[Screen It]


(1998) (Kieran Culkin, Elden Henson) (PG-13)

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Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
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Moderate Minor Moderate None Mild
Smoking Tense Family
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Drama: A presumably dimwitted giant of a seventh-grader and an intelligent, but diminutive boy suffering from a degenerative disease combine their best assets to forge a friendship that allows them to cope with the world in which they live.
Max Kane (ELDEN HENSON) is a giant among his fellow 7th graders. Teased due to his size, along with his quiet and passive nature that's caused him to be labeled as learning disabled, Max even believes himself to be dumb. Living with his grandparents whom he's nicknamed Gram (GENA ROWLANDS) and Grim (HARRY DEAN STANTON), Max also gets teased for having a father, Kenny (JAMES GANDOLFINI), who's serving time in prison for murdering Max's mother.

After Max passively accepts the false blame for knocking down a disabled student during gym class-- who happens to be his new, but not yet met, next door neighbor -- he's surprised to see that the student, Kevin Dillon (KIERAN CULKIN), is his new reading tutor. Suffering from Morquio's Syndrome that's left him hobbled with a skeletal structure incapable of further growth while his internal organs continue to enlarge, Kevin has compensated by becoming an ultra-bright kid.

Using the story of King Arthur and his knights of the round table, Kevin sets out to teach Max how to read, as well as gain courage and confidence in himself. Since both boys have to deal with the constant harassment and threats from Blade (JOSEPH PERRINO) and his gang of middle school "thugs," Kevin comes up with a plan.

Realizing he could use Max's brawn and physical abilities, while Max could benefit from his intelligence, Kevin convinces Max to join him in an unlikely alliance. Self-described as "Freak The Mighty," the boys' collective efforts not only thwart Blade and his cronies, but also forge a deep friendship between the two.

Despite their newfound success, however, the boys must still deal with other troubling events in their lives. Kevin's condition continues to worsen, a fact that not only worries Max, but also Kevin's single mom, Gwen (SHARON STONE). For Max, he's reminded of his father's pending parole when he and Kevin return a stolen purse to a stranger, Loretta Lee (GILLIAN ANDERSON), who, along with her male acquaintance, Iggy (MEAT LOAF), recognize Max as the son of their old friend, Kenny.

As Kevin's physical state deteriorates, and Max and his grandparents worry about his father returning for the boy, the two friends stick close together to help one another during their difficult times.

The young cast and storyline may draw in some kids, but older teens and younger preteens probably won't have a great interest in the story.
For elements of violence and peril.
  • KIERAN CULKIN plays a boy with Morquio's syndrome that's left him physically disabled, but mentally sharp. Quick with his wit and featuring a sharpened tongue, his verbal assaults on those who taunt him often get him, and Max, in trouble.
  • ELDEN HENSON plays a large boy who's been labeled as learning disabled, but his "slowness" and low self-esteem are partially based on his longstanding reaction to his mother's murder.
  • SHARON STONE plays Kevin's caring and single mom (the boy's father left when he heard about birth defects regarding his still unborn child).
  • JAMES GANDOLFINI plays Max's father who not only murdered the boy's mother, but then abducts his son upon being paroled.
  • JOSEPH PERRINO plays a stereotypical schoolyard thug who taunts and intimidates other students.


    OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
    The second film to come along in as many months about a set of outcasts who have formed a deep friendship to counter the cruel and often callous remarks and attitudes of the less than enlightened in their world, "The Mighty" isn't as effective as "Simon Birch," but still seemed to please many in our audience. How you'll respond will depend on whether you've already seen the adaption of John Irving's novel, and how well you'll accept the heavy symbolic and fantasy use of Arthurian elements throughout this film.

    While the picture has reportedly been sitting on the shelf for some time now (meaning it should have beaten "Birch" to the theaters), it's also highly reminiscent of the 1980 film, "My Bodyguard," where a small for his age kid befriends and hires a large and sullen outcast -- with a rumored murder in his family -- to protect him from the local bullies (led by a young Matt Dillon).

    As the saying goes, of course, all of the stories that can be told have already been done, and that all we're left with is the possibility of variants to those stories. Even so, and despite the fantasy type elements injected throughout it, this film -- based on Rodman Philbrick's 1993 novel, "Freak The Mighty" -- never feels completely fresh nor ever really manages to take the material and make it something special.

    Interestingly, some of that stems from the fact that young newcomer Ian Michael Smith ("Simon") auditioned first for the lead character for this film, but lost out to Kieran Culkin (yes, the little brother to Macaulay "Home Alone" Culkin). While both effectively play a diminutive child suffering from dwarfism -- the character here suffers from Morquio's Syndrome, while Smith the actor actually has that -- you can't help but compare the two performances and obviously Culkin comes off looking like he's acting.

    Beyond that, director Peter Chelsom ("Funny Bones") and screenwriter Charles Leavitt ("The Sunchaser") have attempted to maintain semblances of Philbrick's novel by not only including the obligatory voice over narration (that's very novel-like and often tiresome), but also by breaking up the movie into titled chapters ("Chapter One: Dinosaur Brain," "Chapter Five: The Shortest Knight of the Year," etc...).

    While mildly cute, that cinematic device certainly isn't needed, but I suppose the filmmakers weren't too concerned with making a "serious" drama, what with all the Arthurian material interjected throughout the story.

    In fact, the film would have benefitted more had Chelsom and company gone strongly in one direction or the other with such material. The "sightings" of Arthur and all of Kevin's talk about him, his knights and Camelot are obviously symbolic (Max using a manhole cover like a shield, etc...), and the film even includes a modernized, medieval influenced soundtrack. However, if one's actually going to use such material, why not take it all the way?

    As it stands, one never quite gets a feel for how such elements are to be interpreted. Sometimes the characters seem to see such visions, whereas at others only the audience sees them, resulting in that whole fantasy element being weakened because of that. It probably would have been much more fun -- not to mention effective -- had such medieval characters been prominent, and not only created by a fertile mind, but also present to guide the protagonists through their quandary.

    Speaking of those characters, both Elden Henson (also know as Elden Ratliff in the "Mighty Ducks" movies) and Kieran Culkin (the "Father of the Bride" movies) do okay jobs in their respective roles, although the latter's similarity of a combination of his older brother and former kid actor Corey Haim continued to bother me throughout the movie.

    That, the obvious fact that his physical condition is faked (compared to Smith in "Simon Birch"), and his artificial-feeling precociousness collectively prevented me from feeling anything for the character. While I know I was supposed to, the character never grabbed me as everything about him felt too purposefully constructed and manipulative.

    The supporting characters, for the most part, are decent. Sharon Stone ("Basic Instinct," "Last Dance") is good in her less than glamorous role as the compassionate mother who must accept her child's fate.

    Gena Rowlands ("Hope Floats") and Harry Dean Stanton ("She's So Lovely") are okay in their supportive roles, while James Gandolfini ("Fallen") is appropriately menacing as the deranged (and homicidal) father, but can't do much with his one-dimensional character. Meanwhile, "X- Files" fans will get a kick out of watching the nearly unrecognizable Gillian "Scully" Anderson playing wife to singer, and sometime actor, Meatloaf.

    Beyond the film's overall flat execution and obvious manipulative efforts, it does contain one of the more glaring, and major continuity errors that I've seen in years. It shows up near the end when Kevin comes to Max's rescue in the middle of the night. Apparently in their confrontational setting for only a few minutes, the two finally burst outside and it's suddenly high noon (based on the shadows of clothes hanging outdoors on a clothesline).

    While the scene is presumably supposed to be symbolic of Max finally breaking free from the dark past that's haunted him and into a brighter future, even the most naive moviegoer should note this glaring -- and substantial -- jump in time.

    Another weak element involves the marauding gang members who don't quite cut it as terribly menacing villains (despite the ever present switchblade). Less than effectively fronted by their leader, Joseph Perrino ("Sleepers"), they hardly seem a match for Max's size and girth. As presented, and despite his initial passive demeanor, one swat from him would easily send the "gang" stumbling and tumbling like a row of lightweight dominoes. Besides, they appear more as a simple plot device than as real troublemaker kids with a grudge against our two protagonists.

    That pretty much sums up the film for me. Despite the initially intriguing, but certainly not original premise, the picture never feels natural. Instead, everything feels forced as if the filmmakers read the "dramatic, but ultimately uplifting tearjerker" manual and knew just when to press the appropriate buttons.

    Although it's not extremely melodramatic and there are plenty of movies that blow past this one on the manipulation scale, the film never really did anything for me. Perhaps it was just the day, or having just seen the similarly based "Simon Birch," but I found the film about as lackadaisical as they come. Of course, some viewers at our screening seemed to enjoy it, so I may be completely off-base. Nonetheless, due to the artificial qualities, the less than involving story and the fumbled fantasy elements, the film gets just a 4 out of 10.

    Here's a quick summary of the film's content. "Elements of violence and peril" earn the film its PG- 13 rating, and those refer to most of the scenes featuring the return of Max's father (abducting the boy, near strangling of Loretta, as well as repeated nightmares before his return), along with some scenes featuring Blade and his cronies coming after Max and Kevin -- some of which may be unsettling or downright tense, especially to younger viewers.

    Kevin's condition -- that's left him physically frail and hunched over, needing to use crutches -- may also be unsettling to some viewers, and the behavior of those who taunt him and Max definitely show signs of having bad attitudes.

    Beyond the tense family scenes stemming from the above material, and some relatively mild profanity, most of the remaining categories are relatively free of major objectionable material. Even so, you may want to take a closer look through what's been listed should you or someone in your home with to see this film.

    Of special note, for those concerned with repetitive flashing lights, one scene has brief, and not quite full screen moments of that.

  • Iggy tells Loretta, "Woman, you are drunk" and she replies that she is (and we see her drinking something from a glass).
  • The adults have wine with Christmas dinner.
  • Kevin has a tiny bit of blood on the end of his finger after picking up, and cutting himself on a shard of glass.
  • Other students make fun of Max's size and what they perceive to be low intelligence.
  • Blade and his cronies do the same to Max and Kevin (calling them "Frankenstein and Igor"), as well as later threaten Max and Kevin and commit other petty crimes (such as purse snatching).
  • Even the basketball coach is demeaning to Max. At one moment, he asks if he needs to translate his last statement into Neanderthal for him.
  • Blade refers to Kevin as "March of dimes" and then rolls a basketball at him ("bowling for midgets"), knocking him to the gym floor -- and then blames that on Max.
  • A troublemaker in a restaurant harasses a woman (who may or may not be with him) about her purse and tries to get it from her.
  • Max's dad has both for not only murdering Max's mother, but also for returning and abducting his son and treating him poorly.
  • Although not seen, Kevin's dad had both for hitting the road before Kevin was born after hearing that he would have birth defects.
  • Kenny breaks the glass in a truck's driver's side door and then steals the truck.
  • Blade and his gang nearly surround Max and Kevin who's riding on his shoulders. Kevin eventually persuades Max to head out into a chilly and deep lake, and Blade follows them with his switchblade drawn. Soon, however, the water gets too deep and the lake bottom too muddy as Max suddenly finds his feet stuck and his head underwater (but everyone makes it out okay).
  • Blade and his gang surround Max and Kevin in a dark alley and carry sticks. As Blade gets out a heavy chain that he prepares to strike Kevin with, Max lifts up a heavy manhole cover and uses it as a shield against the stick attacks, and finally throws the cover at the gang as they run away.
  • Max has several flashback/nightmare moments where he sees his father after he's just murdered his mother.
  • Kevin chokes on food in the school cafeteria and falls to the floor. Later, we see him in a hospital where a doctor tells his mom the bad news that he probably only has a year left to live.
  • Max wakes up at night and imagines seeing his father standing in the dark corner of his room. He then realizes he isn't there, but his dad suddenly grabs him in his bed. The rest of the sequence where Kenny takes Max with him might be unsettling to younger kids.
  • Kenny then takes Max to Iggy's where he ties up his son to the radiator.
  • Kevin slides down a hill in a piece of metal from a van (like a sled), but it goes out of control and he careens through the trees, underbrush and eventually becomes airborne and crashes into an embankment.
  • Loretta struggles with Kenny and he eventually pins her to the ground (where we can't see her anymore) and apparently tries to strangle her (and Max has another flashback about his dad on the day of murdering his mother). Max then breaks free from his bindings and he and his dad struggle (and briefly over a gun). Kevin shoots what he claims to be sulfuric acid into Kenny's face (but it's not), and Max then smashes Kenny into a door and takes Kevin and smashes through another door to get outside.
  • Younger viewers may be upset upon learning of Kevin's death and seeing the ambulance driving away, as well as Max's reaction to all of this.
  • Switchblade: Carried by Blade and briefly used to threaten Kevin and Max.
  • Heavy chain/Large Sticks: What Blade and his cronies prepare to use to attack Kevin and Max.
  • Shotgun: Loaded by Grim in preparation of Kenny's return.
  • Handgun: Briefly seen, and which Kenny goes after when he sees that Max has freed himself.
  • Phrases: "It's as cold as a witch's t*t," "Freak," "Cripple," and "Shut up."
  • Blade and other kids make fun of Max and Kevin's physical appearances.
  • A troublemaker in a restaurant gives an employee "the finger."
  • Kevin gives the "f*ck you" sign (one hand into the elbow crease of one's other arm that is then raised) to students who make fun of him and Max.
  • Kevin gets students to laugh in the school cafeteria by putting spaghetti on his hair, wears some like eyebrows and a mustache, acts like noodles are coming from his nose, and stuffs a great deal into his cheeks and acts like Marlon Brando's character from the "Godfather" movies.
  • Kevin, despite being too short to do so, drives a van -- using his crutches -- through the snowy streets at night by himself.
  • Max's dad suddenly grabs him.
  • A moderate amount of suspenseful music and ominous sounding tones play during several scenes.
  • None.
  • At least one slang term for breasts (as in "It's as cold as a witch's t*t"), 6 damns, 3 hells, 3 craps, 1 ass (used with "hole"), 1 turd, and 2 uses of "Oh my God" and "Oh Lord" and 1 use each of "Jesus Christ" and "Oh God" as exclamations.
  • The guys pass by a downtown adult storefront that sports signs saying: "Girls Galore" and "Girls, Girls, Girls" (but we don't see anything more than the signs).
  • Some men on the street smoke cigars and cigarettes.
  • Grim snuffs out a cigarette.
  • Max lives with his grandparents because his father is in prison for murdering his mother. Set to be paroled, the father's imminent release scares Max who has nightmares/flashbacks to the murder, and eventually must contend with his father essentially abducting him.
  • Kevin states that he's never known his father since he hit the road when he heard the words "birth defect," so Kevin's only grown up with his single mom.
  • Gram and Grim still deal with the death/murder of their daughter, and Grim prepares a shotgun to defend Max and his family.
  • Kevin's mom must deal with the news that he probably only has a year left to live.
  • Kevin's condition -- caused by Morquio's Syndrome -- and the treatment and comments he receives from others regarding that.
  • That many kids feel like outsiders -- as do both Max and Kevin -- and that such a feeling isn't uncommon and isn't a "life sentence."
  • Why Max's father returns for him after being paroled for murdering his mother.
  • Although not seen and occurring long before the story begins, Max's father murdered his mother.
  • Blade rolls a basketball at Kevin and knocks him to the gym floor.
  • Blade pulls out his switchblade to threaten Max and Kevin (from a distance).
  • A troublemaker in a restaurant harasses a woman (who may or may not be with him) about her purse and struggles with her as he tries to get it.
  • Running from the police, Blade and his gang knock people aside or down on the sidewalk.
  • Blade and his gang surround Max and Kevin in a dark alley and carry sticks. As Blade gets out a heavy chain that he prepares to strike Kevin with, Max lifts up a heavy manhole cover and uses it as a shield against the stick attacks, and finally throws the cover at the gang as they run away.
  • Max tears open a locked door after Iggy and Loretta talk about him and his dad.
  • Kenny breaks the glass in a truck's driver's side door and then steals the truck.
  • Loretta struggles with Kenny and he eventually pins her to the ground (where we can't completely see her) and apparently tries to strangle her. Max then breaks free from his bindings and he and his dad struggle (and briefly over a gun). Kevin shoots what he claims to be sulfuric acid into Kenny's face (but it's not), and Max then smashes Kenny into a door and takes Kevin and smashes through another door to get outside.

  • Reviewed September 3, 1998

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