[Screen It]

(2007) (Chris O'Neil, Rhiannon Leigh Wryn) (PG)

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Sci-fi: A brother and sister come into possession of magical items sent via time travel that might be future humankind's last chance at survival.
Noah Wilder (CHRIS O'NEIL) is an average 10-year-old boy with average grades at his Seattle school. With his father, David (TIMOTHY HUTTON), always busy working, Noah spends most of his time with his younger sister Emma (RHIANNON LEIGH WRYN) and their mother Jo (JOELY RICHARDSON). When the three head off to their lake vacation home, the siblings discover a strange box in the surf.

Inside are various mysterious objects, as well as a stuffed bunny toy that "talks" in a somewhat gurgled fashion. Emma quickly adopts "Mimzy" as her own, but little do the kids know that those items have been sent from the future -- via a desperate scientist -- in a last ditch effort to save the future of humankind from their polluted world.

For the kids, they're just fun, if unusual things that soon give them unique supernatural powers, a development that doesn't escape the notice of Jo or Noah's science teacher Larry White (RAINN WILSON) and his new-age fiancée, Naomi Schwartz (KATHRYN HAHN). Things get even more complicated when one of the items causes a massive blackout across half the state.

That draws the attention of Homeland Security regional director Nathanial Broadman (MICHAEL CLARKE DUNCAN) who assigns his team to find the source of the outage, believing it could be terrorism based. Realizing they're in trouble but not understanding the ramifications of their actions, Noah and Emma try to figure out what to do with their magical find.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
As a former aspiring screenwriter, I know how important it is not only to tell an engaging story, but also one that makes sense within and abides by the rules of whatever little storytelling universe in which it exists. That's especially true when dabbling in science fiction where such elements are often scrutinized to a greater degree than with other genres. Similarly, one must be able to explain the rules of said universe and the story occurring within it, all without boring or losing the reader or viewer.

In that regard, "The Last Mimzy" doesn't pass muster. Based on the short story "Mimsy Were the Borogoves" (which I have not read, so comparisons are moot and thus won't and can't be discussed), the film features the return of director Robert Shaye behind the camera for the first time since 1990 (in the interim, he's been running New Line Cinema). Working from Bruce Joel Rubin and Toby Emmerich's adaptation of the original tale, the story is about two ordinary siblings who discover a mysterious box in the surf, find various interesting things inside it, and develop supernatural powers from their exposure to them.

From a futuristic storyteller who opens the film, we learn that one of them is the last Mimzy, a device sent from the future to the past (our present) in hopes of it gathering a crucial piece of material that hopefully will save humankind (back in the future).

Of course, the kids don't know this, mostly because the titular object -- a bunny rabbit doll -- gurgles its message in a way presumably intended to be cute like Gizmo in "Gremlins" or you-know-who in "E.T." but only makes one think the scientists of the future are idiots for not being more articulate in their desperation. Instead, the brother and sister just mess around with their findings that turn the previously mediocre boy into the next Stephen Hawking and his younger sibling into a master of getting some "rocks" to spin and turn into some sort of vortex.

One also has the unfortunate side effect of knocking out the power in half of the state of Washington, which -- natch -- gets the feds nervous that terrorists are at work. That results in Peter Coyote, oops, Michael Clark Duncan showing up and wanting to know what's going on (with the actor looking and feeling uncomfortable in the role). From that point on, the kids escape, race to get more "rocks" and create an even bigger vortex, all to send the bunny back (now that he's attained -- by sheer accident -- what's needed).

There's potential there, but the storytelling is bungled in various ways. While the plot's leisurely pace is somewhat welcomed in today's usual desire to make everything look like a music video, the lack of urgency belies the need for building dramatic momentum.

The bigger issue is that things aren't explained enough or designed to make us believe in and/or care about the characters and/or the overall story. Yes, it's a positive message that the boy turns super-intelligent and gains self-confidence, but the reasons for this need to be fleshed out more.

Instead of having the bunny do the "cute" if nebulous gurgle bit, it should have come out and told the kids what it needs and why. Again, that goes back to the scientists of the future and why -- if humankind's very existence is at stake -- would make this a nebulous puzzle rather than a straightforward plea.

As it stands, the kids ultimately get the job done, but never understand why this is occurring or what's at stake. Kid viewers love watching kid heroes on the screen, and while they'll be happy that these two characters succeed at the end, many won't have a clue about what's just happened or why.

Compare that to "E.T." -- a far superior film in every way imaginable and from which this one borrows liberally -- where we cared about the title character and understood exactly what was at stake regarding the kids' efforts to get him back home and avoid the feds in the process. Everything here feels half-baked at best, as if the filmmakers decided to shoot the film from an early, rough draft version of the screenplay rather than the finished product where everything had been ironed out.

Chris O'Neil and Rhiannon Leigh Wryn are okay in their roles as the kids, but clearly aren't as fun or as engaging as Henry Thomas and young Drew Barrymore paving the way for them several decades earlier. Joely Richardson comes off as the most believable character playing the concerned mom, but Timothy Hutton appears just as preoccupied as the busy dad he plays. Rainn Wilson and Kathryn Hahn play a science teacher and his new-age fiancée who realize something weird is occurring, but their characters and subplot attached to the main storyline are severely underdeveloped.

But that isn't that much of a surprise considering the rest of the film is afflicted by that same problem. With various tweaks and some retooling here and there, this could have been a fun and smart sci-fi flick for families. As it stands, it feels like it was removed from the science fiction kiln long before it solidified into something concrete. "The Last Mimzy" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed March 18, 2007 / Posted March 23, 2007

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