It's only June, but the movie of the year may already have arrived. Jim Carrey's new comedy, "The Truman Show," is the smartest, funniest, most original Hollywood movie in ages.
It's also one of the most offbeat. While Paramount clearly feels it has a giant hit on its hands, the picture might prove too peculiar and too packed with sardonic satire on modern entertainment for audiences craving light warm-weather fare.
So along with its own fascinating qualities, "The Truman Show" could be a barometer for the adventurousness of today's multiplex crowd. If its returns are disappointing, filmmakers will think extra hard before taking such risks again.
The plot is so unusual that too much shouldn't be revealed, but moviegoers already know the basics from ads and coming-attractions trailers. Carrey plays Truman Burbank, an ordinary guy with a comfy home, a commonplace job, and all the trappings of a typical middle-class life.
Each time he makes the slightest move to do something different, some glitch pops up to scoot him back to his usual routine. This pattern is so predictable that Truman starts to wonder if something could be wrong with his all-too-smooth existence.
Eventually the situation starts to come clear. He's the unwitting star of a real-life TV series, and everyone from his best friend to his doting mom is playing a fictional role in the drama. Truman is the only one not pretending, and the artificiality of his world is so complete that it's uncertain whether learning the truth will be enough to set him free.
"The Truman Show" was directed by Peter Weir in a return to the bold moviemaking style of "The Last Wave," one of his early films. Its most striking inspiration is to cast Carrey as the hero, since Carrey's screen image is already so artificial that it makes the story seem almost as uncanny for us as for Truman himself.
Top marks also go to writer Andrew Niccol ("Gattaca"). Some aspects of his screenplay have been hit on by filmmakers such as Hollis Frampton and Paul Bartel, but they've never been explored so thoroughly before. Add a fine supporting cast led by Laura Linney and Ed Harris, and you have as exciting an experience as Hollywood is likely to provide for a long time to come.
* Rated PG; contains a little violence and rough language.