In its infinite wisdom, Disney has decided to resurect The Absent Minded Professor. However, you may note that this remake bears the moniker Flubber instead. And thus begins the shift of focus away from plot and characters and toward mindless special effects that heralds the demise of this film.
Professor Brainard (Robin Williams) is brilliant, but absent-minded to the point that he has forgot his impending wedding to Sara Jean (Marcia Gay Harden) three times. With both his college and his love life in trouble, Prof. Brainard is instead trying to create a metastable compound, a living elastic goo he nicknames “Flubber”.
Flubber has a rather peculiar property (aside that of having free will) that seems to break Newton’s law of motion. Every action done to Flubber seems to have a much greater response. For example, when flubber bounces, it accelerates with each bounce. Prof. Brainard immediately devises several applications for his miracle substance: giving more bounce in sports (a basketball game in particular), and a flying car.
The film has two villains. The first is Wilson Croft (Christopher McDonald), a rival professor who likes to steal from Professer Brainard (both his inventions and his fiancee). Also, there’s Chester Hoenicker (Raymond Barry), the millionaire who is recalling his loan to Brainard’s college. It seems that the only reason he donated money in the first place was to ensure good grades for his dim son, Bennett (Wil Wheaton). However, when Brainard refuses to comply, Hoenicker plots against him.
In addition to threatening to close down the college, Hoenicker sends two hired goons, Smith and Wesson (Ted Levine and Clancy Brown), to steal the Flubber, which might mean financial independence for the college.
There are a couple of cute scenes in the film, particularly when Prof. Brainard is experimenting with his flubber. But most of the effects-heavy flubber scenes don’t quite bounce. For example, a mambo production number, completely unrelated to any of the actions in the film, comes nowhere near having the effect obviously intended. Similarly, neither the film’s centerpiece basketball game, nor it’s “awe-inspiring” flying car are even remotely interesting.
Robin Williams is never given a chance to be very funny here. He’s shackled by the pathetic John Hughes-written script that can’t come up with anything more original than generic Home Alone-ish exploits where the hired goons meet up with the Flubber.
More interesting, but not by much, than the tired hunt-for-the-Flubber plots is the pseudo-love-triangle between Sara Jean, Brainard, and his assistant Weebo (a flying robot voiced by Jodi Benson, who has a nasty penchant for displaying clips from classic Disney cartoons on her monitor…an annoying trait that steps way over the bounds of being a humorous in-joke.) Perhaps the only reason that this subplot stands out is that it’s not the tired (though effects-heavy) same ol’ thing that we’re given with the main plot.
Special effects are useful tools to assist a good film to become great. However, they can’t make a film good by the mere value of their presence. This axiom is perfectly demonstrated in Flubber. Without its effects it would be merely a bad film. With its effects, it is a bad film with special effects.