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Wednesday, July 6, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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`Forrest Gump': Hanks Is The Reason It Works

------------ MOVIE REVIEW ------------

XXX "Forrest Gump," with Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise, Sally Field. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, from a script by Eric Roth. Crossroads, Gateway, Grand Cinemas Alderwood, John Danz, Kirkland Parkplace, Mountlake 9, Oak Tree, Southcenter, Uptown. "PG-13" - Parental guidance advised because of language.

And now for something completely different from a major studio trying to capture the summer-movie audience . . .

Paramount Pictures, which seems otherwise obsessed with hot-weather remakes and sequels, has produced what may be the most original Hollywood film of the season. Not all of it works - indeed, some moviegoers will be completely put off by the script's calculated mixture of wistful philosophy and whimsical running gags - but this is one summer movie that doesn't evaporate the minute you leave the theater.

The chief reason it sticks: Tom Hanks in the title role. Playing a brave Southern innocent with an IQ of 75, who always comes out on top through three decades of war, assassinations, political and economic upheaval, Hanks never overdoes the character's slow-wittedness or his bumpkin charm.

Running a close second: the startling visual effects, which place Hanks in scenes with various celebrities, including U.S. presidents, Elvis Presley, John Lennon and assorted others. Much more sophisticated than even such recent visual juxtapositions as Clint Eastwood with JFK in last year's "In the Line of Fire," these sequences are almost alarmingly authentic.

Promoted as "a romantic docu-fable," the movie follows Forrest from his post-war childhood through the early 1980s, as he becomes attached to a childhood sweetheart, Jenny (Robin Wright); proves his athletic abilities on the football field; becomes a hero of the Vietnam War and the best friend of the soldier he saved (Gary Sinise); gets lucky in the shrimping business; and finally faces a few grown-up realities.

Admirers of Winston Groom's 1986 novel may be startled to find that very little of its tone has survived in the screenplay by Eric Roth ("Suspect," "Mr. Jones"). Roth isn't interested in the social embarrassments that make Jenny's relationship with Forrest a trial, nor can he be bothered with the details of Forrest's football career, his occasional academic triumphs or his opinions about the Vietnam War. Even those who haven't read the book may sense that something's missing when these matters are left unexplained.

Roth is also hopelessly attached to the tall-tale notion of having Forrest present at key 20th-century moments: teaching Presley how to dance, reporting the Watergate burglary, inspiring famous slogans and even the "happy face" logo. Cute at first, the gag turns into a groaner.

Still, this is an ambitious movie that attempts too much rather than too little. In its uniquely unassuming way, it has much to say about the limits of hero worship, the cruelty of children, the trendiness of political movements, resistance to despair and the sense of destiny that even someone as seemingly limited as Forrest can feel.

Good as Wright and Sinise are in their roles as Forrest's near-suicidal soulmates, the movie always comes back to Hanks, and director Robert Zemeckis helps him to achieve some of his finest emotional moments. When Hanks pulls back from a painful memory to claim "And that's all I have to say about that," or he announces with pride and anguish, "This is my Jenny," he captures the dignity of a man who understands life as well as anyone.

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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