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Hide and Seek

Reviewed By Elaine Perrone
Posted 01/27/05 19:32:40

"a/k/a Mr. Hyde and Sick."
1 stars (Sucks)

When White Noise opened in theatres a few weeks back, I was far more generous in reviewing it than many of my fellow critics, although even I deemed it only “average,” or 3/5. I cited in its favor what I felt was a nicely understated performance by Michael Keaton and a deft touch by its BBC-trained director Geoffrey Sax. On the deficit side, for me, was a script seriously ridden with plot holes that detracted from what could have been a fascinating premise. Bottom line was, although I found White Noise to be far from the best of the thriller genre, I opined that I had seen – and expected to see – far worse. There will be no “I told you so” as I sadly report that “far worse” has indeed arrived, just three weeks later, in the form of Hide and Seek, a thoroughly nasty, exploitative, and derivative piece of dreck that squanders the talents of a fine cast and makes White Noise look like Masterpiece Theatre, in comparison.

I can find no fault whatsoever with the performances of Robert De Niro, Amy Irving, Elisabeth Shue, Famke Janssen, Dylan Baker, Melissa Leo, and young Dakota Fanning, who soldier on bravely with the hands they’ve been dealt. The fault lies entirely with neophyte Ari Schlossberg’s script, a shameless ripoff of The Shining and Secret Window (Stephen King should sue, for royalties!), and the ham-handed direction of John Polson (Swimfan, which should tell you something), who seems never to have met a cliché he didn’t like.

Everything – and I mean everything – about Hide and Seek is utter bullshit. In the mitts of Schlossberg and Polson, every person, place, and set-piece is the cinematic equivalent of a kitchen scrap exhumed from the back of the refrigerator, all thrown together to concoct a big pot of "garbage stew."

The nonsense starts with the apparent suicide of De Niro's wife (Irving). (Sorry, I can't be arsed to remember any of the characters' names.) When his daughter (Fanning) is rendered catatonic by the tragedy, De Niro moves the two of them, against the advice of the little girl's psychologist (Janssen), from their digs on Central Park West to a remote mansion in upstate New York.

I should mention that The Mansion really deserves a character billing in its own right, being what appears to be about 6,000 square feet (for the two of them!) of carefully set-designed nooks and crannies with an ominous cellar below and a watery cave out back. A teakettle boils and outdoor lanterns sway menacingly, curtains billow from an open window that has mysteriously become unstuck, scary closets loom, dolls are mutilated, and clocks mark the time 2:06 a.m. – details that go nowhere.

Also going nowhere are the red-herring characters of Dylan Baker as a sheriff whose only purpose seems to be to utter the laughable line, "Nothin' scary in these woods," and Melissa Leo (Homicide: Life on the Street, 21 Grams) as the grieving wife of a suspicious neighbor.

Completely wasted are the talents of Janssen as Fanning's psychologist, who is relegated to delivering Psych 101 platitudes like, "Trauma causes pain. Eventually the mind will learn how to release it.," and Shue as De Niro's budding romantic interest – a character any savvy moviegoer knows is doomed from the minute she appears onscreen.

Faring worst of all are poor little Dakota Fanning as the traumatized girl who must deal not only with the crushing loss of her mother but with a menacing "friend" named Charlie who may or may not be a figment of her imagination, and Robert De Niro as her brain-numbingly inept psychologist father. Still, it's one thing for a writer to create an adult character – who is supposed to be a mental-health professional, no less – who seems incapable of making a sound decision. It is quite another thing – and comes across as sickeningly exploitative – for that writer to manipulate the character of an otherwise obviously intelligent child so as to make her consistently respond to life-threatening danger in ways that are counter-intuitive to her own self-protection. Having to watch Fanning act out the role turns what would otherwise have been simply a laughable potboiler into a movie that makes for really quite unpleasant viewing.

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