The plot of Creator sounds a bit like a variation of Frankenstein. However, Creator ends up being a surprisingly romantic film, elevated by a strong central performance.
Renowned Nobel Prize-winning scientist Harry Wolper (Peter O'Toole) is looking for a new research assistant to continue his somewhat secret experiments. He finds the ideal candidate in Boris Lafkin (Vincent Spano), a slightly grumpy and rebellious but decent pre-med student. Boris is ideal because he is not keen on working with Wolper's frenemy Dr. Kullenbeck (David Ogden Stiers). Boris is also attracted to a mysterious woman whom Wolper knows the identity of. In exchange for revealing her name, Boris agrees to work with Wolper. She is Barbara Spencer (Virginia Madsen), a fellow student with whom Boris eventually begins a romantic relationship.
Now, what exactly are Wolper's not-so-secret experiments? Simply put, he wants to clone his late wife Lucy, who has been dead for 35 years. Most of his colleagues save Kullenbeck take his work as a combination eccentricity and grieving mechanism. As it turns out, Wolper is really inches from achieving a resurrection of sorts.
In order to facilitate this, Wolper and Boris require female eggs. Answering an ad, the sassy but unsure cocktail waitress Meli (Mariel Hemingway) agrees to let them use her ovaries. She moves in and soon Meli falls in love with Wolper. Will the not-so-mad scientist realize that one can love the living while still respecting the dead? Will Barbara's health crisis separate her and Boris forever?
In most hands, almost everything about Creator might have come across as either goofy or creepy. The idea of cloning someone has very concerning elements to it. However, Creator manages to be almost a romantic comedy. The best description that I can offer for Creator is that it is an odd blending of My Fair Lady and Re-Animator.
The reason that Creator is more endearing than deranged is due to a variety of factors. The first and perhaps most important are the performances. Creator is a delightful turn for Peter O'Toole. He makes Wolper into a nice, elegant mad scientist. Wolper comes across as more of a rascal than a complete psychopath attempting to resurrect his long-dead wife. Wolper is endearing and quite touching thanks to O'Toole's performance.
When Boris sees a picture of Lucy, he remarks, "She was something". Wolper wistfully responds, "She was...everything". O'Toole makes clear in these simple moments why someone would steal laboratory equipment and offer women money for their eggs to bring a long-dead woman to life. O'Toole is impish and almost innocent in his manner. While mentoring Boris in the sciences and arts of love, he offers his Love Formula. You are in love, he says, when you think about the lady more than yourself.
He is matched by Spano as Boris. One sees an awkwardness to him, almost a shyness underneath the mix of anger and self-contempt. Who else would create a robot that said mean things about him and even set it up to give him potentially deadly electric shocks to get him out of bed?
Madsen is delightful as Barbara, the object of Boris' affection. There is a guilelessness, a sweetness but mixed with an intelligence in her. She is probably fully aware that Boris is into her, but she does not give in right away. Madsen's Barbara builds up the relationship to friendship, then openly flirts with him. Someone who is not attracted to you won't pull off your towel and compliment you on your body.
While a smaller role, Stiers is effective as the arrogant Kullenbeck, Wolper's frenemy. He, however, can have moments of comedy, such as when he is thoroughly stunned when Meli flashes him in a not-so-friendly game of tackle football. Hemingway is probably the weakest of the performances. To be fair, Meli had a small part to play, but she did not convince that Meli had fallen in love with Wolper. When she stands up for him, either at the football game or suggesting to Kullenbeck that she is really a lesbian, Hemingway does much better.
I will, in retrospect, walk something back a bit. Spano's third act when attempting to not lose Barbara was at times a bit over-the-top bordering on hysterical in all meanings of the word. I might put that down more to Ivan Passer's directing and Jeremy Leven's adaptation of his own novel. This part did not fully work, which did push Creator down a bit.
However, it is more than made up for by other parts that did. When Boris and Barbara finally consummate their relationship, they have a wonderful set of dialogue where they discuss the joys of the middle class while in the shower. Few people could rattle off such joy in the first flowerings of love and look so beautiful doing so.
As a side note, Boris tells Barbara that he lost his virginity at 15 to a girl who was 27. I don't think we need to go into how his first sexual encounter was, technically, statutory rape.
Creator is a surprisingly sweet and moving film. It has elements of romance and comedy to where the actual "cloning your very dead wife" part seems almost secondary. Strong performances and a nice pace move Creator along to being good, even touching, entertainment.