"Bogus" isn't. But it tries to be.
By casting a kid who's not so much an actor to be watched as a moppet to be hugged ... by getting Whoopi Goldberg to do essentially the same shtick she perfected in "Ghost" ... by suggesting a 7-year-old could safely walk the streets of Newark, N.J., at night ... by adopting a style that's some weird marriage of "Harvey" and Federico Fellini, complete with huge, unseen friends and circus-shrouded dreams ...
It's all pretty fluffy and phony and forgettable. But then "Bogus" offers up Gerard Depardieu as the title character, the imaginary friend of a little kid whose mother dies and, in her will, exiles him to her foster sister in Newark.
Darn if he doesn't save this picture. Almost.
Playing the most luminous big lug to hit the screen since Dumbo, Depardieu gives the film more presence and charm -- as opposed to cuteness -- than it deserves. As the boy's unseen (except by him) huge friend, it's up to Bogus to protect young Albert (Haley Joel Osment), convince new mother figure Harriet (Goldberg) that it's OK to lighten up, and prevent the film from sinking in its own mawkishness.
The film starts off on shaky territory, with young Albert performing card tricks for his Vegas show-biz friends, the nicest, happiest, most warm-hearted circus people who ever lived. His mom (Nancy Travis) is one of them, so perfect, so understanding, so motherly that you know she's not going to last long.
She doesn't -- she's killed in a car accident about 10 minutes into the film. What to do about Albert? Well, warm-hearted, loving Mom had a plan: ship him off to Newark to live with Harriet, whom she hasn't seen in years, but whom she is sure has Albert's best interests at heart.
But what Harriet mainly has in mind is her own life, and that doesn't include a 7-year-old. She wants to do right by the kid, but she draws the line at treating him as something other than baggage.
All of which raises a few questions apparently not considered by director Norman Jewison or writers Alvin Sargent, Jeff Rothberg and Francis X. McCarthy. For example, it's hard to believe a loving mom would entrust her son to a woman who is essentially a perfect stranger -- especially without telling her. And Harriet is one of those motherly instinct-impaired types that only exists in a Hollywood script.
But then Depardieu shows up, coming to life as Albert doodles on a sheet of paper while flying to New York. Bogus is so huge, complete with an ankle-length overcoat he wears like an extra layer of loose-fitting skin, yet so charming and so irresistibly French (in the most positive sense of the word) that it's easy to see why Albert feels safe around him -- and how he melts even Harriet's considerable reserve.
Starring Whoopi Goldberg, Gerard Depardieu and Haley Joel Osment
Directed by Norman Jewison
Released by Regency
Sun score **
Pub Date: 9/06/96