Last Mimzy, The

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 03/23/07 05:15:07

"Finally, This Generation's "Mac & Me"
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

“The Last Mimzy” is one of the more desperately confused films to come along the pike in many a moon–what else can you say about a film in which the Roger Waters song that plays over the end credits is the most lucid element on display? If this were a film aimed at grown-ups, that would be bad enough but this is a film aimed squarely at the 10-and-under set and if I couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on for most of its running time, what hope does the average member of the target audience have at puzzling it out. Then again, those younger viewers may find themselves so bored with the proceeding that they won’t even notice or care very much that it doesn’t make a lick of sense.

Based on “Mimsy Were the Borogoves,” an acclaimed short story by “Lewis Padgett” (the pen name used by authors Henry Kuttner & Catherine L. Moore), “The Last Mimzy” begins by introducing us to the Wilders, an utterly ordinary Seattle family consisting of overworked father David (Timothy Hutton), bland housewife Jo (Joely Richardson), adorable young son Noah (Chris O’Neil) and extra-adorable younger daughter Emma (Rhiannon Leigh Wryn)–as they go about their utterly ordinary lives. While spending Easter vacation at their beach house, the kids discover a mysterious box stuck in the sand whose contents include several strange rocks, a big blob-like thing, a seashell-like formation and a stuffed rabbit. Inexplicably, the kids immediately begin dragging these things around them wherever they go and start referring to them as “toys,” even though only the bunny rabbit actually conforms to what even the most open-minded child might place under the heading of “toys.”

As the kids begin to play with these toys, strange things begin to happen. Both of them become amazingly intelligent overnight, Emma appears to develop psychokinetic abilities and Noah learns how to harness the power of spider webs in a way that allows him to win first prize at the local science fair. Mom and Dad veer between confusion, concern and vague disinterest (depending on which attitude the screenplay requires) but Larry White (Rainn Wilson, offering a slightly less annoying version of his character from “The Office”), Noah’s science teacher, thinks that there is something extraordinary going on, especially when he discovers drawings in Noah’s notebook that tie in with dreams that he has been having and mystical portals that he and girlfriend Naomi (Kathryn Hahn) have been studying in Nepal. At one point, the toys wind up shorting out all the power in Seattle and Homeland Security, in the form of Michael Clarke Duncan, eventually tracks the power surge back to the Wilder home and takes them all into custody.

It turns out (and since the film reveals all of the following information in the first five minutes, I don’t feel as if I am spoiling anything) that the toys have actually been sent to Earth from a future world that has been so completely choked with pollution that all life in threatened with extinction. The only hope for this future world is to obtain DNA from someone who has not yet been polluted–literally and metaphorically–that can somehow be used to save humanity. Since actual people can’t make the trip back in time, they have instead sent an advanced form of artificial intelligence–the bunny rabbit (complete with a prominently displayed Intel chip)–to obtain the sample. In the past, many of these dolls, known as Mimzys, have been sent (including the girl that eventually inspired “Alice in Wonderland”) but have failed in their efforts and the one in Emma’s possession is the very last one. At the risk of questioning time-hopping plans for saving universes, perhaps the Mimzy designer should have programmed them to explain their real purpose to their owners (oh yeah, they talk in a manner that suggests the little girls from “The Shining” speaking into a box fan) a little sooner in the program so as to avoid situations in which little kids are forced to escape government installations and drive delivery trucks hundreds of miles in order to send them back to the future before they die.

I have not read the original short story that “The Last Mimzy” was based upon but I suspect that it probably told a much darker tale that was not necessarily aimed only at kids. In adapting it to the big-screen, it seems as if screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin and Toby Emmerich and director Robert Shaye (the New Line head honcho whose last directorial effort was the barely-seen 1990 sex comedy “Book of Love”) took the basic kernel of the story–kids encountering toys from the future–and decided to use it as an excuse to spin out a blatant riff on Steven Spielberg’s classic “E.T.” For starters, since the first two-thirds of the film deals with the kids encountering the toys and developing their powers, you might reasonably assume that those elements will come into play during the finale. Instead, this angle is completely abandoned and elements that you would think that the film would have to deal with (such as the question of whether the kids will retain their genius-level IQ’s and psychic powers if the Mimzy plan is successful or how they manage to drive the truck as far as they do) are never answered.

Since the last third of the film deals with the kids trying to send the dying Mimzy back home and tries to milk plenty of sentimental tears as it grows weaker, you might assume that some care might be taken to make the thing worthy of the tears that we are supposed to be shedding. Instead, the film treats it like just another stuffed animal for the most part and it is impossible to work up much sympathy as to its plight or even to discern why it is getting weaker other than the fact that the story needs a conclusion. We are given all sorts of details about Nepal and mystical portals but the screenplay never finds a way of working them into the story. Even on the most basic level of suspense–will the kids be able to save the Mimzy and the world–the screenplay inexplicably shoots itself in the foot by giving us an unnecessary framing device set in the future that pretty much suggests how things will turn out. (Imagine how much less effective the scenes in “E.T.” in which it appeared that the creature died would have been if the film had started on the spaceship with him telling his buddies “Okay, this is what happened while I was on that weird blue planet. . .”)

The characters on display are just as confused and inexplicable as the situations they find themselves in. The two little kids are clean and cute and well-scrubbed but you never get the sense for a minute that they are ordinary kids thrust into an extraordinary adventure–they react to the amazing sights around them in the way that a kid might react to a pretty good videogame. The parents are maddening because their behavior veers wildly from scene to scene based solely on what is required to move the story along and not even such talented actors as Hutton and Richardson can make them seem like anything other than pawns. The Homeland Security guy played by Michael Clarke Duncan is equally confused–at first he is nervous and unsure about his job, then he becomes cold and ruthlessly dedicated until the finale, in which his character almost literally throws up his hands and says “That’s it–I’m outta here.” However, the most frustrating characters by far are the science teacher and his goofball girlfriend. For starters, they serve no earthly purpose to the story other than to add some failed stabs at comedy relief. Beyond that, I think we are supposed to assume that the teacher is also picking up signals from the Mimzy–or maybe even encountered one when he was a wee lad–that would explain his occasional psychic flashes but the screenplay never makes that clear. As for the girlfriend, she really makes no sense because she spends half the time babbling about Nepal and Mother Earth and the other half nagging her boyfriend to see if the visions in his dreams include any lucky lottery numbers.

Since “The Last Mimzy” is aimed at younger viewers, some of you out there may be less interested in the artistic merits of the film and just want to know if it is suitable to drop their kids off at for a matinee. Based solely on that criteria, there isn’t anything too objectionable and I suppose that if I had kids, I would prefer having them watch this to such cynically conceived junk as “TMNT.” However, if you are a good and intelligent parent–one who recognizes that a movie that merely contains nothing objectionable means nothing if it doesn’t offer any genuine entertainment value–I would suggest that you seek out a theater that is still showing the wonderfully quirky “The Astronaut Farmer” instead. If that is impossible, I heartily recommend that you wait one more week and take the kids to see “Meet the Robinsons” when it comes out. Like “The Last Mimzy,” it involves little kids, time travel and mysterious gadgets from future world. Unlike “The Last Mimzy,” it also offers up a lot of wit, energy and intelligence as well.

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