The Deep End Of The Ocean, the book that began the Oprah-ization of American literature, gets the big-screen treatment in a film by director Ulu Grosbard. But if the credits didn't list him as such, it would be pretty easy to forget that the director of Georgia had anything to do with this movie: Grosbard's previous film featured human characters, not the psychobabble-spouting androids here. Michelle Pfeiffer stars as a mother of three who finds herself the mother of two after a kidnapping at her high-school reunion. Even with the support of husband Treat Williams and helpful policewoman Whoopi Goldberg, Pfeiffer watches her life collapse after the loss, only to be shocked years later when a remarkably familiar boy (dubious youngster Ryan Merriman) shows up to mow her lawn, leading to an awkward, unexpected mother-and-child reunion. But the awkwardness built into the story is equaled by the awkwardness on the screen. Pfeiffer, Williams, and others don't really speak to each other so much as take turns exchanging bits of self-analysis. Equally awkward is Pfeiffer's troubled teen son (Jonathan Jackson), who may be the most polite juvenile delinquent in cinematic history, and whose penchant for hotwiring cars makes it seem as if he'd stepped out of a '50s melodrama. But what really does in The Deep End Of The Ocean is not the implausibility of its plot, the shallowness of its characters, its funereal pace, its tenuous understanding of teenage behavior, its commercial-ready TV-movie-style direction, or the fact that Pfeiffer and Williams may be the most implausible Italian-Americans since James Caan. Those factors contribute, but the film is most undone by its near-complete lack of genuine drama. It's never once possible to care whether Pfeiffer will recover her child as a toddler—or, in the second half, reach an understanding with his older, chubbier incarnation. There's a great tradition of best-selling books being transformed into first-rate movies, but The Deep End Of The Ocean doesn't perpetuate it.

Advertisement