If The Last Mimzy proves nothing else, it is that Robert Shaye should stick to his day job. Shaye co-founded New Line Cinema 40 years ago, and in that time he has presided over such lucrative franchises as A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Lord of the Rings; in fact, it was Shaye's idea to produce three films based on Tolkien's magnum opus, rather than the two that Peter Jackson had been fighting for. (The other studio that Jackson had been dealing with wanted to condense the entire story down to one movie.) So, credit where credit is due. Fantasy fans owe him a lot.
But just because Shaye has the power of life and death over films made by other people, it doesn't necessarily follow that he would be a good filmmaker himself. As it is, Shaye has directed only two feature films in his entire career. The first was a romantic comedy called Book of Love that came out 17 whole years ago. The other is The Last Mimzy, an exceedingly loopy children's sci-fi story that evokes memories of E.T., 2001: A Space Odyssey, and A.I. Artificial Intelligence, but is probably closer in spirit to the half-baked techno-mysticism of What the Bleep Do We Know?.
The film begins in what looks like the future, with a teacher and her students sitting in a circle in the bright, beautiful, environmentally pure outdoors. The teacher invites her students to "tune in" as she "shows" them a story telepathically, and after a narrative lurch or two, we find ourselves in the present day. The story concerns two young siblings, Noah Wilder (Chris O'Neil) and his kid sister Emma (Rhiannon Leigh Wryn), who discover a mysterious box when they play on the beach during their Easter vacation. Inside the box are various "toys," including a doll that looks like an old-fashioned stuffed rabbit but makes strange, subtle sounds, like an electronic purr. Emma calls the rabbit "Mimzy," and she says it teaches her things.
The other "toys" behave oddly, too. Sometimes they levitate; sometimes they create energy fields; sometimes their actions are quite visible to the children but utterly invisible to their parents, Jo (Joely Richardson) and David (Timothy Hutton). And as time goes by, the children develop new skills, including the ability to teleport objects—among them a perfectly positioned product placement—as well as the ability to make spiders and insects behave in certain ways by making certain sounds.
One of Noah's more dazzling "science projects" catches the eye of his teacher, Larry White (The Office's Rainn Wilson). So do Noah's rigorously geometric sketches, which bear an uncanny resemblance to the Hindu or Buddhist mandalas that Larry saw on a pilgrimage to the Himalayas with his fiancée, Naomi Schwartz (Crossing Jordan's Kathryn Hahn). Naomi ends up reading Noah's and Emma's palms, and after doing so, she and Larry become convinced that the kids are destined for great things.
Other adults get involved too, though. At one point, the "toys" set off a power surge that sends the entire Seattle area into a momentary blackout. Fearing terrorist activity, the FBI steps in and throws its weight around; the federal agents are led by Michael Clarke Duncan, who delivers his lines with hilariously deadpan seriousness even in scenes where you don't think the movie is trying to be a comedy.
The children who see this film might find the "toys" and their techno-magical powers so diverting that it never occurs to them to wonder why the movie takes forever to explain where the "toys" come from and what their purpose is. We know it has something to do with those strange people that we saw in the opening scenes, but what? And once the movie does explain what those cryptic opening scenes were all about, the film turns even hokier than you expect. If the film were a simple fairy tale, it might get away with such a simple yet extravagant conclusion—but after dwelling so much on the plot mechanics that lead up to it, it just feels trite.
The fact that there is an air of New Agey pseudo-scientific pantheism hanging over this film doesn't help any. The "toys" represent a world in which there is ultimately no difference between machinery and organic life, or between magic and technology; and our heroes talk about how "the whole universe is trying to communicate" with them. Obviously, on one level, this is all just make-believe, but it still reflects a worldview that some children may not have the discernment to deal with properly.
As for the adults, they will likely be bored stiff, though they might catch some of the more absurd details that the children miss, such as the way the buildings all have names like Seattle Elementary School and Seattle Research Facility, as though a city the size of Seattle would have room for only one each of these things.
The Last Mimzy is based on a 1940s science-fiction story, and the script is credited to four people—one of whom, Toby Emmerich, is a New Line executive, just like Shaye. It is not too hard to imagine, then, that this is the sort of movie that studio executives would make if only they could get rid of those difficult-to-work-with middle-men known as "the artists." This movie is, in effect, a peek into the studio executives' mentality—and if this is what the guys who run the studios think movies ought to be like, it's a wonder that anything good comes out of the studios at all.Discussion starters
- Larry White tells his class that DNA controls how we think and act. Do you agree? Why or why not?
- What do you make of the film's emphasis on "pollutants"? Is it possible for anyone who lives in a "polluted" world to somehow not be contaminated?
- Emma says, "I don't want the world to end, ever. I love the world." Do you love the world? Do you want it to end? How does the Bible speak about "loving the world"? When is it a positive thing, or a negative thing?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
The Last Mimzy is rated PG for some thematic elements (including a sort of pseudo-scientific pantheism, combined with palm reading and elements of Buddhism), mild peril (children steal a car and get caught up in energy fields created by futuristic devices) and language (a few words like "damn," "screw," and "Oh my God").
Photos © Copyright New Line Cinema
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