April 14, 2007

The Last Mimzy

NOTE: Originally published at the following location:
The Last Mimzy mixes family-friendly characters with an unconventional plot - Entertainment

There is a certain irony in using a technological medium to praise a cautionary tale about the effects of technology. The Last Mimzy is more interesting than it is significant, more audacious than it is involving. The characters are rather cookie cutter. For all of the twists and visual effects, its vague socioenvironmental message is most effectively captured by the subtle depiction of how ubiquitous technology has become in our daily lives.

There is an early scene when the relatively average American family is riding a bus through the city. There's nothing particularly remarkable about it, until you notice the zombie-like stare of Noah, our young protagonist, as he plays his PSP. Look at those around him, and you'd notice something else: Every single person on the bus is staring at a screen or wearing ear buds, lost in his or her own separate world. It could be any morning on the T.

When Noah arrives at the family summer home with his mother and sister, they delight at swimming, playing on the beach, and eating outdoors. These are all hallmarks of my own childhood not too long ago, but the lack of laptops and PlayStations sticks out like a sore thumb here. The scenes resonate with a certain wistful nostalgia. Then something mysterious washes ashore. Noah and his sister aren't sure what it is, and neither are we. It opens upon the children's touch to reveal a menagerie of unorthodox toys. They will prove to be technology too, of a sort.

Meanwhile, Noah's science teacher Mr. White has been having strange dreams. Some are oddly prescient, like the one that gave him the six winning numbers if he'd bother to buy a lottery ticket. Most involve visions of mandalas. The first shot of the film captures a mandala in a field of flowers. Later, after Noah has been playing with the toys for a while, he has drawn a notebook full of mandalas. The source of the connection between all of these disparate sources is only vaguely explored. Much like Alice down the rabbit hole, the film is more focused on becoming exponentially peculiar with every turn.

The metaphor becomes particularly fitting when the film subtly suggests a more concrete connection between Alice's rabbit hole and Mimzy, the stuffed rabbit Noah's sister pulled out of the strange container. As events begin to spin wildly out of control, the Department of Homeland Security becomes involved. Expect neither a favorable nor realistic portrayal. Meanwhile, the rest of the characters are brought together by a strange calling to bring the toys' mysterious purpose to fruition.

The performances here are entirely serviceable. Michael Clarke Duncan is rather enjoyable as FBI authority that navigates the confusion and insanity all around him with a serene, good-natured attitude. As a psychic well-versed in the arcane customs of obscure eastern philosophy, Rainn Wilson plays against his Dwight Schrute persona from "The Office." As events become increasingly more surreal and outlandish, he plays Mr. White like he's the only one that seems to notice. Timothy Hutton's portrayal of Noah and Emma's father changes radically from scene to scene. The screenplay doesn't know where it wants to go with his character, and it shows in the performance. As Noah and Emma respectively, Chris O'Neil and Rhiannon Leigh Wryn do a good enough job capturing the emotions demanded of them but fail to make their characters truly distinctive, either.

The Last Mimzy lacks the character development and sophistication to hold up as standout family cinema. The first film from New Line studio head Robert Shaye since 1990, there is no hint that we'd lose something if he didn't direct again for another seventeen years. As an engaging experience, it survives on sheer strangeness and audacity. The characters don't offer anything new and make little effort to rise about the archetypes from which they've sprung. But plot spins and twists on a dime, and none of the revelations approach conventional. The Last Mimzy is enjoyable, if conventional, family storytelling set more than a little off the beaten path. (***)


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