Reviewed by GREG KING.
The spate of Christmas films seems to have arrived early this year, and so far they have been a pretty bland lot. The unnecessary sequel Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause was an unoriginal, juvenile variation on themes explored much more effectively in the perennial classic It’s A Wonderful Life and its ilk. Deck The Halls, about the raucous rivalry between two neighbours over Christmas decorations on one’s house, was a shrill and unfunny comedy. The best of the sorry bunch so far, by default, is Unaccompanied Minors.
This yuletide comedy deals with a group of kids, being shuttled between their divorced parents for the holiday season, who find themselves stranded in Chicago’s fictitious Hoover International airport on Christmas Eve by a ferocious snowstorm and hounded by a humourless passenger relations boss determined to keep them in their place. When they are temporarily shut in the UM room, a hellhole full of out of control brats, five of the kids are determined to escape and spend some quality time in the airport’s facilities.
Spencer (Dyllan Christopher) becomes the unofficial brains behind this small but determined group of kids. There is also the spoiled rich kid Grace (Gina Mantegna); the trailer trash tomboy Donna (Quinn Shephard); Charlie, the nerdy, overachieving intellectual (played by Tyler James Williams, best known for his role as the young Chris Rock in tv sitcom Everybody Hates Chris); and the overweight, taciturn loner Timmy (Brett Kelly). Trying to track them down and keep them under control are a small army of inept security guards under the direction of the airport’s frustrated public relations manager Mr Porter (stand up comic Lewis Black), the Ebenezer Scrooge of this Christmas tale, and his assistant Juan (Wilmer Valderrama, from That ‘70’s Show, Fast Food Nation, etc), who is sympathetic to the kids’ plight.
This John Hughes-like kiddie-friendly film borrows heavily from the template established by films like Home Alone, Getting Even With Dad, etc, and features lots of slapstick humour and plenty of painful, physically punishing pratfalls, mostly at the expense of the adults who are continually bested by this group of resourceful kids.
Unaccompanied Minors is certainly formulaic and derivative, and it delivers its timely but overly saccharine message about the spirit of Christmas, and the importance of families and being together at Christmas. However, director Paul Feig (best known for the cult tv show Freaks & Geeks) keeps the energy level high, and the pace rarely falters. The film has plenty of funny moments that will appeal to younger audiences, and runs on an energy that seems to be missing from the other Christmas releases.