"Unaccompanied Minors" answers a couple questions you may or may not care about this holiday season.
First, Does Wilmer Valderrama have a future in feature films?
Ummmm, Nope. We can check Valderrama off the "destined for Oscar greatness" list.
Secondly, will Lewis Black appear in a decent flick in 2006?
Again, the answer is apparently "Nope."
Tearing a page, or maybe a paragraph, from the "Home Alone" book on holiday films, "Unaccompanied Minors" is a dreadfully boring, ridiculously unrealistic flick centered on a group of young kids trapped in a Chicago airport on Christmas Eve and the havoc that results from the airport security chief's (Lewis Black) attempt to keep them held in a cell until the crisis subsides.
While the set-up stinks of a Tim Allen flick, director Paul Feig (writer of "Freaks and Geeks" and director of the quirky "Arrested Development") would lend credibility to the idea that we could expect a slightly bent, weird holiday classic from this tired, staid set-up.
So much for credibility.
All the quirky, goofball charm that Feig added to "Freaks and Geeks" and "Arrested Development" is largely missing from this mishmash of physical humor, predictable set-ups and impossible to happen situations (at least in the post-9/11 era).
Spencer (Dyllan Christopher) and Katherine (Dominique Saldana) are the two main children who rally the assorted, yet stereotypical, group of kids around them as they celebrate the holidays in their own special way. How stereotypical you ask? We have a prissy African-American (Tyler James Williams), the dopey fat kid (Brett Kelly, who was MUCH funnier in "Bad Santa") and a few others like the one with Christmas spirit, the geeky cute girl and, well, you get my point.
Considering Feig wrote the brilliant "Freaks and Geeks," it's surprising how ineffective he is in directing the youngsters in "Unaccompanied Minors." While the adult performances are nothing to write home about, a couple of them do manage to shine despite the dimness of their surroundings. Rob Corddry ("Daily Show" and "Upright Citizen's Brigade"), for example, is funny, quirky, charming and heart-warming as a father racing across the country to get his family together for the holidays. Corddry's performance is an indicator that he may be the next "Daily Show" alumni to break off into film.
The lovely and way under-appreciated Teri Garr makes what amounts to a cameo as a scene-stealing aunt into one of the film's joyous highlights.
On the flip side, Lewis Black continues his string of uncomfortably weak 2006 performances. In "Unaccompanied Minors," Black takes his already strong presence and turns it up a notch to the point of irritating and annoying. There wasn't a moment that Black was onscreen where I didn't find myself muttering to myself "Please go away."
However, compared to the performance of Valderrama, Black may well qualify for an Oscar. Valderrama, so appealing on "That 70's Show," is so, well, unappealing here. Was it, perhaps, the god-awful script by Mya Stark and Jacob Meszaros that turned him into a Hispanic cliché? Whatever the reason, Valderrama's performance is the weak link in a remarkably weak film.
At a mere 82 minutes in running length, "Unaccompanied Minors" may have enough physical comedy and kids vs. adults camaraderie to attract the younger audience. While the situations are nonsensical, they are, at times, downright funny (especially for those who can't necessarily jump through the intellectual hoops required to believe these sorts of things would happen in an airport today).
In a season that has already brought us multiple Christmas films for which mediocrity has been a prize, "Unaccompanied Minors" fails even by today's modest standards for a holiday film.
Want some holiday advice? Leave "Unaccompanied Minors" at the airport and rent "A Christmas Story" instead.