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See What You’ve Missed: BOGUS (1996)

May 9, 2008

Seven year old Albert (Haley Joel Osment) seems to have everything a kid could want. He’s an A student, his mom, Lorraine (Nancy Travis), is a dancer at a top Las Vegas Casino, and best of all, his best friends are Antoine (Denis Mercier) and Babette (Ute Lemper), the headline magic act with the Circus Fantastique. Monsieur Antoine has even started training young Albert to be in the act someday, by showing him a few simple up close tricks.

All of this tragically changes one night when Lorraine is killed in an auto accident. Albert’s future is uncertain, as nobody knows who Albert’s father is, and the show at the casino is closing soon. Antoine and Babette would love to take Albert on, but, as Antoine gently tells Albert, “A circus is not a home.” Albert seems doomed to be a ward of the state of Nevada.

But there is good news, but bad news to go with it (as if Albert hadn’t suffered enough). Albert has a named guardian: Harriet Franklin (Whoopi Goldberg), and he is to go live with her. The bad news is that Harriet lives across the country in New Jersey. Albert has to leave the world he knows. More bad news: Harriet is busy trying to launch a career in the catering industry and doesn’t believe she has time to raise Albert.

That’s where Bogus (Gérard Depardieu) comes in. Albert creates Bogus out of a coloring book on the flight to New Jersey. Bogus is a six-foot plus giant of a man with a clown-like nose and Depardieu’s signature French accent. Bogus follows Albert to Jersey to help him cope with his new situation. Little does Albert or even Bogus himself realize that Bogus will not only help Albert, but Harriet as well.

Helping Harriet is no small feet for our friendly giant. Harriet is so wrapped up in her business, that she all but ignores Albert. Will Bogus break through Harriet’s defenses, and if so, how? You’ll have to see for yourself.

BOGUS is a great film that shows us how kids cope with life’s most difficult situations. The trick that this movie accomplishes is that the situations are neither too silly nor too dramatic. It’s the kind of movie you’ll find yourself smiling and laughing one minute, as Goldberg’s Harriet lets her Jersey attitude fly, and crying the next, as evidenced in Lorraine’s funeral scene. Credit for maintaining such a delicate balance goes to writers Jeff Rothberg and Francis X. McCarthy and director Norman Jewison. It also helps that BOGUS boasts such a talented cast. Seriously, you can’t go wrong with the likes of the lead actors, nor a supporting cast that includes Sheryl Lee Ralph and Andrea Martin.

BOGUS is available through Warner Brothers DVD, but you may have a hard time locating it. I was lucky to find a copy at BORDERS. Your best bet may be Amazon.com or another major distribution operation. It’s definitely worth a look, if you’re in the mood for a fantasy that never lets itself get too far afield.

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