20 years later, 'Forrest Gump' lives on as shtick

Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump (Handout)

Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump (Handout)

Jim Slotek, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:03 PM ET

"Gump sat alone on a bench in the park

'My name is Forrest,' he'd casually remark

Waitin' for the bus with his hands in his pockets

He just kept sayin' life is like a box of chocolates

He's Gump, He's Gump

What's in his head?

He's Gump, He's Gump, He's Gump

Is he in-bred?"

(Weird Al Yankovic – Gump)

About the time I first started jogging, I went through a phase of running to work – with a backpack of clothes and access to the pressmen's shower in a far corner of the building.

"Run Forrest, run!" one guy shouted at me one day as I made my way through traffic.

"You're a funny guy," I thought, channeling Arnold as I huffed exhaust. "That's why I'll kill you last."

It was much later I started to realize that this is how Forrest Gump lives on – not as a fondly-remembered movie with a heart-warming message, but as shtick and fodder for parodies (Like Weird Al's Gump – to the tune of Presidents Of The United States' Lump)

Not to make this Dump on Gump week, but in the wake of Bruce Kirkland's recent appreciation of Pulp Fiction (one of the movies Gump beat out for the Best Picture Oscar 20 years ago, along with The Shawshank Redemption), it's worth considering why new generations of moviegoers haven't similarly picked up on Forrest Gump, and why not many who liked it then don't return to it. Check the VOD stats, where Pulp Fiction's still in high demand and Gump doesn't place. Or ask your local video store clerk (if you still have one – mine can't remember anyone ever asking for it).

But it lives on in life-is-like-a-box-of-chocolates catchphrases and spoofery. Consider Tropic Thunder, and Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.)'s crass assessment of why Ben Stiller's character's mentally-handicapped movie flopped ("You went full retard! You never go full retard… Forrest Gump.' Slow, yes… But he charmed the pants off Nixon and won a ping-pong competition. That ain't retarded.")

The politically-incorrect speech, which also referenced Rain Man and Being There, was a sly shot at the softened version of the mentally-challenged that Hollywood believes audiences will accept. The novel of Forrest Gump by Winston Groom was a satire of contemporary American history (Gump also went into space in it), and was twisted into a sweet celebration of same - from Vietnam to AIDS.

As it was, paired with the Southern accent (already a stereotyped signifier of dumbness to some), Tom Hanks' Forrest might as well have been a rural Mississippi gas station attendant.

All of this (and the miscasting of Hanks as a guy twice his size) might not have gone uncommented-upon, had audiences and critics alike not been hypnotized by Robert Zemeckis' whiz-bang gimmickry. And special effects are the most short-lived reason of all to see a movie.

"You've gotta see this movie! It's like he's actually having a conversation with JFK!" Um, in retrospect, no it's not. "And the guy who plays Lieut. Dan? They digitally make his leg disappear!" Yup, pretty amazing.

But in retrospect, the clunkiest narrative device in Forrest Gump is its use of the golden-oldies soundtrack. Want to evoke the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement? Play Where Have All The Flowers gone, or Fortunate Son. Want to evoke the hippie era? San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair) by Scott McKenzie. It it the '70s yet? Time for some Fleetwood Mac. Forrest is running across America? Running On Empty by Jackson Browne, of course.

Zemeckis didn't invent this lazy narrative and mood-setting device. A previous precedent was The Big Chill (which also reinvented the soundtrack album as a profitable "greatest hits" package for the studio). But Gump was a particularly egregious upholder of this unwelcome Hollywood "innovation."

Admittedly, Quentin Tarantino has also raided the vaults for his soundtracks – but for ironic rather than prosaic purposes. There is no reason anybody would associate Steelers Wheel's jaunty Stuck In The Middle With You with a torture murder (Reservoir Dogs). The movie insinuates itself on the song instead of vice versa.

In many ways, the '90s are back. Jerry Seinfeld has an online series, and there's even a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers reboot coming. But I'd rather see mom jeans make a comeback than watch Gump again.


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