Ground Zero -- In `Blast From The Past,' Brendan Fraser Returns To His `Encino Man' Roots

Movie review XX 1/2 "Blast From the Past," with Brendan Fraser, Alicia Silverstone, Christopher Walken, Sissy Spacek, Dave Foley. Directed by Hugh Wilson, from a script by Wilson and Bill Kelly. 112 minutes. Several theaters. "PG-13" - Parental guidance advised because of brief language, sex and drug references.

Seattle's Brendan Fraser, who played a witty variation on the Frankenstein monster in "Gods and Monsters," will turn up next month in "The Mummy" and later this year in the title role in "Dudley Do Right" - a companion piece to his breakthrough hit, "George of the Jungle."

This weekend, Fraser returns to his "Encino Man" roots with "Blast From the Past," an engaging if overlong fish-out-of-water comedy. He plays Adam, a boy born in a Los Angeles bomb shelter during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, who emerges from his elaborate, carefully stocked underground home in the late 1990s.

His father is Christopher Walken, a scientist who spends much of his extensive leisure time rewatching the same battered "Honeymooners" episode on film. Sissy Spacek is his late-1950s-style suburban mother, who tries to find something to laugh at during the many reruns of Jackie Gleason's antics; she goes quietly mad and turns to drink.

They're the only people this respectful, well-educated boy has known for 35 years - the family waited that long for radioactive contamination to die down - so he has a lot of catching up to do on the social front.

Christened Adam, naturally, Fraser's character meets his Eve (Alicia Silverstone) almost immediately after surfacing. It takes no time for him to decide she's the woman of his dreams, but Eve is fed up with men and at first she doesn't recognize his innocence and intelligence. Thanks partly to her enthusiastic gay roommate (Dave Foley), who takes Adam shopping, she gradually wises up.

Although Fraser got serious about acting on stage here at Cornish in the early 1990s, moviegoers first spotted him seven years ago as "Encino Man's" frozen caveman, who emerged from an Encino back yard and eventually fit right into a California high school. In a sense "Blast From the Past" takes him full circle, though it's more fun to watch a fish out of water with brains than it is to see an adolescent Neanderthal demonstrating how low he can go.

Fraser is the sweet, goofy engine that drives this movie. The script doesn't do enough with his reactions to a world that bears little relation to the Cold War planet Adam has been told about, but Fraser still manages to suggest volumes about how much Adam is adjusting, feeding on his experiences, devouring an environment that is so much more than a few buried rooms. The character's excitement is contagious - so much so that you wonder why Eve is such a pill.

The director, Hugh Wilson, recently finished shooting "Dudley Do Right," and he clearly understands Fraser's ability to suggest simultaneously straight-arrow manners and giddy, off-the-wall reactions. Wilson also allows Spacek, who's never been this loose, to go all the way with a character who might easily have become the focus of the film.

If "Blast From the Past" has a fatal flaw, it's that it doesn't know when to quit, or how to stop loading pop songs, from Perry Como to the Village People, onto its overcrowded soundtrack. It's an 80-minute idea that wears out its welcome and its music cues as it approaches the two-hour mark.