Finding Forrester
dir. Gus Van Sant
Opens Mon Dec 25 at the Meridian.

IT'S A FUNDAMENTAL rule of script writing never to give any character who's supposed to be more intelligent than you are more than 10 lines. If the character is supposed to be a world-famous, critically acclaimed writer, consider reducing the allowance to five lines. Unfortunately, Finding Forrester is about just such a writer, and poor Sean Connery has the thankless task of reciting hundreds of witless aperçus apparently meant to convey his brilliance. Many of them make no sense at all; watch for the one about the socks, though--it's a dilly.

Connery's up for it, of course. He plays the writer with the immense courtesy of a bear who has already had supper. He's not the sort of actor who can transform inferior material, but he's a pro, and he won't back down from his duty. He has so often successfully portrayed intelligent characters that it's hard to remember he may not himself be an intelligent person. One almost hopes he's not.

So what's the story? A kid from the Bronx excels at both basketball and composition, befriends a hermit writer, undergoes a crisis from which the writer must extract him, thereby helping the writer overcome his own reclusive blah blah blah. Unfortunately, that outline, dismissive though I've made it, is much stronger than the script, which veers around like some scatty old aunt telling a tale hind-end first. Sean Connery wrote the Great American Novel--oh well, yes, he is Scottish, but he came to this country as a teenager. And he never goes out now, except he will go out to watch a baseball game--well, he always used to watch baseball. Well yes, he watches basketball out the window now, but then he and his brother--oh, did I forget to say he had a brother? Well, he had one, and anyway, F. Murray Abraham tried to publish a critical book--no, F. Murray Abraham isn't the brother, he's a teacher. Yes, he's teaching at the school where the kid--well, okay, I guess I should have said that the kid gets into this snobby day school.... It goes on like that. So does my aunt.

The publicity for the film says that Robert Brown, who plays the kid, had never even acted in a school play, and was cast as the result of a nationwide search. I believe it. There aren't many professional teenage actors with absolutely no vim of any kind. The same publicity had director Gus Van Sant saying that Brown was very quick at memorizing his lines. Gus Van Sant? The same Gus Van Sant who has been a reliable source of boy yummies for years? Matt Dillon, River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves, Joaquin Phoenix... Robert Brown? There must be something I'm not getting; to me, Brown seemed as bland as bathwater.

Busta Rhymes has a tiny role that doesn't force him to say anything absolutely stupid. F. Murray Abraham has a role written by a Waring blender, but he has fun with it; and any time you need a fine sneer, F. Murray Abraham is your man. The actress who plays the kid's mother soldiers ahead in the face of gross illogic (she doesn't know that kids take standardized tests, but she knows how to read the scores?), and it's a commentary on being a mature black woman in Hollywood that her name appears nowhere in the publicity for the film. Anna Paquin continues to look strangely stretched, like a little tiny girl with a little tiny facelift; she has no role at all, except to appear strongly nonsexual in clinches with Robert Brown.

I don't know enough about basketball to criticize the basketball scenes, but the writing scenes are about as inauthentic as whipping out a pool cue to boost a basketball through the hoop. The New Yorker has never, ever published sketches of New Yorker authors with their pieces, even under Crazy Tina Brown, and the byline went at the bottom until very recently. Five thousand words overnight-- oh really? Punch those keys (there is no clear sense in the movie of the difference between composition and typing). And nobody at the beginning of the 21st century, or at least nobody who admires Ken Kesey (as both the writer and the kid are supposed to) believes that sentences ought not begin with coordinating conjunctions.

Barley Blair is the pseudonym of a little old lady who loves starting sentences, paragraphs, even whole chapters with coordinating conjunctions.