Ah, memories: deluded fantasy, bad satay, screaming children and ho ho horrible high jinx (film review: Unaccompanied Minors)

Once a week for the next couple of months I’ll be reaching into the history vaults and cherry picking some of my old film reviews to publish on The Buck Stops ‘ere. These will be reviews I find particularly humorous, quirky, interesting, or, for some arcane reason that isn’t immediately obvious – perhaps I’ll allude to it in my preamble, perhaps not – reviews I want to salvage from the dusty shelves of my internal library to repackage for you, the reader, without whom my painstaking work crafting new zingers and slaving over the hot coals of film criticism would be purely for my own (admittedly insatiable) self gratification. So without further ado here is a review I wrote in November 2006 of Unaccompanied Minors, a Hollywood festive season high jinx caper about a bunch of naughty little shits who run rampant through an airport that’s been closed due to poor weather conditions. Enjoy.

Disenchanted, disorientated, disinterested - armed only with spittle and fingertips I tried valiantly to scrub away a bad satay spill on my jeans while my movie going companion snored softly from the seat next to me, his head and elbow swaying ominously close to the cliff of his arm rest. As I envisioned the comedic potential for his head to suddenly fall I almost heard the crack of his jaw, almost saw the trickle of blood trailing from his gums - and that's about when it dawned on me that the Hollywood Christmas high jinx movie gallivanting on the screen in front of us, the ho-ho-horrible Unaccompanied Minors, was very far indeed from enticing us into the season of jolliness and merriment. Every year Hollywood's dream factory gives the world a run of nightmare festive season fallacies, the proverbial lumps of coal for adults naughty enough to take their children along to a communal school holiday lobotomy.

Brett Kelly, the fat kid from Terry Zwigoff's sensational Bad Santa, returns to the Christmas movie genre and it's hard to imagine a greater discrepancy in tone and quality. In Unaccompanied Minors Kelly goes by the slimming nickname of "Beef" and is one of six or so restless little shits who run amok inside an airport that's been closed due to bad weather. Hot on their trail is the "doggone kids!" Passenger Relations Manager (Lewis Black), who grows increasingly beetroot as the kids outsmart him at every turn. He's the sort of character guaranteed to have some kind of sticky substance dripping off him by the time the credits roll.

After hours shenanigans inside a closed airport is a potentially funny backdrop for a kids movie, but in the hands of director Paul Feig and screenwriters Jacob Meszaros and Mya Stark (it took two people to write this??) the premise leads to a howlingly unfunny collection of lame slapstick and forced comedy routines slung together with the slimmest of plotlines. The characters - if you can call them that - hover aimlessly among the high jinx, floating about in their comfortable caricatures (rich snob, bookworm etc) waiting for the next opportunity for punch-in-the-nads, football-in-the-groin humour. Like many movies that lean on a locational concept, Unaccompanied Minors leans too far, and the impression I got was that we're supposed to find it funny just because it's based (haha) in an airport - even though the setting truly fails to come to life. Unintentionally Feig creates a soberingly realistic commentary: perhaps being stuck at an airport all by yourself really isn't that much fun. Still, I like to think I'd have more fun than this.

Disenchanted, disorientated, disinterested - I nudged my snoozing companion, whose subconscious was clearly reluctant to pry itself away from somewhere invariably nicer than the holiday season hogwash unfolding in front of us. Moments later we marched out, feeling like proud warriors for having endured as much as we did, and outside the cinema a camera crew were setting up for a vox pop and a man in a suit asked me if the show had finished. "Nope," I replied. "And that movie is absolute torture." He laughed and suggested that perhaps I wasn't part of the intended demographic, and that logic is true only to a point - the next morning I woke up and hurried off to Charlotte's Web and I certainly don't have the heart to nail that sweet film with a bad review despite its sugary undertones and young target audience.

The challenge for a family movie director is to bring out the little kid in all us, without purveying a sense of being overtly transparent or condescending. Unaccompanied Minors isn't especially the latter but rather seems to be unusually unaware of itself, even as a piece of genre filmmaking. The movie is like a bogus present from an un-savvy relative who for some inexplicable reason believes that socks and hankies will bring joy to a young recipient. It's a terminally daggy movie, a denim-on-denim outfit for audiences too young to register disdain, and while some kids may dig it - they're often not the fussiest of connoisseurs - its limp pace and lacklustre action scenes guarantee to have nobody jumping up and down in the aisles, except perhaps out of boredom. The escorting adults fronting up cash for tickets are likely to feel snared by another Hollywood festive season dupe. One mild saving grace is that this one at least doesn't have Tim Allen in it.

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