Friday, January 28, 2005

REVIEW: Hide & Seek

I'm going to do my best not to directly give away the "surprise" truth about what's going on in "Hide & Seek," but as this review may by discussing aspects of the film which might clue you in, a MILD SPOILER WARNING is in effect.

Robert DeNiro (apparently not having completed whatever penance also compelled him to make Godsend last year) is a well-off Manhattan psychiatrist (psychologist?) with a pleasant but pill-popping wife (Amy Irving) and a precocious daughter named Emily (Dakota Fanning, the child actress with the big Precious Moments saucer-eyes and the disconcertingly mature speaking voice.) One Daddy and Daughter wake up to find Mommy dead in the tub, having slit her wrists. This bothers little Emily, afflicting her with a trauma that manifests itself as a compulsion to bug those celebrated eyes directly into the camera for an extended period of time.

Helpful father, concerned for the big city's possible negative impact on his daughter's troubled psyche and, more importantly, mindful that Manhattan just isn't going to work as the setting for a moody psychological thriller; decides to move them to a more genre-appropriate location: A big old house in a barely-inhabited upstate rural community that backs up to a big, dark forest. Suddenly, withdrawn Emily is all sunshine and giggles again, (well, sometimes,) having picked up an imaginary friend named Charley. Soon enough, she's keeping secrets, telling lies, playing poorly with others and blaming household accidents on Charley, and "someone" keeps bumping off small animals, threatening people and leaving ironic, elaborate messages on the wall in crayon.

So yeah, here we are in yet another "spooky kid" thriller, watching yet another middle aged actor of note try to solve yet another mystery of what's wrong with yet another buzzed-about child actor. All mental sparks reminding you of "The Sixth Sense" are intentional and hoped-for by the producers.

All the usual building blocks are there: High-contrast autumnal days, dark blue nights, old houses where doors and drawers open with thunderous sound but footsteps are barely audible, faulty wiring that gives out at just the wrong time, ominous crayon drawings, serial abuse of dimmer switches, big loud hands-crashing-on-organ-keys music when badness rears it's head, dark cellars, darker caves, superpowered flashlight beams, electric generators with minds of their own, supposedly smart people (these films always make the main characters doctors or lawyers or some other high-end profession because they'll be more likely to keep classy, atmospheric stuff around the house) making immensely stupid decisions and, naturally, a cast of supporting (and main) characters who spend so much time acting like psychotic killers that you just know they can't be the psychotic killer who may or may not be on the loose.

Oh, and it probably goes without saying that our characters inhabit apparently the only white-collar upstate New York collective of "summer homes" where news has not yet spread as to the invention of the cellular telephone, nor do I think it will surprise you that this town's policework is seemingly handled by ONE sherriff, (played by reliable "that guy" actor Dylan Baker, who I suppose comes as a bonus peice in the middlebrow-thriller Erector-Set,) or that the most overused and worn-out psychological malady of all modern thrillers eventually gets called in for the touchdown.

Let me be as blunt as I can be about the surprise element here: There is a "3rd act twist," it's incredibly lame, and if you go in trying to figure it out you probably will within the first forty minutes. Just remember the dependable Thriller rule that the person who behaves the most like the bad guy is almost never the bad guy, and the equally-dependable Crappy Thriller rule that the person who'd be the most dissapointing bad guy very often is.

There's nothing here you haven't seen before or really need to see again (unless you've got thing for watching Robert DeNiro mark time in between worthwhile projects) save for the solid range displayed by Fanning, and really thats the whole point: The producers are hoping to coast this one in on her "wow, that little kid can act!" breakthrough here, operating on a model laid down in bronze by Haley Joel Osment in "The Sixth Sense." Unfortunately, the flaw in their logic is that Fanning, unlike Osment, is a fairly well known actress already and, also unlike Osment, the thriller she's appearing in isn't any damn good.

So yeah, I'm going to say firmly that this is worth skipping. But if anyone sees it anyway and wants to disagree, hit the comment button and tell me so. I'm interested to know...

FINAL RATING: 3/10