"When mediocre movies happen to good radio shows."
“Unaccompanied Minors” has a pedigree that’s more interesting than the final film. It’s directed by Paul Feig, who created the terrific but sadly overlooked television series “Freaks and Geeks,” and it was inspired by a segment written by Susan Burton for the intriguingly quirky public radio series “This American Life.” It even features three veterans of “The Daily Show.”The final film has some genuine laughs, but there’s a smarter, more interesting movie trying to emerge. Feig’s sympathies toward young misfits are still thankfully evident, but the mature, realistic approach that made “Freaks and Geeks” so refreshing is missing here.
The story that screenwriters Jacob Meszaros and Mya Stark have cooked up involves five youngsters who find themselves stuck in a fictional Chicago airport modeled after O’Hare during a massive blizzard on Christmas Eve.
Thanks to divorces and other family compounds, all of the kids who’ve been traveling to meet their parents in other parts of the country are carted into a room and left alone until hotel arrangements can be made.
In the meantime, a quintet of the “UMs” manages to make life miserable for the airport’s beleaguered head of security Oliver Porter (gravel throated comic Lewis Black). They include:
*a spoiled rich girl named Grace (Gina Mantegna, Joe’s daughter) *an overweight lad named Timothy (Brett Kelly)who dotes on his Aquaman action figure *a tomboy (Quinn Shephard) *a black, Jewish electronics geek (Tyler James illiams, “Everybody Hates Chris”) *and a young fellow named Spencer (Dyllan Christopher), who’s trying to impress Grace
The minors aren’t simply trying to get out of Porter’s custody. The quintet is trying to have the type of Christmas they can’t have at home anyway and to help Spencer’s sister Katherine (Dominique Saldaña) keep her faith in Santa and the holiday spirit.
The idea of youngsters creating havoc in airport and making monkeys out of the adults who stand in their way has loads of promise. But much of that promise is blunted by stock characters and situations. There must be Hollywood city ordinance requiring kids’ movies to include at least one chubby white male in a lead role, and I could really do without seeing kicks to sensitive areas of the male anatomy or flatulence gags.
Because the humor is so broad, the attempts at poignancy don’t quite ring true. Lewis Black’s caustic delivery is guaranteed to get a laugh, but it’s hard to imagine empathizing with his character. Most of the adults in the film are so cartoonish that you wonder how they could have raised kids. Yes, it’s fun to watch the kids outsmart authority, but it’s even more fun if authority at least has a fighting chance.The movie begins with a few bars from the Kinks’ sarcastic “Father Christmas.” It’s a wonderfully appropriate ode to holiday disappointment. If only the rest of the movie could have been that clever. Note: This review was originally published in County Cable (www.countycable.net).