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Monday, September 08, 2003
HARDLY A LION, DEFINITELY SECOND-HAND

The new film Secondhand Lions was written and directed by Tim McCanlies (The Iron Giant, Dancer Texas; Pop 101). I liked The Iron Giant, and Dancer was surprisingly good, but this film suffers from the problem of having one (non-genius) person write and direct. There are story problems here that a director would normally have caught in the writer's script -- but when the director IS the writer, there is no one around to say, "Hey, there is no real tension in the whole second act!" and other stuff like that.

The ensemble here is talented enough, however, to almost make us overlook the project's conceptual flaws. Robert Duvall (The Apostle), Michael Caine (The Quiet American) and Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense) do the best they can -- although all of them need to fire their people for letting them sign onto this project while it was still three or four drafts away from being shot.

But maybe I've just lost the ability to enjoy a movie like a normal person any more?

When I was leaving the screening, an ebullient woman ahead of me in the parking validation line couldn't wait to share her enjoyment. "What did you think of the film?"

I hesitated. "You mean, really?"

She hesitated. "Well, yeah..."

I sighed. "Okay. There was no conflict in the first act. There should have been a lot more struggle before the main protagonists bonded. The director/writer was in a big rush because of the set-up that the story needed to unfold in one summer, so he ended up rushing the primary relationships and just asking the audience to believe him. Hence, the characters - especially the old men - are completely inconsistent. Then, you have to ask, 'Whose movie is this?' The young boy is presumably the main character, but he is passive through the whole film. HJ Osment is great, but even he got tired of standing around looking freaked out and, so he ended up settling into a posture of staring and pouting. There is no natural climactic conflict in the story, so they had to resort to importing a villain for the last ten pages. Finally, the film suffers from absolute genre-schizophrenia. It morphs from Heidi with a boy to Born Free meets Old Yeller to Aladdin in live-action meets Rocky V. I have no idea how they are going to market this movie."

I suddenly realized the woman was listening to me mouth agape. She mumbled. "I thought it was cute."

And so it was.

Parents, feel safe to take your kids if you get rained in and can't come up with anything else for them to do. For those who don;'t have kids, stay home and read a book.