Picks and Pans Review: Hero

updated 11/02/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/02/1992 AT 01:00 AM EST

Dustin Hoffman, Geena Davis, Andy Garcia, Joan Cusack, Chevy Chase

Like a Prank Capra film with the air let out of its tires, this cynical, media-bashing film about an ordinary guy overwhelmed by events is a sermon on the evils of generosity.

Directed by Stephen Frears, it concerns a small-time Chicago crook, Hoffman, who is driving down a road when a passenger plane crashes in front of him. At the behest of a little boy who thinks his father is trapped in the wreckage, Hoffman enters the burning plane and ends up rescuing 50 people, including TV reporter Davis. Then he disappears. Davis, in pursuit of a story, later launches a full-scale media search for the inadvertent hero. Garcia, a homeless man who somehow has a car, picks up the hitchhiking Hoffman, learns the details of the rescue and steps forward to claim the rewards of being the phantom hero.

Frears and screenwriter David Webb Peoples display little insight into the nature of celebrity. They seem mainly to be working out some grudge against the media, portraying not only Davis but the movie's many other reporters as gibbering, venal, resource-less fools. Chase, as Davis's boss, sneers at her, "She thinks she's a person, but she's only a reporter."

Hoffman, meanwhile, is overacting apace, rolling his eyes, flailing his arms and managing to arouse zero sympathy as he tries to reclaim the hero's spot from Garcia. Cusack, as Hoffman's bitterly estranged wife, comes closest to being likable. Even the music is inappropriate, with the Gershwins' "The Man I Love" being misused at odd moments.

The decidedly un-Capralike ending is more likely to set your teeth on edge than warm your heart. (PG-13)

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