Monday, December 01, 2008

Rain Man (The SOB Review)

Rain Man (The SOB Review) - The Apollo, London, United Kingdom

**1/2 (out of ****)

You have to hand it to director Terry Johnson.

Just as he attempted to turn another much-beloved, award-winning Dustin Hoffman flick (The Graduate) into enthralling stage fare back in 2002, the mediocre reviews from that effort haven't detered him one iota from returning to the same well for another film-cum-stage mounting.

This time, with fresh adaptation by Dan Gordon of Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass' Oscar-winning screenplay, Rain Man is recreated with a post 9/11 sensibility. But aside from the Herculean efforts of Adam Godley in the plum savant role for which Hoffman won an Academy Award, there's little sense or rationale in tinkering with Barry Levinson's 1988 Academy Award-winning Best Film. It all seems so superfluous.

Call me a skeptic, but this Rain Man appears more intended to reignite the flagging film career of would-be heartthrob Josh Hartnett, who makes his West End (and possibly worldwide) stage debut here as wheeler dealer Charlie Babbitt. To paraphrase that infamous indictment leveled by Dorothy Parker against Katharine Hepburn's acting prowess, Hartnett exhibits a range of emotions stretching from A to B. Here, I'm sorry to report, the charge is more than fair.

Making me even more cynical are the corporate sponsorships. Could it be that with Armani as one of the leading underwriters -- Hartnett is the new star of the Diamonds for Men cologne campaign -- the young actor from Minnesota has become the ultimate product placement?

And speaking of product placement, or conspicuous lack thereof, American Airlines is also a major sponsor of Rain Man. Yet quite curiously, during the famous scene recreated here in which Raymond rattles off all the airlines that have crashed, now including United Airlines' flights on September 11, 2001, no mention is made of American, which tragically lost two of its planes that same horrific day. With that omission, Gordon's script becomes utterly dishonest. Could it be that the sponsors overreached into the script itself?

Fortunately, there's Adam Godley, who's a revelation as Raymond. I've previously enjoyed the actor in bit parts in British flicks. Here, he takes second billing to Hartnett. No matter. Not only does this English actor wisely choose not to mimic Hoffman's silver screen portrayal, but he easily wins our hearts and makes us forget this role ever belonged to anyone else. If there is reason to see this Rain Man, it's the true star of this production: Godley and his tender, funny humanity on display throughout an otherwise mediocre play.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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