2006-12-29 / Columnists


Review By Robert Snyder

Five precocious kids do not make for one Macaulay Culkin… particularly if the pre-teens are those in “Unaccompanied Minors.”

But maybe the mess that is “Minors” is not totally the fault of the juvenile talent. It’s more than likely that director/co-writer Paul Feig (“Freaks and Geeks”) has a lot to do with the disaster. After all, he’s no John Hughes, the filmmaker largely responsible for Culkin’s “Home Alone” mega-hits.

Feig takes the premise of five mischievous kids stranded at an airport on Christmas Eve, gives them a Scrooge-like authority figure (Lewis Black) as their foil and hopes to make “Home Alone” multi-millions. Unfortunately, lack of invention all around is the reason why the holiday offering dove to the bottom of the box office top ten ($3.7 million) in its second week. At the screening I attended with my 13-year-old twins, I heard little laughter and a few groans from parents like myself who wished they’d chosen “The Pursuit of Happiness,” a winner at Number One ($27 million) on opening weekend.

Traveling between divorced parents, the Magnificent Five find themselves stuck in a mid-western airport being buried by a major snowstorm. If they had been good little boys and girls, the five could have been put up in a fancy hotel with the other flyers. However, mean passenger relations manger Oliver Porter (Black) decides to punish the brats by sticking them in empty airport holding room.

The gang is comprised of ringleader Spencer (Dyllan Christopher), snotty rich girl Grace (Gina Mantegna), obnoxious genius Charlie (Tyler James Williams), tough-as-nails tomboy Donna (Quinn Shephard) and overweight underachiever Timothy “Beef” Wellington (Brett Kelly, a revelation in “Bad Santa,” a disappointment here.) Spencer has a somewhat pathetic younger sister, Katherine (Dominique Saldana), who gets to stay at the hotel and undergo a forced makeover from another precocious brat.

The five launch a series of covert Navy Seal-type operations, predicable to audience members but not Porter and his dumbbell assistant Zach (Wilmer Valderrama). The most exciting is a group canoe ride down a snowy slope to the hotel. Between the pranks, Feig allows the young stars to bond and even do a few dance numbers to the prepackaged updated Christmas music. The gags are as flat as stale Coca Cola. The effect should drive families out into the mall in search of a decent DVD to wash the bad taste away.

Give yourselves a treat for the holiday: Rent or buy “Home Alone” or “Home Alone 2.” But, by all means, miss “Unaccompanied Minors.”

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