Unaccompanied Minors   UK title: Grounded
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Paul Feig
scr Jacob Meszaros, Mya Stark
with Lewis Black, Wilmer Valderrama, Dyllan Christopher, Gina Mantegna, Tyler James Williams, Brett Kelly, Quinn Shephard, Dominique Saldana, Paget Brewster, Rob Corddry, Teri Garr, Jessica Walter
release US 8.Dec.06, UK 15.Dec.06
06/US Warner 1h30

Which duct goes where? Shephard, Christopher and Mantegna

black valderrama brewster

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Grounded Blatantly cobbling together Home Alone and The Terminal, this romp just isn't funny or original enough to become a holiday classic. Although the solid cast makes it watchable.

On Christmas Eve, a mammoth blizzard closes a major hub airport in the Mid West, leaving thousands of passengers stranded. Among them are a number of children travelling unaccompanied, mostly to spend the holidays with a single parent. Zach (Valderrama) is the airport employee assigned to watch these kids, but five of them slip through his grasp: resourceful Spencer (Christopher), sassy rich girl Grace (Mantegna), rubber-faced Charlie (Williams), gentle-giant Beef (Kelly) and rebellious Donna (Shephard). They're going to make this a very long night for the airport manager Oliver (Black).

The film is structured as a series of cat-and-mouse antics involving Oliver trying to outwit these increasingly inventive kids. Although to be fair, these kids are only this slippery due to the corny contrivances of the scriptwriters, who make sure there's always something to help them escape, elude, sled down a hill, whatever. An abandoned luggage warehouse, a convenient dog, a set of walkie-talkies: this is the laziest kind of writing, bereft of originality, ingenuity and actual wit. The film's few guffaws are the result of what look like on-set improvisations.

There's also a painful willingness to dip into sappiness at every turn, from the kids' effort to rescue Christmas for Spencer's little sister (Saldana) to the story's "heartwarming" conclusion. It's completely forced sentiment that rings utterly false. And it doesn't help that the filmmakers try to work in a couple of juvenile romances and some half-hearted family issues.

On the other hand, the film is well-produced in that bland Hollywood style, with characters that somehow manage to emerge out of their stereotypes, mostly due to the sharp cast. Spencer and Mantegna are quite charming. Although Williams overdoes the goofy physicality, Black is far too villainous and Valderrama is strangely sidelined. Thanks to the cast, the film has enough just energy to pass the time amiably. And the syrupy finale might even work if you give in to it.

cert PG some themes, violence 25.Nov.05

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2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall