"Powder" makes this promise: Someday, we'll all be the Amazing Kreskin.
And that bit of insight, suggesting the ultimate aim of evolution is being able to read minds and wow 'em at cocktail parties, is just the least of its problems.
There's also stilted dialogue, utter predictability, woefully undeveloped characters and a celestial ending that elicits more amusement than admiration.
A bizarre mish-mash that's equal parts "Mask," "The Elephant Man" and "Ben-Hur," "Powder" is a major disappointment. Its premise sounds promising: A teen-age boy, possessing almost supernatural intelligence, an amazing affinity for electricity and an ability to read people's thoughts, turns up in the basement of his grandparent's house. He's also albino, which explains both his nickname and his isolation.
Forced by a well-meaning social worker to enter a society he's thus far managed to avoid, Powder soon realizes what everyone in the audience already knows -- this ain't gonna work. The kids make fun of him, or worse; the adults are either scared of him or try to take advantage of him, and all Powder wants to do is go home.
The film features all sorts of undercurrents, all designed to produce the sort of tear-jerker Hollywood Pictures (and, of course, its parent company, Disney) specializes in. But "Powder" doesn't offer a fresh slant on any of this. We've seen it all before, usually done better. Within the film's first 20 minutes, most viewers will have the plot pretty much figured out. When a sick woman turns up, for instance, it doesn't take a genius to figure out Powder is going to be a hero.
The movie is not without its bright spots. As Powder, Sean Patrick Flanery is wonderful, giving his character nobility without resorting to histrionics or other actors' tricks.
Mary Steenburgen, as the social worker, and Lance Henriksen, as the sheriff who first discovers Powder, have done better work, but are talented enough to rise above material that often short-changes their characters.
Unfortunately, the film's problems go beyond what is on the screen. Earlier this week, the story broke that writer/director Victor Salva served 15 months in prison for performing oral sex on a 12-year-old actor eight years ago. The victim, Nathan Winters, has denounced Disney for hiring Salva and protested the movie's opening.
More unfortunately, "Powder" does little to quell the reservations people familiar with the controversy may have about it. A scene where Powder stares at one of his teen-age schoolmates in the shower strikes perilously close to home -- especially when the camera pans lovingly along the actor's torso (although stopping short of anything that would jeopardize the film's PG-13 rating). It may be unfair to judge a movie by the perversities of its director, but it's also hard not to.
?3 Bob Dole should have a field day with this one.
Starring Mary Steenburgen, Sean Patrick Flanery
Directed by Victor Salva
Released by Hollywood Pictures