The Deep End Of The Ocean Movie Review

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I had a problem with "The Deep End of the Ocean" right off thebat because Michelle Pfeiffer loses her kid (that's the plot) at one ofthose 15th class reunions that take place only in the movies.

In real life, class reunions happen at 10 and 20 years.But in Hollywood 28-year-olds are still hottie material and therefore tooyoung for "Big Chill" moments of reminiscence, while 38-year-oldsare over the hill and too old to have any recollection of their teens.So screenwriters invented the 15th class reunion to allow attendees tostill be young, pretty and vital at 33, but old enough to look like realparents.

I made an effort to let go of this pet peeve early onand tried to get into the story, which is ostensibly about how a motherand her family copes with the disappearance of, and nine years later thesubsequent return of, her youngest son.

Better than the made-for-cable kind of crap it soundslike, it's also a step above such recent ruthless tearjerkers as "Stepmom"and "Patch Adams."

Problem is, this one swings toward the other end ofthe emotional scale. At the risk of sounding like a hypocrite (I was nonetoo kind to "Stepmom" and "Patch"), the folks in thismovie are just too reserved -- like the whole cast is having dinner atthe in-laws and nobody wants to rock the boat.

Based on the Jacquelyn Mitchard novel of the same name,"Deep End" traces the evolution of Beth Cappadora's (Pfeiffer)family after her son disappears then jumps to a decade later when Bethspots a local boy who she's sure is her missing offspring.

After a police investigation -- lead by detective WhoppiGoldberg, doing her wisdom-and-wit thing (a la Guynan on "Star Trek")-- it is discovered the 12-year-old (Ryan Merriman) is indeed the missingboy and he is forced to leave his unknowing adoptive father and move backin with his natural parents. All this takes place in just a few minutesof screen time, giving part of the film a very rushed feeling.

Directed by Ulu Grosbard ("Georgia"), thefilm skirts the more difficult emotions and any breakdowns the charactersmight have, opting instead to show just the aftermath, like the presumablydistraught Pfeiffer giving up her photography career and spending her dayswith a box of Kleenex and a bottle of Valium.

Pfeiffer does a fine job with the incidentals of depression,and "General Hospital" alum Jonathan Jackson plays perfectlyher elder teenage son's disaffected eye-rolling and uneasy resentment ofhis returned bother. But overall the characters' heartbreak and joy feelterribly clinical. While the characters speak frankly about their feelings,very little comes naturally. For example, inevitable fights between Bethand her husband (Treat Williams) seem to come on cue instead of stemmingfrom circumstances.

There is tension in the reunited family, of course,but everyone is too polite to talk about it. The film has very little moralcomplexity, as demonstrated by the way the loving step-father is regulatedto little more than a walk-on part. It was his disturbed, and now dead,wife who had kidnapped the boy in the first place, but as far as the kidis concerned, this is his father.

"Deep End" is respectful of the audience anddoesn't try to jerk us around emotionally, which is a refreshing change,but in the process its characters became unrealistic goodie-goodies.

Somewhere out there is a happy medium between "Stepmom's"cry dammit! approach to audience empathy and Stepford-like automaton storytelling."The Deep End of the Ocean" comes close, but it's just a bitto Prozac-influenced to feel life-like

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The Deep End Of The Ocean Rating

" Weak "

Rating: PG-13, Friday, March 12, 1999

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