Starman (February 28/00)
In John Carpenter's Starman, a film that doesn't really break any new ground but is immensely entertaining regardless, Jeff Bridges stars as an alien that has cloned the body of a dead housepainter. After kidnapping said dead housepainters widowed wife, the two head off on a road trip to Arizona, where the alien will be picked up by his alien friends.
The story and various plot events are nothing new. There are scenes of Bridges learning how to give the finger, when in fact he doesn't realize what he's doing; but those scenes never feel forced or tired, rather they're quite charming and allow the audience to really identify with Bridges.
And speaking of Bridges, he's really great here. This is a role with ample opportunity for cloying sentimentality, but Bridges never lets it go that way. Yeah, he's quite cute and cuddly and you just want to take care of him, but he's also got a way of letting you know that maybe he knows more than you think. For one thing, this is an alien from a superior race, so he can't play the character like an overgrown five-year-old. The only deficit this character has is a shoddy understanding of the English language, and Bridges' performance reflects that.
The film is essentially structured around the whole road trip storyline. Bridges and Karen Allen (playing the hostage turned lover) drive around for a little bit, talk about life, and then stop somewhere and get involved with locals. Their run-ins range from harmless to dangerous (as when Bridges' brings a dead deer back to life, which angers the redneck that killed it).
As with all of John Carpenter's films, Starman's been shot in the widescreen format (so be sure to watch it on DVD, if you can) which allows Carpenter the chance to film many of the scenes between Allen and Bridges with him on one side of the screen and her on the other. I can't imagine how these shots were cropped for video, and something tells me I don't even want to know. Carpenter is a master of framing for widescreen, and Starman is certainly a forum for him to show off his prowess behind the lens.
But at the core of it all is a touching and moving love story, one that never becomes overwhelmingly sappy. Bridges and Allen are an endearing couple, which makes the inevitable parting difficult to watch. While not Carpenter's best movie (that'd probably be Halloween), Starman is unquestionably up there in his oeuvre and worth checking out.