Picks and Pans Review: Contact
It's prime time in outer space. Literally. In Contact, a plodding and uneven sci-fi drama with several redeeming moments of visual and emotional power, extraterrestrials use prime numbers to let earthlings know they're out there. This is not good news for those of us who spent math class reading novels under our desk. Fortunately, Foster's character, a gifted astronomer, picks up on the numerical sound signals right away. Soon, all the president's men (and women: Bassett plays a top aide), military brass and a New Age religious guru (McConaughey) are grilling Foster about whether to meet up with the mathematically inclined aliens some 26,000 light-years away.
Contact, based on the late Carl Sagan's bestselling 1985 novel of the same name, is no warm and fuzzy E. T. or comic Men in Black. It wants to be big and deep. As directed by Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump), the film sticks—well, sort of—to scientific possibility, but with a whole lot of spiritual questing thrown in. Which means Contact runs a very long, often saggy, 142 minutes. The movie is at its best when Foster is onscreen. All fierce conviction and intensity, she ably conveys how her character, an orphan, focuses on what's out there as a way of not having to look at her own emotional emptiness. Way less effective, only partly because his role is written so woodenly, is a stiff McConaughey as Foster's theological debating partner and love interest (though the two display zero chemistry onscreen).
One easy way to cut the film's running time would be to chop the non-stop references to CNN, a corporate sibling of Warner Bros., which made Contact (and a division of Time Warner, which also owns PEOPLE). It seems as if half of the film's plot developments are conveyed via news reports on CNN. What's next? Cartoon versions of ABC anchors Ted Koppel, Peter Jennings and Diane Sawyer narrating Disney films? (PG)