1996, PG, 112 min. Directed by Norman Jewison. Starring Whoopi Goldberg, Gerard Depardieu, Haley Joel Osment, Denis Mercier, Nancy Travis, Andrea Martin.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Sept. 6, 1996
Bogus -- that's the name of the imaginary friend belonging to this story's little boy. “Bogus” is not my review, however, it could be. It's a ready-made cheap shot, but, you know, when the shoe fits… it usually means something went wrong at the factory. Bogus can't decide which elements of the story to privilege and, thus, winds up tainting them all. Is it a kids' movie about the difficulties borne by children and the comfort of imaginary friends? Is it a Gerard Depardieu vehicle in which the big French lug plays a cuddly teddy bear for all ages (especially those of the female persuasion)? Is it another Whoopi Goldberg picture about a single woman creatively figuring out how to play the hand she's been dealt? It's not that these elements are innately unable to co-exist; it's more a matter of them stepping on each other's toes (to stick with our shoe metaphor). And although Bogus aims at being a heartwarming and magical story, at its core is a traumatized and disturbed little boy. Seven-year-old Albert (Osment) has been raised in Las Vegas by his single mom (Travis) with whom he raptly watches all the backstage glitz, glamour, and magic. After his mom dies in a car accident, he is sent to live with his mom's foster sister Harriet (Goldberg), who lives in Newark, New Jersey. That's when Bogus (Depardieu) manifests himself and continues to keep company with Albert through the sticky transition. Harriet is devoted to her struggling business, so finding the time to fit Albert into her life proves a challenge. What's more, this is a grieving and justifiably resentful child with an imaginary friend. Altogether, it's a pretty good story set-up, but the way in which it's handled is pure foolishness. In its attempt to strike a magical note, the movie loses all credibility. No one's behavior rings true (yes, I know that's a stretch when talking about imaginary friends). The Newark pictured in the movie looks more like suburban Utah than any place in New Jersey. The movie is scripted by two-time Oscar-winner Alvin Sargent (Ordinary People, Julia) and directed by the seven-times-nominated-but-never-a-winner Norman Jewison (Moonstruck, In the Heat of the Night, Jesus Christ Superstar), who generally manages to draw out the mulch in any story he touches. Bogus is likely to leave little kids confused, Whoopi fans disappointed, and Depardieu groupies perplexed.