In January, Summit Entertainment released the trailer for the Jodie Foster film The Beaver, in which Mel Gibson finds a raggedy beaver puppet in a dumpster, begins speaking through it, and reconnects with his wife, Jodie Foster.
To recap: Jodie Foster directed and Mel "Sugar Tits" Gibson starred in a film about a beaver puppet. Was this a joke? Soon after the trailer's release, the website Funny or Die overdubbed it with the now-infamous messages Gibson left on his ex-girlfriend's voicemail.
Anyone who has seen that clip will have trouble watching The Beaver. Then again, so will most everyone else. Jodie Foster has created an uneven, inordinately peculiar film, one that oscillates unsuccessfully between edgy black comedy and Hollywood convention.
The Beaver seems geared to let Mel Gibson save his reputation, but he's not the right man for the job. The role would have been better suited to another fruitcake, like Nicolas Cage. Unlike Gibson, Cage has the ability to bring real pathos to his roles and make them funny. Gibson can't quite make the leap. Repellent in real life, he's in the strange position of being too likable an actor to be an entertaining nutjob.
The nutjob in question is Walter Black, a morbidly depressed schmuck on the brink of losing it all. A voiceover tells us that Walter has made every attempt to be happy. One early scene finds him in a drum circle, surrounded by men in dashikis, inadvertently conjuring Gibson's admonition that, should his ex be "raped by a pack of [n-words]," it would be her fault.
After years of tolerating Walter's despondency, his family toss him out. He finds the title beaver while clearing the trunk of his Mercedes to make room for the carton of hard liquor with which he will anesthetize himself before committing suicide.
His first two attempts, played for laughs, fail. The third finds Walter drunk and teetering on the balcony of an anonymous motel room when the puppet addresses him in an Australian accent, seemingly of its own accord. He stumbles back into the apartment, a television falls on his head, and the scene ends.
Walter returns to the family home with a note announcing that, from now on, he'll speak only through the puppet. His little son Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart), welcomes his freaky new daddy with open arms. Stewart, who's set to replace Haley Joel Osment as the Stepin Fetchit of child actors, is Foster's second-most egregious casting error. He's a tow-headed, moon-faced little thing who never met an "r" he couldn't drop.
Teenage son Porter (Anton Yelchin) is more skeptical. Porter, the voice tells us, has spent the past several years determining the ways in which he resembles the father he so loathes. Later, we learn he's quite the schemer, earning money by writing papers for his classmates in a voice indecipherable from their own. This plagiarism leads to an inane romance involving the school valedictorian (Jennifer Lawrence), who also happens to be a really hot cheerleader, as well as a graffiti artist.
Then there's Foster. Her considerable talent and charm make Walter's wife the film's most believable character; yet Meredith is largely relegated to staring at her husband with scorn, love, or abject wonder. To the delight of plushies everywhere, Foster directs herself in a sex scene with a puppet.
Finally, there's the Beaver himself. He revives Walter's flagging toy company, wins back Walter's family, and makes Walter a media darling. But then he goes rogue, as puppets are wont to do, and the movie goes to hell. Was he a dybbuk, a savior, or a delusion? By the end, it's hard to care.