March 22, 2007

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The Last Mimzy (PG)
A brother and sister find toys ó including a squeaky-voiced stuffed bunny ó that might hold the key to the salvation of mankind in The Last Mimzy, a movie that really needed a better title.

Mimzy is, I guess, an OK bunny name but it seems more like something youíd call your stepgrandmother. Or some aunt whoís so old that everybodyís forgotten her real name. And this movie, though solidly a kidsí movie, is an older kidsí movie and the Mimzy thing makes it sound a lot cutesier than it is.

Mimzy the bunny is pretty cutesy, even when he (or she?) comes hurtling at the northwestern coast of the U.S. at the beach where Noah (Chris OíNeil) and his little sister Emma (Rhiannon Leigh Wryn) are playing in the surf. They see the shiny rock thing floating in the water, fish it out and open it up. At first, all they find are weird glowy things and crazy rocks. Later, they find weird glowy things, crazy rocks and a stuffed animal. Noah goes for the rocks and Emma goes for the stuffed bunny, which tells her to call it Mimzy. (We donít so much hear their conversation as we do a series of squeaky noises that allows us to believe Emmaís not crazy.)

The kids play with their strange new toys and take them back to the city with them when their vacationís over. Soon, their parents David (Timothy Hutton) and Jo (Joely Richardson, the uber-annoying Julia from Nip/Tuck) and one observant teacher (played with geeky lovability by Rainn Wilson) notice that the children possess a scary level of intelligence and seemingly supernatural abilities (Noah is able to, essentially, talk to spiders and tell them what kind of web to build; Emma can make things float and read minds). Naturally, you canít have any fun these days without the government poking its nose in. After an accidental power surge by one of the weird glowy things knocks out the electricity in the entire city, homeland security shows up at the familyís door (or, rather, it crashes through the familyís door) to find out just what kind of terrorist cell these kids are forming.

Mimzy, we learn as the movie goes forward, has a mission ó to bring back something thatís going to save the world (we find out near the beginning of the movie that Mimzy is not an alien but a time traveler). Mimzy goes about searching for this thing (never mind what it is; itís incredibly lame and is a letdown when itís finally revealed) in a really half-assed manner that all but ensures his failure. And, sure, Iím talking about a stuffed animal whose only ability is telepathy with a kindergartener and who canít move around by himself, but this particular facet of the story is not developed very well.

In fact, the movie could be divided almost in half between the things that work (Rainn Wilson and his Eastern-philosophy-loving girlfriend; the kidsí intelligence and the way it manifests maturely and immaturely; the weird little commentary on homeland security; the brother-sister relationship; Noahís relationship with his dad) and the things that donít (the name Mimzy; Joely Richardson; some of the special effects; about 30 percent of the scenes that depend on the kids to act, which usually means that Emma will have to cry/whine throughout). I left the film wanting more of Rainn Wilson and his girlfriend, wanting to see the kids do more adventuring and having an overall good feeling about the movieís ďlove is all you needĒ (rough translation) vibe. I was also glad to be freed of Joely Richardson, thought the resolution of Mimzy and his mission was half-hearted and felt like an afterthought and was surprised at how much darker the movie was than one might suspect. A scary future, a federal raid, parents freaking out and toys that come alive all point to a movie that is aimed more specifically at the older half of elementary school.

A certain kind of kid aged 9 to 11 will probably thrill at the story line of somewhat outsider kids (the sister is gifted; the brother feels like kind of a doof) gaining incredible intelligence and respect. The fantasy element of time travel and world-saving will perhaps appeal to them too. But for more of the movieís elements to be universally appealing, a rewrite of The Last Mimzy starting with the name (Future Bunny? The Last McGuffin?) would have helped smooth out the many bumps of time travel. C+

Rated PG for some thematic elements, mild peril and language. Directed by Robert Shaye and written by Bruce Joel Rubin, Toby Emmerich, James V. Hart and Carol Skilken (from a story by C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner), The Last Mimzy is an hour and 34 minutes long and will open on March 23 in wide release from New Line Cinema.