Outside of the novelty of seeing “Harry Potter” Daniel Radcliffe in a film in which he isn’t wielding his magic wand around–well, at least not the one you are probably thinking of–there is nothing on display in the coming-of-age drama “December Boys” that you haven’t already seen dozens of times before.Set in the late 1960's, it tells the story of a quartet of Australian orphans (Radcliffe, Lee Cormie, Christian Byers and James Fraser) who are sent to the South Australian coast for a summer holiday at the home of a kindly older couple. Things start off great when the kids go exploring on the beach and spot a gorgeous woman (Victoria Hill) going skinny-dipping and get even better (not to mention a little creepier, considering their reaction to the skinny-dipping bit) when they overhear that she and her husband (Sullivan Stapleton) are thinking of adopting one of them permanently. As a result, the three younger kids begin competing against each other to curry favor in the hopes of being the one selected while Radcliffe, who realizes that he is presumably too old to be adopted, spends most of his time flirting with a local girl (Teresa Palmer) who takes his virginity and breaks his heart.
The film is well-meaning enough but is hampered by the fact that instead of one strong central plot, the competition to be adopted it contains a bunch of subplots that don’t really go anywhere–besides the young love, which can be excused, I suppose, we also get stuff involving an overly symbolic giant fish, an overly symbolic fishing horse,, a mysterious secret involving one of the kids’ hosts and a mysterious secret involving one of the potential adopters. None of these threads are especially interesting on their own and taken together, they feel less like a chronicle of everyday occurrences and more like a collection of plot notions that presumably appeared in the original Michael Noonan novel but which screenwriter Marc Rosenberg had to chop down to the bone in bringing them to the screen. None of it is particularly awful by any means but there is nothing about it that screams out to be seen.Radcliffe, whose presence is presumably the only reason that this film is getting even a token theatrical push, is okay–although the display of adolescent angst that he demonstrates here pales in comparison to the similarly themed but far richer performances that he has delivered in the recent “Harry Potter” films–while his young co-stars are, much like the film itself, pleasant and well-scrubbed but instantly forgettable.