[Screen It]


(2022) (Christian Convery, Madalen Mills) (PG)

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Drama: A young, bullied boy's life takes an unexpected turn when he discovers a caged tiger in the woods near where he lives with his widowed father.

Rob Horton (CHRISTIAN CONVERY) is a shy but artistically gifted boy who lives in the Kentucky Star Motel with his widowed dad, Robert (SAM TRAMMELL), who works as the maintenance man for the motel's eccentric owner, Beauchamp (DENNIS QUAID). Rob is bullied by other kids as is the new girl at school, Sistine Bailey (MADALEN MILLS), mainly because of her unusual name, thus forming an alliance of sorts between the displaced kids. That's further strengthened when Rob shows Sistine what he's discovered in the woods behind the motel -- a caged tiger.

With Sistine wanting to free it, Rob turns to the motel's wise maid, Willie May (QUEEN LATIFAH), for advice. As Rob still has memories of his late mother, Caroline (KATHARINE McPHEE), and Sistine hates being in the Florida town following her parents splitting up, the two kids try to decide what to do about the tiger.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10

In the world of professional sports, everything boils down to and therefore hinges on winning and losing. There can be great effort, intentions, and moral victories along the way, but in the end, teams are judged on their win-loss record.

Movies, of course, aren't as clear-cut when it comes to which ones win and those that don't. Sure, to critics and general moviegoers alike, some are near-universal slam dunks and others are absolute air balls. The success (or not) of the rest, however, lies firmly in the eye of the beholder.

Thus, all of the effort put forth and whatever the good intentions might be are for naught if the finished product simply is a losing effort. Alas, the filmed adaptation of "The Tiger Rising" is just that, a movie you'd like to see win but is hampered by too many problems for it to reach the endzone, hit a grand slam at the bottom of the ninth, or achieve whatever your favorite sports success metaphor might be.

Adapting Kate DiCamillo's 2001 book of the same name, special effects whiz turned first-time feature film writer/director Ray Giarratana tells the tale of prepubescent Rob (Christian Convery) who's bullied by other boys not only for having some sort of skin condition on his legs (earning him the nickname of "disease boy") but also because he lives in a motel with his widowed dad (Sam Trammell).

They've fallen on hard times following the slow death of Rob's loving mom (Katharine McPhee) sometime in the past, and Robert now works as the maintenance man for the motel that's named after the Bluegrass State despite being located in Florida. Of course, that's not that much of a surprise considering the eccentric nature of the place's owner, Beauchamp (Dennis Quaid), but that's not the only odd thing about the barely used lodging establishment.

Out back in the woods behind the place, he has a caged tiger, a critter Rob happens across and something he shares with his new and aggressively angry classmate, Sistine (Madalen Mills), and the motel's maid, Willie Mae (Queen Latifah).

From that point on, the kids -- with advice from the maid -- try to figure out what to do about the tiger, all while contending with their issues. Those being Sistine's bitterness about being in "Hicksville" USA from where her unfaithful father (and cause of her recent relocation with her mother) will rescue her "any day now," while Rob understandably still misses his mom but isn't allowed to speak about or cry over by his down-on-his-luck, "it won't bring her back," grieving father.

The caged tiger, of course, is a metaphor for the kids' being trapped in their circumstances, and for those not paying attention, that's driven home in some introductory voice-over narration that informs us that people create imaginary cages to protect themselves. Simply put, as the kids plot to free the tiger (without really thinking that all of the way through), they're really freeing themselves.

Which is all fine and dandy in concept, but it's executed fairly clunkily up on the screen, not to mention mind-bogglingly keeping the book's late in the game plot twist intact which stupidly (not to mention shockingly) pulls the rug out from under everything that's built up to that point (including kid viewer engagement that's then dashed in a bitter "life's tough" lesson).

Beyond that, the other issues are the performances. The usually reliable Quaid has either been directed to or simply decided himself to play his eccentric character like a live-action cartoon villain, while Latifah is okay but falls squarely in the stereotypical "magic negro" character type.

But -- and as much as I hate ragging on acting done by kids -- it's the younger thespians who give the film an amateurish feel, particularly Mills who's no newcomer but acts like one with her anger and bitterness feeling staged, forced, and decidedly artificial.

And thus, the film -- while earning a moral victory for having good intentions -- ends up with too many penalties and a costly fumble on the last drive that results in a loss. "The Tiger Rising" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed January 17, 2022 / Posted January 21, 2022

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