Picks and Pans Review: Forrest Gump
America's loss of innocence as filtered through the eyes of an innocent—that's the theme of this plodding, heavy-handed parable, which incorporates bits from 1983's Zelig (anonymous figure pictured with great and near great) and '88's Rain Man (idiot savant).
Hanks plays a child of the early '50s South who wears leg braces because of a back that a doctor describes as "crooked as a politician" and has an IQ of 75. He also has a determined mother (Sally Field, his love interest in 1988's Punchline), who's full of such stilch-it-on-a-sampler wisdom "as stupid is as stupid does." From early on, Hanks's only friend is the local drunk's abused daughter (Wright). Still, he commands attention. He clumsily dances in his braces for a guitar-playing guest at his mother's boardinghouse, a feller named Elvis who co-opts those moves and makes them swivel-hipped legend. Chased one day by a posse of bullies, Hanks flees, his braces inexplicably disintegrate, and he finds his gift: He can run like the wind.
That talent sends him to the University of Alabama on a scholarship (his image is incorporated into footage of Gov. George Wallace) and wins him kudos from President John F. Kennedy when he makes the all-American squad. Hanks's feet are also his fortune in Vietnam, where he carries his commanding officer (the fine Sinise) to safety after an enemy attack. He earns the Medal of Honor and another trip to the White House, where he meets Lyndon Johnson. Later, as a member of the U.S. Ping-Pong team that opens China, he will meet President Nixon, in the process inadvertently blowing the whistle on the Watergate burglars. Despite all that happens, he can't forget Wright, who represents depredation (she takes drugs and contemplates suicide) as surely as Hanks represents triumph. But triumph is not a word to associate with Forrest Gump, which unfolds awkwardly and has an uncertainty of tone and bathos enough to float an ark. (PG-13)