Monday, March 19, 2007

REVIEW: The Last Mimzy

NOTE: Early review from preview-screening. The film will not be released until next week. As the advertisements have made ZERO attempt to tell people what this is at all about, some of this MAY be considered minor spoiler-territory.

Few things are rougher to have to appraise than poor films with admirable intentions, and "The Last Mimzy" is precisely such a film. I can't think of many things I'd like to champion more than a serious, thought-provoking science fiction film for a family audience, and that's definately what "Mimzy" sets out to be... unfortunately, we all know what they say about good intentions and the paving of certain roads.

The film is inspired by "Mimsy Were the Borogroves," a 1943 theoretical-mathematics-based scifi short story by Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore, which was in turn inspired by a line of "nonsense verse" by Lewis Carroll in one of the "Alice" stories. The story was considered remarkably ahead of it's time in it's own time, and even now it's central workings are right up there with "2001" and "Pi" in the pantheon of "stuff you wouldn't expect to be the basis for a movie."

Trouble is, this all that good stuff is imported from a short story, and the manual-inflation going on to pad the goings-on out to feature length are awkward and obvious, as-is the imposition of a narrative that... er.. "borrows" (to be charitable) liberally from a lot of other similar movies ("War Games," "D.A.R.R.Y.L.," "E.T.," and "Project X" especially ought to take a quick inventory of their belongings.) Also contributing to the stumble is the haphazard insertion of "edgy" buzz-topics to define the good guys (New Age psuedo-Buddhism, environmentalism, technophobia) and the bad guys (Homeland Security, Patriot Act, etc.,) in terms of current-events, attempted so poorly that it's almost physically jarring. The end-result wants to be the sleek, 21st Century "E.T." but instead shambles around like the mutant offspring of "The Secret" and "Mac & Me."

The story itself concerns two siblings, a gradeschool-age boy and his genius toddler sister, who discover a "toybox" full of strange objects that imbue them with strange powers: He turns into a mathematics genius who can talk to spiders and freehand-doodle ancient Tibetan geometry drawings he's never seen himself, while she gains telekinetic mind powers and bonds with the "toybox's" sole recognizable occupant: A stuffed bunny named "Mimzy" who "speaks" to her in a strange electronic language and offers explanations for events at plot-convenient intervals. Short version (the film more-or-less lays this out at the beginning, so not a spoiler): Humanity screwed up something feirce in the future, and "Mimzy's" are cuddly reverse-"Terminators" sent back to the past in order to do... something... that'll put things right and lead to shiny-happy utopia.

You'd think that would be enough for one movie, but for some reason somebody decided that the film needed nearly a solid first hour of red-herrings and half-formed ideas that don't go anywhere plus two extra sets of characters to spread things out. Enter Rainn Wilson (from the American "Office") as the kids' "hip" eco-minded science teacher, his palm-reading New Age wife (Kathryn Hahn) and Michael Clarke Duncan as a Homeland Security (bum bum BUUUUUUMMMM!) agent who steps in to muck things up when Mimzy and friends innadvertently cause a statewide EMP blackout.

Not a bad set of performers for ultimately-extraneous characters, but it comes across just a little too clearly as an ad-on. For what it's worth, Wilson and Hahn's jokey interplay at least makes their characters the most enjoyable good-natured ribbing of the granola set at least until Emma Thompson goes another round as "Harry Potter's" Sybil Trelawney; while unfortunately Duncan's subplot can't shake off the fact that he's only there so that the film can (with embarassing shamelessness) rip-off the "sad part" of "E.T." nearly scene-for-scene.

Adding to the trouble is that the film is largely unpleasant to watch, often garishly photographed and staged in clunky-looking compositions. The director is Bob Shaye, longtime New Line Cinema boss-man who's lst behind the camera credit was 1990's forgetable "Book of Love." The story of how he opted to do this one himself is probably more interesting than the movie.

Everyone's heart was in the right place on this one, but the end result is going to confound the crap out of the kiddies and bore the stuffing out of the adults. Count me out if there's a Next Mimzy.