the heels of 'Shoot to Kill'. In both, Poitier plays an aging FBI agent with a strong personal motive to track down a ruthless killer. Unfortunatly, his latest picture - involving the FBI agent's job to inform a teenager that his parents are
KGB spies - Also starring River Phoenix, Richard Jenkins and Caroline Kava. Rated PG.
OFF LIMITS -- Gregory Hines and Willem Dafoe play hard, cynical Army 'cops' in 'Off Limits,' looking for a killer of Vietnamese prostitutes in Saigon admist the horror and chaos of the Vietnam War. Director Christopher Crowe starts out with an interesting premise, but a basic murder mystery set in an exotic location is then twisted, turned and finally, destroyed in an effort to combine Miami Vice hip with Apocolypse Now surreality. All told, Hines is the only good thing worth watching in this depressing movie. Rated R.