The Cider House Rules

on December 10, 1999 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
   Proof that authors should not adapt their own books, "The Cider House Rules" is a disappointingly sleepy and exceedingly dull version of an idiosyncratic, offbeat and memorable novel. John Irving has boiled all the flavor out of his story of orphan Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire) and his mentor/father figure, Dr. Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine), whose differing approaches to medicine and the issue of abortion put them on separate paths. Dropping the first hundred pages or so of the novel, and most of the explanation of why Homer turns out the way he does, is part of the reason that the drama in the film is so enervated. But it doesn't explain why Lasse Hallstrom, whose films, such as "My Life As a Dog" and "What's Eating Gilbert Grape," virtually personify quirky, has directed this movie with so little passion or style. "The Cider House Rules" simply plods along relentlessly as Homer sets out on an odyssey which finds him picking apples on a farm, where he begins a relationship with Candy (Charlize Theron), a young woman whose fiancé is off fighting in World War Two.
   He also befriends the black migrant workers who travel to Maine to work in the fields and crosses swords with the group's leader (Delroy Lindo), who is hiding a deep and shocking secret. Yet for a movie that handles so many hot button issues, such as abortion, racial prejudice and medical ethics, there's surprisingly little tension or urgency here. Irving's main concern, of freedom of choice when it comes to handling pregnancy, is soft-pedaled so much it may as well have been deleted. And the movie feels quaint and sweet, like something out of "The Waltons," which surely can't be what Irving, a realist at heart, had in mind.    Starring Tobey Maguire, Michael Caine and Charlize Theron. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom. Written by John Irving. Produced by Richard N. Gladstein. A Miramax release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 129 min.
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