Review: Mel, Don’t Leave It to ‘The Beaver’ to Revive That Career

It’s a bummer of a movie — dark and at cross-purposes with both itself and any image do-over you might be seeking

Last Updated: May 5, 2011 @ 8:21 PM

Sorry, Mel.

“The Beaver” is not going to rehabilitate you.

It’s a bummer of a movie — dark and at cross-purposes with both itself and any image do-over you might be seeking.

In many ways, a movie star’s public persona an acting job – just as much as the roles he or she plays on screen. But in an era of TMZ and citizen paparazzi, it has become ever more difficult to maintain any kind of false façade.

For the decades Gibson was riding high, he had a reputation as an Australian archetype — the “larrikin.” It’s a word used Down Under to describe — usually with fond frustration — a boisterous young man prone to mischief.

We all have watched Gibson’s behavior go from maverick to maniac. There was nothing likable about his DUI arrest, anti-Semitic rant or addressing a female police officer as “Sugar Tits” back in 2006. Those indiscretions paled, though, next to the allegations last year that he had beat up and threatened with a gun his then girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva, the mother of his infant daughter.

When audio recordings of him screaming in rage at her, using shockingly racist and misogynistic language, surfaced last summer, it seemed his as a movie star was kaput and beyond salvaging, no matter how many contrite interviews he might be willing to give.

Ironically, at the time, he had already completed filming on “The Beaver,” a movie about a middle-aged man in the throes of a breakdown.

Awkward.

The movie’s opening was pushed back until now with the hope that there would be enough other, more recent celebrity flameouts — Charlie Sheen going ballistic, Chris Brown trashing his dressing room at “Good Morning America,” Lindsey Lohan pouting in court yet again, etc. — that Mel’s misdeeds would have become a distant memory.

Not a chance that’s gonna happen. Nope. Not even with Wednesday’s news that Oksana has dropped her domestic-violence charges.

“The Beaver” first came to notice when writer Kyle Killen’s screenplay topped the 2008’s infamous Black List of Hollywood’s best unproduced scripts. Jodie Foster signed on as director and star and cast Gibson — with whom she had been friendly since they co-starred in 1964’s “Maverick” — in the leading role.

A seemingly comic drama, “Beaver” tells the story of a middle-aged toy company executive who, deep in the throes of depression, discovers that the only way he can communicate is by ranting via a hand puppet — a beaver, perched on his left arm. This furry alter-ego oozes brash self-confidence and speaks in a voice and accent that sound alarmingly like Michael Caine’s.

The problem is that “Beaver” is really three movies in one, all at odds with each other.

The first is an angry, absurdist take on a middle-aged guy letting it all hang out, with his puppet turning into a cross between Svengali and Chucky. The second is a bleak, would-be realistic look at how the depression of one family member affects all family members and how tough it can be to treat. And the third is a warm, fuzzy, we’re-all-in-this-recovery-together flick.

As a director, Foster (who also plays the wife of Gibson’s character) never manages to get the three to mesh and the movie’s tone keeps wavering.

There is also a glaring problem with the film’s timeline. The secondary plot revolves around a troubled teenage son (Anton Yelchin, giving another excellent performance) who is ghost writing a graduation speech for a classmate (Jennifer Lawrence). The son is either the slowest speechwriter ever or all of the other events of the movie, including the conception, manufacturing and introduction of a major toy line and a character’s recovery from a severe medical injury, unrealistically occur within a couple months at most.

Gibson, looking every one of his 55 years and more, is utterly believable as a man weary of living and ready to say the hell with it all. It’s an entirely convincing performance — with viewers bound to ask themselves how much is acting — for the initial dark portions of the movie. It’s near the end, as his character perks up and the movie becomes a gooey family drama, that both Gibson and “Beaver” go soft.

So, how do you want your Mel? Mean or likeable? I’m guessing most moviegoers, at this point, don’t want him at all. “The Beaver” isn’t going to change that.