Try to separate Mel Gibson the actor from Mel Gibson the potentially crazy man who hurls epithets and anti-Semitic remarks in equal measure. Trust me: If you ignored the work of every Hollywood performer whose offscreen life is effed-up, or whose views don’t align with yours, all you could watch would be a test pattern.
After a failed suicide attempt, Gibson’s deeply depressed toy exec, Walter, is kept from a successful one only by a beaver hand puppet that, in his mind, talks to him. “Oy!” says the beaver, in an exaggerated version of Gibson’s native Aussie accent, “I’m here to save your goddamn life.”
From this point forward, Walter communicates only via the puppet. Far from cute and cuddly, it looks like it harbors a mean streak. Walter’s wife (Jodie Foster, who also directed) puts up with it, only because he appears to be feeling something again, thereby improving their near-dead marriage. But how long can she put up with a puppet (Walter never removes it, including during sex, after which the beaver pants), a transparent mask for obvious mental illness?
It’s an idea worth exploring, but the script by Kyle Killen takes side routes less interesting, primarily in a subplot about Walter’s high school son (Anton Yelchin, “Fright Night”) and his tortured flirtation with the cheerleader valedictorian (Jennifer Lawrence, “X-Men: First Class”). It goes nowhere, taking time away from the central plot, which does end up going somewhere, but Foster is such a wuss of a director, she doesn’t let us see the one moment that would give her movie the balls the original script bore.
“The Beaver” could have been the breakthrough for Foster’s unremarkable directorial career, but her gentle touch to the material is akin to rubbing an alcohol-soaked cotton ball on a skinned knee. You can practically hear her say, “There, there, it’ll be all right,” ready to wipe away tears she hasn’t earned. Her other big mistake was not letting someone else have her part, as she is completely unbelievable in it.
Ironically, the one guy who gives it his all here is Gibson — also the one reason so many were and will be unwilling to give the film a chance. His go-for-broke performance almost makes up for many other deficiencies. —Rod Lott