Dir: John Polson. US.2004. 105mins.

A good cast and somespooky build-up fall victim to cliched plotting and an unlikely surprise endingin suspense thriller Hide And Seek, the second US film from Australiandirector (and actor) John Polson. The cast, headed by Robert De Niro and rising10-year-old star Dakota Fanning, might get the film some attention at the boxoffice when it opens in the US and certainly in video stores; but the chancesof a sizeable audience going in search of this unambitious genre outing remainslim.

When it opens the film inthe US today (Jan 28), 20th Century Fox will be hoping that De Niro, hot offhis success in Meet The Fockers, can pull some older moviegoers awayfrom newly-announced Oscar nominees and other competing offerings (like thesomewhat comparable White Noise).

The surprisingly stringent Rrating may actually attract some late-teens, but younger moviegoers, who willhave several other horror thriller options in coming weeks, are likely to bedisappointed by Hide And Seek's restrained style and low body count.

Fox will probably find itjust as tough to secure an audience in the international marketplace, throughwhich Hide And Seek rolls out over the next two months. De Niro'spresence might still - in spite of his recent run of bad genre movies - countfor something in more cineaste markets, and the involvement of Polson, whopreviously steered moderately successful Hollywood teen thriller Swimfan,might stir extra interest in Australia.

The screenplay, the first tobe produced from writer Ari Schlossberg, sets the story up with some veryfamiliar genre elements.

De Niro's David Callaway isan emotionally distant New York psychologist who misses the warning signsleading up to the suicide of his wife Alison (Irving). To get over the tragedy,David moves with his nine-year-old daughter Emily to a big house in the woodsnear a small upstate town - a town which, the locals ominously and repeatedlywarn, is very quiet in the off season.

The newly-widowed dad makesclumsy attempts to connect with his lonely daughter but the two mostly end upamusing themselves at opposite ends of the creaky old house. When Emily startstalking about her new playmate Charlie, David treats the apparently imaginaryfriend as a normal symptom of Emily's grief. But when the play turns nasty -leading to a re-creation of Emily's suicide scene and bloody warnings daubed onthe bathroom walls - David becomes desperate to find out who or what 'Charlie'really is.

Polson does a decent jobbuilding suspense around Charlie's presence in the house and he orchestrates afew genuinely creepy moments. The story, meanwhile, introduces several otherpossible participants in the action - among them David's would-be newgirlfriend (Shue) and a vaguely suspicious local sheriff (Baker) - but most getknocked off or stay on the sidelines. Only fellow child psychologist Katherine(Janssen) ends up playing a significant part in the proceedings.

The surprise ending, whichFox is asking journalists not to reveal, is indeed a surprise, but mostlybecause it's so implausible. It also serves to turn the film's climacticsequence - a life or death game of hide and seek - into a prosaic andpredictable slash fest.

De Niro, who last yearappeared to little box office effect in Godsend, another spooky-kidthriller, gives a workmanlike performance, but he doesn't inject any real lifeinto his broadly drawn character. Fanning (soon to be seen in War Of TheWorlds) makes more of her slightly more interesting role as the mostlyscary, occasionally vulnerable Emily.
Prod cos: 20th Century Fox, Josephson Entertainment
US dist:
Int'l dist:
Fox Int'l
Exec prod:
Joe Carracciolo, Jr
Barry Josephson
Ari Schlossberg
Dariusz Wolski
Prod des:
Steven Jordan
Jeffrey Ford
Costume des:
Aude Bronson-Howard
John Ottman
Main cast:
Robert De Niro, Dakota Fanning, Famke Janssen, ElisabethShue, Amy Irving, Dylan Baker