"Rain Man" is the kind of congenial multiple Oscar-winner that it seems churlish to dislike, although its execution is by no means virtuoso. What sets it apart from the norm is Hoffman's absorbing performance as idiot savant, Raymond Babbitt. In deference to this, director (and frequent Hoffman collaborator) Barry Levinson provides a soft touch to the relatively simple buddy movie formula.
Distasteful 80s archetype, Charlie Babbitt (Cruise), learns that he has inherited a negligible portion of his estranged father's fortune. The uncomprehending heir to the millions is his previously unknown autistic brother. A desperate state of finances results in equally desperate measures. He kidnaps Raymond, and thus begins a journey through a landscape drenched in Americana (the nostalgic variety of television, baseball, and cars, harking back to Levinson's debut, "Diner", rather than the trigger-happier version we're also familiar with from the movies).
Exhibitions of Raymond's phonebook-memorising genius or hysteria provoked by breaks in his routine provide the bulk of the content. The scene in which he refuses to fly any airline but Qantas was reportedly cut from all in-flight movies bar those of the Australian company whose unsullied safety record the film champions.
The film's greatest achievement is successfully framing the plot around a character incapable of emotional development. Cruise's character compensates with his selfishness and exasperation saving the film from an excess of sentiment. What's more, his personal improvement and reconciliation with the past is not so overwhelming that we'd expect him to remain anything other than the consummate yuppie, forever on the blower in this pre-mobile America.
"Rain Man" is on BBC1 at 10.55pm, Sunday 11th March 2001.