What on paper looked suspiciously like a vanity directing project by New Line supremo Bob Shaye turns out to be a quirky, New Age, eco-aware kids' sci-fi movie that plays well with young audiences - at least if the upbeat reaction from the Berlinale Kinderfest audience is anything to go by.
The Last Mimzy is an uneven film, reverting to TV cliches at times but with a widescreen emotional range and wonder-factor at others. The lack of major acting talent and low-profile source material (it's based on a 1943 story by Lewis Padgett, pseudonym of a husband-and-wife sci-fi writing team) will put on the box-office brakes.
But the solid script (good on the pacing of crisis points) and sympathetic performances by the two young leads, Chris O'Neill (Noah) and Rhiannon Leigh Wryn (Emma) - especially the latter, who really hogs the camera - will go some way towards making up the shortfall. And the sort of parents who might take their kids to see a sci-fi film with an ecological agenda are further targeted by canny little details like digs at the Patriot Act and a Roger Waters theme song.
New Line is giving the film a March 27 release in the States; the European rollout begins with Belgium on April 11.
Noah and his little sister Emma come from a happy, prosperous, white middle-class Seattle family: just the kind of set-up that a horror film would drag into much darker territory. And, in a way, this gooey family unit is threatened, when the siblings find a magic box on the beach near their holiday home.
Hiding the discovery from their parents, the two begin to play with the toys they discover inside: odd crystals which Emma discovers that she can spin so that they hover in the air; and a rabbit called Mimzy, who soon starts communicating to her on some weird cerebral wavelength (the name derives from a line in the poem Jabberwocky, from Lewis Carroll's Alice Through The Looking Glass; Mimzy is later found to resemble the rabbit held by Carroll's child friend Alice Liddell in a photograph).
Soon Noah's poor academic record is turned around and he becomes a genius, unveiling a computer-generated model of a bridge at his school science day; Emma, meanwhile, is discovered to possess a brain far beyond her years.
Thankfully, the techno-babble is kept in the background in order to focus more on the parents' growing worry about their offsprings' mental states, and the evolving relationship between brother and sister, which involves a nice bit of role reversal.
Meanwhile, Noah's right-on biology teacher, whose girlfriend is deeply into Californian- style Buddhism, discovers that the boy has been doodling ancient Tibetan mandalas on his test paper (Rainn Wilson and Kathhryn Hahn make these the most engaging of a lacklustre crop of adult roles). Could he be the reincarnation of a lama' Or channelling some alien intelligence' Could this be Donnie Darko Lite'
There are shades of New Age babble in all this: fortunately, though, the script steers a mostly satirical course through the incense and palm- reading, and really ups its street-cred with an abrupt, shocking break- in by armed police operating under the Patriot Act, who are investigating a power surge emanating from the family house.
Special effects don't feel too low-budget, and J.Michael Muro's Scope cinematography is perfectly adequate. But the outstanding technical credit is Howard Shore's lush, full-on orchestral score, which helps to
put the film in long trousers.
Production company/international sales
New Line Cinema
Bruce Joel Rubin
James V Hart
from Lewis Padgett's short story
Mimsy Were The Borogroves
J Michael Muro
Rhiannon Leigh Wryn
Michael Clarke Duncan