directed by Les Mayfield
(Buena Vista, 1997)

Once upon a time the Vietnam War was an isolated regional conflict, the president slept with Marilyn Monroe and movie studios still cranked out the occasional black-and-white film. One of the best of these had nothing to do with Vietnam or Marilyn Monroe. It was about an Absent-minded Professor who found a way to make lighter-than-air rubber, which he dubbed flying rubber, or flubber.

More than a third of a century later, the Vietnam War is but a painful memory, the president seems to sleep with just about everyone and flubber is back, this time in living color, and in the title role.

That's because this is a new improved flubber. No longer is it simply a gooey black substance with too much bounce. The new flubber looks like the Pillsbury doughboy with a St. Patrick's day makeover; and it not only bounces twice as high as the old flubber, but it shatters glass, dances the mambo and spontaneously subdivides so it can perform extended production numbers, seemingly without provocation.

To go with the new high-energy flubber we have a new high energy flubber dubber, Robin Williams. Williams has traded in MacMurray's quaint Model T Ford for a trendy T-bird and Fred's bachelor pad for a house full of gadgets that would make Pee-wee Herman drool. Of these, the most impressive is Weebo (Jodi Benson), a pixieish robot who serves as secretary, aide-de-camp and lab assistant to the pixilated Professor Philip Brainard (Williams).

Brainard is hoping his icky invention can save the squeaky-clean but financially troubled Medford College, where he teaches and his fiancee (Marcia Gay Harden) is president. In doing so, he faces the usual obstacles: two Home Alone-style thugs named Smith and Wesson (Clancy Brown and Ted Levine), who want to steal his invention, and rival professor Wilson Croft, who wants to steal his invention and his girl.

For all that's been added to this remake of The Absent-Minded Professor, however, much has been lost.

Both professors Philip may drive 30-year-old cars, but the cars they drive make very different statements about them. The Model T made MacMurray a lovable anachronism; the Thunderbird makes Williams a classic car buff. Moreover, while MacMurray dreams of his flubber going to the government to be used in some kind of useful service, Williams' primary concern is selling it to a major corporation.

Finally, the new improved flubber adds some high-tech high jinx to the film, but at the expense of plot and character development. (Let's face it: how much can flying rubber develop?)

All these things point to the chief difference between Disney's original and the recent remake.

This time around, the flubber has the personality; the characters don't. The change in title was probably more appropriate than even its makers knew.

So if you're one of those fussy viewers who wants to see characters interact with each other, I'd suggest you stick with the original. If, on the other hand, you don't mind watching dull people do predictable things with inventive inventions, rent the remake.

This flub's for you.

[ by Miles O'Dometer ]

Buy Flubber from Amazon.com.