Picks and Pans Review: Cocoon

updated 07/01/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/01/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Just a few minutes into this new film from director Ron (Splash) Howard and you begin to feel it: the revivifying, unmistakable charge of a hit. Cocoon is a tonic, a cousin to E.T. and Close Encounters but with a touching charm all its own. Cocoon also has something insightful to say about the way senior citizens have become the new aliens in our society, and there's sometimes a savagery of tone you don't expect in this type of mainstream moviemaking. That tone is welcome. So is the cast of veteran actors who match the best moments in Tom Benedek's script and compensate for its occasional vulgarity. Don Ameche, Hume Cronyn and Wilford Brimley play three cantankerous codgers who live in a Florida retirement complex. A neighboring mansion is unrented, and the three gents like to sneak in and use the pool. One day the men notice strange-looking pods at the bottom of the pool. They belong to the mansion's new renters, Antareans (from another galaxy) on an expedition to pick up members of their crew left in the Gulf of Mexico on their last trip to earth. These crew members are protected inside the cocoon like pods. Antareans, who have extended their longevity to thousands of years, don't resemble earthlings, except when they put on their human skins. Then they look like Brian (Dynasty) Dennehy, Tahnee Welch (Raquel's gorgeous daughter) and Tyrone Power Jr. (you know who's gorgeous son). The Antareans rent Steve (Police Academy) Guttenberg's fishing boat to round up their pals. But then Guttenberg peeps at Welch undressing, and she takes off everything, including her skin. Once Guttenberg is assured the aliens won't chew off his face, he relaxes. He even enjoys a bizarre love scene with Welch. But it's the old folks that concern Howard most. Swimming in the pool with the cocoons gives the men new life. They cavort like youngsters in scenes that allow three marvelous actors to deliver the performances of their lives. Cronyn's cancer goes into remission. He starts winking at his wife, played by his incandescent real-life mate, Jessica Tandy. Ameche starts dancing up a storm with his sweetie, beautifully done by Gwen Verdon. And Brimley and wife Maureen Stapleton seriously ponder the Antarean offer to leave earth to live a productive life in a new galaxy. When pal Jack Gilford argues that he and his wife (Herta Ware) would prefer to face death on earth, Cocoon takes a plunge into serious waters: Society has made outcasts of our elderly. The Antareans are offering more than immortality; they're providing another chance at dignity. Mixing an unsparing social conscience with bracing, blissful entertainment, Cocoon comes through as one of the year's best films. (PG-13)

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