Movie Review

Minor disaster

Staff WriterDecember 8, 2006 

  • 1 star

    Actors: Lewis Black, Wilmer Valderrama, Tyler James Williams, Dyllan Christopher, Brett Kelly, Gina Mantegna, Quinn Shephard.

    Director: Paul Feig.

    Web site: http://unaccompaniedminors.warnerbros.com.

    Length: 1 hour, 29 minutes.

    Theaters: Apex: Beaver Creek. Cary: Crossroads. Chapel Hill: Timberlyne. Durham: Phoenix. Southpoint. Wynnsong. Garner: Towne Square. White Oak. Morrisville: Park Place. Raleigh: Brier Creek. Carmike. Grande. North Hills. Six Forks. Wakefield. Roxboro: Palace. Smithfield: Smithfield.

    Rating: PG (mild rude humor and language).

Kids and snow, lots and lots of snow -- it's one of those combinations rich with cinematic possibility. 2000's "Snow Day," for instance, had great fun with that revered event of childhood, the day when Mother Nature closes school.

It's a rich concept, but not foolproof, as "Unaccompanied Minors" aptly demonstrates.

"UM" looks at what happens to all those minors traveling unaccompanied by adults, in this case when a blizzard closes Hoover International Airport (supposedly Chicago's main airport, yet somehow located on a ski slope). Turns out the UMs are rounded up and put in a cavernous concrete room in the bowels of the airport, an airport whose director of passenger services is played by the crotchety, cantankerous Lewis Black. Black's character is made even more irritable by the fact his own flight, to Hawaii, is the first canceled.

Most of the couple hundred or so corralled kids seem content to throw candy at their lone baby sitter, a beleagured passenger-services minion played by Wilmer Valderrama ("That '70s Show"). That's OK with all but five of the kids, who plot their individual escapes but come together in a getaway courtesy cart. Momentarily, "Unaccompanied Minors" morphs into "The Breakfast Club," as these five disparate souls -- the rich girl, the nerd, the tough girl, the fat kid and the ... regular kid -- are thrown together. (If "Breakfast Club" didn't work for you, this won't, either. If "Breakfast Club" did work -- well, you're still out of luck.)

It's one contrived scenario after another as Black and his bumbling security staff (Blackwater they ain't) hunt down the AWOL adolescents. The other kids, meanwhile, have been taken to a ski lodge at the end of Runway A4. In one scene --

Hold it a sec. Let's go back to that ski lodge. That's no exaggeration: In one scene, the kids lead security on an improvised toboggan run from the airport to the lodge. And that's a big part of the problem with "UM." A little suspension of reality is to be expected in a "comedy." But this movie is one head-scratcher, one non sequitur, after another in a sloppy plot that becomes annoying to follow. This is particularly baffling because one of the movie's executive producers is one of today's top storytellers, Ira Glass, the force behind public radio's "This American Life."

In one scene, for instance, the earth-friendly dad of one kid is standing inches from his bio-diesel Mercedes (don't ask). In the next instant, the car explodes into a mushroom cloud and Dad is standing a football field away.

The movie manages to score one star because:

1. Children are involved.

2. It somehow winds up with a decent ending. An ending I didn't see coming and one in which the actors suddenly remember that they're actors. Even Black, who manages to cough up a little humanity.

Still, an OK landing is no reason to endure this bumpy ride. If your kids insist on seeing "Unaccompanied Minors," follow the movie's premise.

Send them unaccompanied.

Reach Joe Miller at 812-8450 or jmiller@newsobserver.com.

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