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Neverwas (2005)

Miramax Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 7/3/2007

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2
Extras: No

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/3/2007

My friend and I came up with the idea of starting a cable channel which would only show movies that you've never heard of which feature actors of whom you had heard. (We haven't decided on a name for the channel. I voted for "Froggie's", but I think that will work.) If this channel did exist, one could fill the programming with films from Miramax, as they seem to be the industry leaders in suddenly unveiling obscure films with all-star casts. The latest in this line of "Did you see who's in this movie?" titles is Neverwas.

Aaron Eckhart (see, a quality name right off the bat) stars in Neverwas as Zach Riley. Zach's father, T.L. Pierson (Nick Nolte) wrote a very popular fantasy novel entitled "Neverwas" (which featured a little boy named Zachary as the main character), which was beloved by a generation of readers. However, T.L. suffered from mental problem and eventually committed suicide. Now grown and working as a psychiatrist, Zach, who goes by his mother's maiden name in order to distance himself from his famous father, takes a job at the mental institution where his father was treated. (Working for medical director William Hurt.) Once there, Zach meets a patient named Gabriel, who claims to not only have known Zach's father, but he also claims to be the king of Neverwas, insisting that it's a real place. Understandably, this concerns Zach, and things are only exacerbated when he runs into Ally (Brittany Murphy), a childhood friend who is a rabid fan of "Neverwas". As Zach goes through his late father's papers and his medical records, Gabriel's stories begin to have an air of truth. Is Neverwas a real place which his father simply took as his own to create a best-selling book?

If I were forced to describe Neverwas with a Hollywood-style pitch, I would say that it's close to Hook meets The Fisher King, as it's about a man who has worked hard to forget his fairly-tale-like upbringing who meets a seemingly delusional person who makes outrageous claims. The stories with those other films may be similar, but that's where the similarities end. Movies like Hook and The Fisher King invited the audience into the story through a sense of whimsy. There is no whimsy to be found in Neverwas. The movie is actually an overwrought melodrama. In fact, every emotion in this movie feels wrong or misplaced. Writer/director Joshua Michael Stern has made a career of writing horror and thrillers and he plays things far too seriously in Neverwas. Yes, the movie deals with some very serious themes (mental illness, suicide, etc.), but any movie which has a fairy-tale book at its center should have at least a slightly fanciful nature. But, instead, the film is oozing with over-the-top emotions, as everyone is very upset about something, save for Brittany Murphy, who, as usual, always looks as if she's about to laugh. The ultimate example of the film's bizarre tone comes at the end when Zach discovers the truth behind his father's book. I honestly can't tell you if he was happy, sad, or what. Eckhart is a good actor, but the emotion that he was portraying escaped me.

The movie's somber tone gets no help from the story. Neverwas is one of those Miramax movies which was shelved for years, and historically these movies have been whittled down from their original running times in an attempt to make them more marketable. I don't know if that happened here, but the movie is full of plotholes, the most annoying of which is the case of Zach's father. Why did T.L. Pierson have to stay in a mental institution and what led to his suicide? We never know for sure, and yet, this is a huge chunk of the film. We know that the relationship between Zach and his mother (Jessica Lange) is strained, but we don't get many details there. Zach takes a job at the mental hospital and then never works. And my biggest issue with the film -- Zach becomes obsessed with Gabriel, but he apparently never asks anyone else about the man or his past.

As with many films of this sort, Neverwas is truly a shame, if nothing else than for its cast. Along with the actors named above, the movie also has appearances by Alan Cumming, Michael Moriarty, Cynthia Stevenson, and Bill Bellamy. You would think that at some point, one of these veteran actors would have stepped forward and said, "What's this movie about?" As it stands, most of the performances are pretty good. Eckhart has become a dependable leading man here, and he remains likable despite the fact that we have no idea what he's thinking. McKellen is fine as Gabriel and he shows that he can play crazy with the best of them. William Hurt seems to turn up in the oddest places these days and his small role is good. The weak link here is Murphy, who comes off as being out of her element.

The DVD box for Neverwas wants us to think that it's a fun film, and by rights, it should have been. (It also implies that this is a family film and that couldn't be farther from the truth.) The movie is filled with good ideas, but the execution is all wrong. From the outset, every emotion feels wrong and the movie doesn't seem to know where it wants to go. I can only imagine that those involved wish that the movie "never was".

Neverwas enters the enchanted kingdom of DVD courtesy of Miramax Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. This transfer looks good, as the image is sharp and clear for the most part. The picture has no overt grain, nor any defects from the source material. The colors look fine and the framing appears to be accurate. I did note some mild artifacting at times, and there were haloes around the actors in some scenes. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which delivers solid dialogue, sound effects, and music. Being a drama, most of the audio comes from the center and front channels. But, there were a few scenes, mostly Zach's flashbacks, which contained a nice use of surround sound and subwoofer effects.

There are no extra features on this DVD.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long