PLEASANTVILLE

Stars: Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, Joan Allen, Jeff Daniels, William H. Macy, J.T. Walsh, Don Knotts. Written and directed by Gary Ross. Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements emphasizing sexuality, and for language.

"Pleasantville" isnít terribly pleasant. Its admittedly intriguing premise wears out its welcome, and the storyline lacks any semblance of a moral compass. Good ideas get buried along the way or are never fully developed. The "mixing black-&-white with color" gimmick, a clever novelty through the first half of the film, becomes tiresome and stale by the end. Anyone expecting another "The Truman Show" will be sorely disappointed. Where that film was fun and life affirming, this one is cold and sterile.

The shenanigans start when siblings David (Tobey Maguire) and Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) get sucked into a classic family sitcom by means of a souped-up remote control given to them by an eccentric repairman (Don Knotts). Finding themselves stuck in the idyllic town of Pleasantville, the pair decides to try and make the best out of their stay. David, now known as Bud Parker, knows enough about the show to fit in easily. Meanwhile, Jennifer, now know as Mary Sue Parker, has no intention of changing her "wild child" ways and becoming the straight-laced teeny-bopper everyone expects.

When Mary Sue introduces Pleasantville boys to sex, strange things start to happen. Foremost is the mysterious appearance of color in the previously black-&-white world. The citizens of Pleasantville also discover that their formerly agreeable lives are hollow and that only through change can they become fulfilling once again. Although this is supposed to be a positive evolution in the citizenry, it instead takes on the melancholy overtones of a paradise lost.

There is a lot to like about "Pleasantville", but such things are mired in a story that doesnít quite know what it wants to be about. Somewhere in the mish-mash is a parable of racial prejudice that isnít fully explored. There is also a clumsy attempt to reverse the attitudes of its two modern-day protagonists. And sexual awakening is looked upon as the end-all-be-all of human experience. But worst of all is the message the film seems to present, that corruption of the human animal is inevitable and should be embraced. "Pleasantville" may be many things, but pleasant it is not.


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