1998, PG-13, 100 min. Directed by Peter Chelsom. Starring Sharon Stone, Kieran Culkin, Elden Henson, Gena Rowlands, Harry Dean Stanton, Gillian Anderson, James Gandolfini, Meat Loaf.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 23, 1998
British writer-director Peter Chelsom made magic with his first two movies, Hear My Song and Funny Bones, two of the best and most offbeat films of the Nineties. With his first American film, The Mighty, Chelsom has instead made an After-school Special. Granted, this time out Chelsom only directed, the screenplay is by Charles Leavitt, who adapted it from Rodman Philbrick's award-winning young-teen novel Freak the Mighty. Sentimental and quixotic, The Mighty is good family fare; it's especially tuned in to the narrative needs of those suffering (in the past or the present) those distinctively adolescent agonies of feeling like a social misfit. The story centers on the unlikely friendship between two miserable 14-year-olds: the big, sad lug named Max Kane (Henson) who lives with his grandparents (Rowlands and Stanton) in their basement ever since his dad, “Killer Kane,” went to prison; and the smart, little kid with large leg braces and crutches named Kevin Dillon (Culkin) who suffers from a degenerative disease called Morquio's Syndrome (the same disease that hobbles the kid in Simon Birch). Both boys are bullied by the neighborhood toughs, but together they find the skill and imagination to vanquish all enemies. Inspired by the spirit of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Kevin climbs aboard Max's shoulders and they commit acts of derring-do (some more believable than others). It's during these moments that Chelsom's whimsical touch reveals its hand as images of a medieval kingdom are transplanted to modern Cincinnati. Henson is warmly believable as the oversized kid (though not nearly as freakishly huge as the voiceover descriptions make him sound), but Culkin is hamstrung with too many precocious sick-kid cutenesses. As Kevin's mom, Stone turns in some nice, deglamorized work, though the script never calls for her to do anything that's not standard issue. As the grandparents, Gram and Grim, Rowlands and Stanton make an enjoyably American Gothic-type pair. Anderson, however, is saddled with an accent that sounds fresh out of an acting class workshop and a role that practically screams, “See, I can play characters other than Agent Dana Scully!” That point remains to be demonstrated. A subplot about Max's father has the feel of a trumped-up and extraneous climax. The Mighty is sure to play into some kind of childhood existentialism in which outcast-feeling kids are buoyed by such ideas as “a knight proves his worthiness through his deeds.” So too with movies. The Mighty is better-than-average family entertainment, but it falls short of inspiration and enchantment.