Film Review: Flubber
In 1997, Les Mayfield released Flubber, a remake of the 1961 film The Absent-Minded Professor. Starring Robin Williams, Marcia Gay Harden, Madeline Kahn, Christopher McDonald, Kathleen Barr, Clancy Brown, Pinto Colvig, Frank Welker, Raymond J. Barry, Wil Wheaton, Leslie Stefanson, and Aileen Quinn, the film grossed $177.98 million at the box office. Nominated for the Kids’ Choice Award for Favorite Movie Actor, the film won the Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Favorite Actor/Actress – Family, the BMI Film and TV Music Award, and the Bogey Award.
Professor Philip Brainard is an absent-minded professor who is constantly searching for an energy-based scientific breakthrough so he can save the college he works at from closing. Soon, he and his robot assistant Weebo stumble across green goo he calls Flubber, which stands for flying rubber and can bounce inexhaustibly and defy gravity. However, he seems to have missed his wedding for a third time and must win back his fiancée, Dr. Sara Jean Reynolds and fend off a rival and the corrupt dean, both of whom are trying to steal Flubber for themselves.
A fairly bad remake of an originally decent film, Flubber is quite the bizarre spectacle, taking a quick turn from the original by turning Flubber into a full on character rather than simply a plot device. Where it was once Brainard’s discovery with which he was able to make his car fly, give the corrupt executive his just desserts and entice the government, this film decides to do all that as well as give Flubber a mind of its own. This perpetuates the strangeness of the film as there’s one scene where Weebo takes it out of the case and Flubber has a dance number that’s completely in CGI. Watching this scene, which is never referenced to anywhere else in the film, makes it obvious that the only reason it was used was to make the film longer and entice views by putting it in the credits. It seems that this one scene was the sole reason to give life to Flubber and it’s a pretty poor reason for making such a big change to a film.
That’s not the only strange aspect of the film though as the mere existence of Weebo is quite odd. In the original, Brainard did have a housekeeper, but she wasn’t his scientific assistant. Here, on the other hand, presents an artificially intelligent being created by Brainard with which to assist him scientifically. Normally, such an addition wouldn’t be a bad thing and would be a pretty cool update to a story originally from the sixties. What makes this so strange is that Weebo has romantic feelings for Brainard, the man who created her, which progresses into creating a sexy female hologram so she can act out her emotions physically while he’s asleep. Further she also presents an uncomfortable amount of jealousy when it’s shown that Brainard isn’t able to come up with another model after she’s destroyed because it was originally a miraculous accident and she didn’t want to share him with any other models. Yet, when she is destroyed, Brainard is given a copy of her design that she calls “our daughter” that has modifications based on him and Weebo within a file called “stork.” With the new model being considered a “daughter,” the term to define the relation to Brainard and Weebo shouldn’t be hard to understand since he’s the one who created her and connecting the two produces an idea that the film doesn’t even try to make subtle. It’s a disturbing and uncomfortable aspect to the film that really has no place in a family film.
As for Brainard, he’s even worse than his original iteration. The original Brainard forgot his wedding three times due to his absent-mindedness and turned into a jerk, stalking his fiancée and terrorizing the guy who started courting her afterwards. Here though, Brainard comes off as even more of a self-centered schmuck considering the beginning of the film shows that he has trouble remembering that he’s even engaged and went to a rehearsal dinner the night before as well as how he finally does get married at the fourth wedding in the end: by video conference. While an attempt to put a nice, cute ending to a family comedy film, it misses the mark completely as it shows that he still can’t show up for the wedding and implies that he considers his work more important than his own wedding since he’s dressed for it.
The physical comedy is a tragic mess as well, considering it has a bowling ball repeatedly hitting a man’s head, either at great speed or an absurd height, which only results in what’s supposed to be a hilarious knockout. Slapstick may not have to be completely realistic, but it should be at least somewhat grounded in reality and two direct hits from a bowling ball straight to the head with the recipient being totally fine later just doesn’t seem like it could work in any scenario.