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Sweet and Low

Look out below. Here's another movie about a child's grief, a hard-shelled grownup's loneliness, and the healing power of imagination. It unfolds in Las Vegas (the city of illusions) and Newark, New Jersey (Harsh Reality, U.S.A.), and features Gerard Depardieu in, roughly speaking, the role of Harvey the invisible rabbit.

Stop right here if you take fewer than nine sugars in your coffee.
Said another way, Norman Jewison's Bogus asks us to go all warm and fuzzy over Albert (Haley Joel Osment), a seven-year-old blond moppet suffering from the loss of his Vegas-showgirl mother in a car crash and from an overdose of the cutes. It also asks us to embrace Whoopi Goldberg's 139th movie performance of the year, as Harriet, a thoroughly unmotherly godmother who has to bring the kid to Newark and take care of him once Mom checks out, even though she'd really rather be starting up a restaurant-supply business.

Depardieu is the title character, a rumpled, imaginary Frenchman with a nose the size of a croissant whom the grieving kid conjures up when he needs a playmate and a guardian angel. The twist, of course, is that Harriet needs Bogus almost as much. Always has. Redemption for godmother and child cannot be far behind.

That's about it. Except that little Albert, because his mother (Nancy Travis) made the rounds in the desert, is acquainted with Liza Minnelli, was named for Frank Sinatra and has no father. When he's not moping or sulking, he's also a tireless ham, practicing his repertoire of magic tricks on anyone who will watch and lots of people who won't. Now, there's nothing wrong with most Hollywood kid actors that four or five years of solitary confinement wouldn't cure, but that might not do the trick for little Haley. Jewison, the director of some pretty good movies (In the Heat of the Night, Moonstruck) and some perfectly awful ones (F.I.S.T., ...And Justice for All), lets the boy eat every piece of scenery in two states. By comparison, Shirley Temple was a wallflower.

Surprisingly, the screenwriter here is Alvin Sargent, who's won two Oscars and given us everything from Paper Moon to Julia to Ordinary People. How he got mixed up in this thing deserves to remain a mystery, but it's not entirely his fault: Jeff Rothberg and Francis X. McCarthy are credited with the "story."

Credit Depardieu for effort beyond the call of duty. Light on his feet and easy with a quip, the big, galumphing Frenchman gives his all as little Albert's "friend" and, in a nice fantasy sequence, Whoopi's dancing partner. Whether he's playing Cyrano de Bergerac, Rodin or a trifle like this, the man is a professional. In the meantime, Goldberg relies again on her patented combination of wisecracks and sweetness: She could package this stuff and sell it in supermarkets.

Is Bogus a kids' movie? Kind of. For adults? It would like to think so. But you'll need a bath to get the sap off.

--Gallo

Bogus. Screenplay by Alvin Sargent. Directed by Norman Jewison. With Whoopi Goldberg, Gerard Depardieu, Haley Joel Osment and Nancy Travis.

 
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