American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Ulu Grosbard's "The Deep End of the Ocean'' is a painfully stolid movie that lumbers past emotional issues like a wrestler in a cafeteria line, putting a little of everything on his plate. It provides big roles for Michelle Pfeiffer and Treat Williams, but doesn't provide them with the screenplay support they need; the result is that awkwardness when characters express emotions that the audience doesn't share.
(There's no way I can discuss the failure of the movie without revealing details, so if you plan to see it, I'd suggest reading this review later to preserve the plot's surprises.) Pfeiffer and Williams play the parents of a 3-year-old boy who is kidnapped from a hotel lobby during a class reunion. They are befriended by a detective (Whoopi Goldberg), who reveals she is gay for no other reason than to provide a politically correct line, since her sexuality is utterly irrelevant to the story.
Nine years pass, the couple moves from Madison, Wis., to Chicago, and then the boy is found again--mowing their lawn. He was kidnapped by Pfeiffer's neurotic classmate, who later married and then committed suicide. So the child has been brought up by an adoptive father who of course had no idea he was kidnapped.
The film's most crippling failure is in the treatment of the adoptive father, who is played with gentleness and great strength by John Kapelos. The audience knows, but the movie apparently doesn't, that the real drama in the later stages is in the father's story. We suffer with Pfeiffer and Williams as they grieve their lost child and fight over the blame, but after nine years, their life has fallen into a rhythm, and it is the other family that is ripped apart when the boy's true identity is revealed.