Josh and S.A.M.

1993, PG-13, 96 min. Directed by Billy Weber. Starring Jacob Tierney, Noah Fleiss, Martha Plimpton, Stephen Tobolowsky, Joan Allen, Chris Penn, Amy Wright.

REVIEWED By Hollis Chacona, Fri., Nov. 26, 1993

Once upon a time, not very long ago, I sat spellbound in a dark theatre, watching the tale of two young brothers on a mystical quest unfold. Into the West was a beautiful poem of a movie and I was enchanted by it. How strange, how wonderful, then, to stumble so unexpectedly across another such gem in Josh and S.A.M.. It, too, chronicles the travels of two brothers who, fleeing from their unhappy home life, embark on an odyssey that will change their lives. Bouncing between their divorced parents' homes, feeling unwanted at either place, 8-year-old Sam (Fleiss) copes by retreating into robotic responses while his older brother Josh (Tierney) uses his considerable high-tech skills to steal from his mother's boyfriend. At their father's home, however, Sam's physical prowess helps him bond with his dad and stepbrothers. Josh, humiliated by his athletic inadequacies and bitter at his brother's defection, strikes back at Sam by convincing him that he has been biogenetically engineered by his parents and sold to the Pentagon to be a special child warrior. His status as a Strategically Altered Mutant (S.A.M.) has just been activated and his only hope for escape is to flee to Canada on the underground roadway. The lie takes on a life of its own and the boys find themselves in a stolen car heading for the Canadian border. Along the way, they pick up a hitchhiker who matches Josh's fictional description of mutant freedom fighter, the Liberty Maid (Martha Plimpton) and together, the trio forms an odd, ephemeral family unit. First time director Weber dwells long and intimately on his actors, a real boon since few directors have assembled more wonderful faces than those that fill his frames. From Tierney's anguished adolescent to Plimpton's enigmatic nomad to Tobolowsky's dad-without-a-clue, the movie is brimming with wonderful, quiet acting. (Wright's 60-second turn as a waitress is as nourishing as most lead performances.) Josh and S.A.M. is photographed in soft, grainy color that gives it an odd sense of personal history, like old home movies and, like most home movies, it is at once funny and scary and sad. Wonderfully written and beautifully orchestrated, this offbeat little movie hits only the occasional wrong note. Filled with whispered magic and muted mystery, Josh and S.A.M. is a symphony in sotto voce.

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