Who's In It: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Cherry Jones, Jennifer Lawrence, Riley Thomas Stewart
The Basics: A clinically depressed, substance abusing toy company executive (Gibson) finds himself evicted from his home by his fed-up wife (Foster). After a hilarious failure of a suicide attempt, he discovers a beaver hand puppet in a dumpster and begins speaking through it in a strange Michael Caine-like voice. The puppet becomes his therapist and helps Gibson rebuild his family and business. Now, place yourself in that man's shoes--if the cloth animal appendage is doing a better job than you, do you still try to eventually wean yourself off Muppet Life Support? Or do you just give into the personality fracture and let it turn you into the ventriloquism equivalent of the guy who winds up fused with the fibers of the formerly comfy couch? The answer--at least here--is both weirder and more conventional than you think.
What's The Deal: It might have begun life as a pitch black comedy where misery and mental illness form the humor's skeletal structure, but the movie we're finally getting to see (it sat on the shelf for a while during Gibson's real life meltdown) feels like its been lightened up to a shade of slate gray and softened in the wake of its star's suddenly public problems. It opens box after box of emotional and psychological questions that have no guaranteed answers and then weirdly concludes, like most ultra-conventional movies, that all you need, more or less, is love. To explain more than that would be to give away some unexpected twists and turns, and those are the surprises keep it from turning 100% sappy. Even if you hate Gibson--and a lot of people seem to right now--you might find yourself rooting for him by the end.
Best Stuff: First of all Gibson looks like he's been left out in the rain, then baked in a really angry oven, then deflated and covered in sadness dust. The coolest thing director Jodie Foster does is keep him from looking handsome or winning, while the camera spends all its time casting shadows on his sun-busted face. It's also good news that the idea of mental illness as an ongoing condition is treated with more respect than most movies muster the nerve for. And though I'm itching to talk about the two craziest scenes in the movie, I'm going to hold back. For now all I'll say is that the beaver puppet never comes off Gibson's hand and that, like its star has demonstrated in his more recent films, there's no redemption without some crucifixion-style pain.
Stoked For Something That'll Probably Never Happen: A "making of" extra on the DVD where the story of Foster and Gibson's strange, unlikely friendship gets some more attention. That's at least as interesting as anything going on in this movie.
Appetite For Destruction: If you want to watch some weird Mel moments that aren't already on TMZ, take a look at Wim Wenders' Million Dollar Hotel, where he plays a deranged cop.