Child actors showcase stand-up comic personas in Unaccompanied Minors, a conceptual mish-mash of Home Alone and The Terminal. The movie opts away from seasonal feeling to be a live action cartoon. But it rises somewhere higher profile blockbusters Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, X-Men: The Last Stand, Cars, V for Vendetta and The Da Vinci Code do not. It’s fun.
Stranded by a snowstorm on Christmas Eve, a group of kids flying without parents make the most of a stay in a fictitious Chicago airport. This brings together such dependable types as the stuck-up rich girl (Gina Mantegna), the jester boy (Tyler James Williams), the tough girl (Donna Malone) and the kid who doesn’t need an oddball trait because he’s the central character (Dyllan Christopher). Most of these actors carry a peculiar flashy demeanour that makes it seem as though the casting director went straight to talent show winners. Yet the movie keeps on its toes from their enthusiasm.
If lively charm is the strength of Unaccompanied Minors, it’s also its limitation. The war of freedom against a security officer tyrant (Lewis Black) is just recycled John Hughes conflict from Ferris Bueller’s Mr. Rooney and The Breakfast Club’s principal Vernon. That most of these kids have divorced parents and are finding a surrogate family for Christmas in one another, is the sort of connective depth Unaccompanied Minors might uncover if it wasn’t stuck in caricature mode. Friendships arise not from finding commonality but from attraction to each other’s defining stereotypes. Action scenes like a rollercoaster through the baggage carrier system and the (now dependable in Christmas comedies) highspeed sled ride are cut together with an eye for physical humour. It’s as disposable as most Saturday morning fare, but Unaccompanied Minors zips by with energy.
If there are people afraid of everything that’s been demonized in horror movies, they have no more options in life. Turistas informs us that Brazil wants us dead. The horror in leaving one’s comfort zone isn’t unusual for the genre. In their own way, House of Wax, Hostel, The Hills Have Eyes and Wrong Turn are all about the terror of stepping beyond white American civilization. Turistas underlines this theme and applies it to a real country. By assuming political importance, it’s something awful.
John Stockwell, who made Blue Crush and Into the Blue, continues his streak of good-looking, sun-drenched, hardbody B-movies that are somehow no fun. As the college-age travellers are involved in a bus wreck, one of them is yelled at when he innocently tries to take a local child’s photograph. Apparently, kids’ livers are a common export. The tables are turned on the tourists, who assumed the world could be a user-friendly playground. The Brazilians then start hunting the Americans for their organs.
A well-conceived escape through underwater caves has the kids swallowing air bubbles to stay alive. But the human-dissection climax at its midpoint just moves everything to tiresome Saw territory: Suspense is as absent as the filmmaking integrity. Stockwell barely establishes any serious cultural disrespect coming from his heroes in the first place. It’s a moral wake-up where the only real message is that people who are nice to you in Brazil will end up either cutting you to bits, or introducing you to friends who will.
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