|Unaccompanied Minors (2006)
Starring: Dyllan Christopher, Gina Mantegna, Quinn Shephard, Tyler James Williams, Lewis Black, Brett Kelly, Wilmer Valderrama
Director: Paul Feig
Say this for the kiddie Christmas comedy “Unaccompanied Minors”: the movie is positively overflowing with good taste, from the Christmas songs that open and close the movie (the Kinks and Everything but the Girl, respectively) to the comic royalty that appears in even the smallest roles. The movie’s director, Paul Feig, helmed episodes of “Arrested Development,” “The Office,” and “Freaks and Geeks,” and dipped into the talent pools of all three, among others, to put this movie together. Last but not least, the kids that play the six lead roles are funny, funny, funny. Pity, then, that the movie is just okay, surrendering to its target audience instead of holding it hostage.
The story takes place at Hoover International Airport (Chicago’s O’Hare in real life), where a bunch of kids from various parts of the country are stranded en route to their final destinations by a snowstorm. The unaccompanied minors are all rounded up and put in one big, rowdy room. When Zach (Wilmer Valderrama), the airport employee assigned to monitor them, is dog-piled by the little kids, five escape: rich girl Grace (Gina Mantegna, Joe Mantegna’s daughter), good guy Spencer (Dyllan Christopher), cute tomboy Donna (Quinn Shephard), privileged geek Charlie (Tyler James Williams, who plays the young Chris Rock on “Everybody Hates Chris”), and gentle giant Beef (Brett Kelly). After each commits acts that draw the ire of head of airport personnel (Lewis Black), they are deliberately separated from the rest of the unaccompanied minors as punishment, which means Spencer is separated from his little sister Katherine (Dominique Saldana), who becomes the prisoner of an older girl who views Katherine as a real-life Barbie doll.
If “Unaccompanied Minors” leads me to do one thing, it will be to watch “Everybody Hates Chris” on a regular basis. Tyler James Williams is money, people, and his Charlie is a unique blend of quirky and accessible, as opposed to some Urkel reboot that plays the fool for the sake of playing the fool. In fact, all of the child actors in “Unaccompanied Minors” are uncommonly good, a rare sight if ever there was one, especially when you consider that Saldana’s twin sister is the busier actress of the two (she does commercials out the wazoo).
If anyone brings the movie down, it is the adult actors. Lewis Black is a funny guy, but he is the Keanu Reeves of comedic actors, and his presence as the adult lead is infuriating once you realize how many superior comics appear in supporting roles and cameos (nuh-uh, we’re spoiling nothing). If any thing brings the movie down, it’s their willingness to play down to the target audience. Their approach to bathroom humor is admirable, in that they find the right time and place for it, and use it sparingly. In every other aspect, though, they make things a bit too contrived, and the best stunt-casting in the world can’t overcome repeated shots to the groin.
“Unaccompanied Minors” is like the ultimate ‘tweener movie. The older kids are going to think it’s too uncool for them, and the kiddos (or more likely their parents) will find the humor and situations to be too “adult.” What both groups need to realize is that this could have been “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” for the kiddie set. Now do you understand why I was so disappointed that the movie wasn’t better than it was? I thought so.
It should come as no surprise that Warner Bros. did not stuff the DVD for this underperforming movie to the gills with extra features. Along with an audio commentary by director Paul Feig, actor Lewis Black and the screenwriters, there is an extended dance sequence featuring Tyler James Williams, a series of nonessential deleted scenes, and a lengthy bit involving the Guards in the Hall.