Catch That Kid
Directed by Bart Freundlich. Starring Kristen Stewart, Corbin Bleu, Max Thieriot, Jennifer Beals, Sam Robards, John Carroll Lynch, James Le Gros, Michael Des Barres. (2004, PG, 91 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Feb. 13, 2004
Anybody remember Bugsy Malone? Alan Parker’s 1976 satire of Prohibition-era gangland featuring an all-kid cast starring Scott Baio and Jodie Foster was, at the time, a thrill (I was roughly the same age as the cast), as the pint-sized hoods battled it out with tommy guns that fired – insert rim shot here – whipped cream. I caught the film once again a year or so ago, and its rampant precocity had me gnashing my teeth to a fine powder and wondering how best to throw my television out the window without mucking up my back (a simple lever-pulley combination did the trick just fine). What a difference two-plus decades can make. All of this is a roundabout way of saying kids films that place their preteen heroes (and heroines) in adult situations have been with us for a while and remain a strong cinematic draw. Robert Rodriguez’s brilliant, eccentric Spy Kids trilogy has had a field day mining the ever-fertile ground of childhood imaginings, and while those films are quite likely to become family DVD favorites in the same way that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and its ilk have taken up VHS space in the family room for going on a quarter century, this new kids-as-adults fantasy from director Bart Freundlich is just as likely to vanish without a trace. Based on the Danish film Klatretøsen, Catch That Kid takes the complicated heist genre and deconstructs it for the adolescent set; think Ocean’s Eleven resized, and you’re on the right track. Twelve-year-old Maddy (Stewart of Panic Room) is a tomboy in training, more likely to be found scaling the sides of the local water tower – much to the dismay of her parents (Des Barres and Beals) – than playing with dolls (although Carabiner Barbie might just do the trick). When her father, a former mountain climber who once suffered a near-fatal Mount Everest mishap, is struck down by a paralysis that results from said climb, Maddy enlists the aid of her two best friends – Austin (Bleu) and Gus (Thieriot) – in a scheme to secure the necessary $250,000 for pop’s operation by robbing the bank where her mother works. The premise is sound, but Freundlich, in his first mainstream feature following arthouse works such as 1997’s The Myth of Fingerprints, is an odd choice to direct, and he plays it safe by including the usual (and unusually clichéd) tropes of kid films: bumbling adults, superclever kids, and a young female lead so possessed of her burgeoning abilities she’s like a tiny Terminatrix, minus the kills. Manipulating Gus and Austin, who are both lovesick over her, into doing her bidding, she’s a wily one, a mini Ma Barker able to command her male minions to do her bidding. The heist itself is a charm with the kids zipping about in go-karts and eluding klutzy security guards, but the film seems trapped in a strange Twilight Zone somewhere between comedy and drama, and it’s neither as funny as it needs to be nor serious enough to elicit more than a few crinkled brows from kids and their parents alike.