Pity director Bart Freundlich. His last movie, World Traveler, though advertised for months, got almost no release, and quietly disappeared from the scene. Now he’s facing even worse luck: His latest film, Catch That Kid, is booked into theaters everywhere.
Whether or not Mr. Freundlich has subsequently gone into hiding, I do not know — though it wouldn’t be the worst career move he could make at this point. Catch That Kid has been touted by the marketing folks at 20th Century Fox — who apparently have chemical-dependency issues — as the next Spy Kids; Freundlich’s film, however, is to the Rodriguez series what monster-truck pulls are to the fine arts.
The screenplay (by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, the literary giants behind 2 Fast 2 Furious) is adapted from a Danish film called Klatretosen; based on the plot synopsis of the model film, Catch That Kid‘s story appears to have been copied almost to the letter. So let’s hope, for the sake of the Danish film industry, that the specifics have been dumbed down for U.S. consumption.
What we have here is a witless and unconvincing caper-comedy centered around 12-year-olds Maddy (Kristen Stewart, Panic Room), Austin (Corbin Bleu, Family Tree) and Gus (newcomer Max Thieriot). Since we can’t reasonably be expected to buy the premise that has pre-teens pulling off a bank robbery merely for fun and profit, the story had to be worked around to give them a “believable” — and more to the point, acceptable — motive for stealing $250,000. To this end, we are saddled with a treacly soap-opera contrivance.
Maddy’s father (Sam Robards, Life As a House) falls prey to some mysterious, life-threatening paralysis brought on — long after the fact — by injuries sustained in a mountain-climbing accident. Naturally, the insurance won’t cover the $250,000 operation in Denmark that might save his life. (At least, I think that’s the point of the surgery — though I can remember when people went to Denmark for another kind of expensive operation.)
The nasty banker (Michael Des Barres, Mulholland Drive) for whom Maddy’s mom (Jennifer Beals, Runaway Jury) works won’t shell out the requisite cash — so, of course, Maddy decides she’ll steal it from his bank. Faster than you can say, “The end justifies the means,” little Maddy has conned both of her youthful companions into helping her. As morally debatable as all of this is, it’s even more questionable when she manipulates them into cooperating by claiming to love each of them — with a “don’t tell” the other one proviso.
How parents will take to this depiction of a 12-year-old using her feminine wiles to criminal ends may well depend on whether they’re still awake by this point in the film. The heist itself is nothing to get excited about, though the comic intrusions of James LeGros (World Traveler) as a security guard (think Mannequin) and Stark Sands (Chasing Liberty) as Gus’s obnoxious big brother (think Weird Science) and security guard in training, are quite sufficient to make you want to throw things at the screen. (Big Comic Moment: The alarm sounds, and these two roll back and forth across the room, looking at monitor screens for what seems like five minutes while trying to figure out what to do.)
The chase on go-carts (think The Italian Job — or, for that matter, What’s New, Pussycat?) is both hard to believe, and also none too exciting. Of course, the kids can’t be allowed to really get away with the loot (that would be wrong), so the whole caper becomes just a setup for the kind of cornball ending that Frank Capra could actually have pulled off … 70 years ago.
There are plot holes aplenty here, but these bumps in the story line seem like nothing compared to the shoddiness of the film’s execution in even its simplest scenes. This messy approach is established early on, when the movie cuts away from Gus into a new and separate scene just as Gus is about to suffer the wrath of his big brother, and then director Freundlich jockeys us back to big brother, who hasn’t gotten one step closer to the object of his ire.
Moral considerations to one side, Catch That Kid might be passable entertainment for undemanding 12-year-olds — though it’s one of those films that most kids that age would probably consider themselves too cool to go see.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke