- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 9, 2006

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving the entertainment lives of families, provides reviews of the latest movies from a parenting perspective. For more reviews, click on commonsensemedia.org.

‘Unaccompanied Minors’

Rating: PG for mild rude humor and language.

Common Sense Media: Pause. For ages 6 and older.

** (out of five stars)

Running time: 89 minutes

Common Sense review: Both tedious and hyperactive, “Unaccompanied Minors” also is a strangely careless movie. Given that it ends up preaching the value of adults and children sharing Christmas together, it spends an awful lot of time showing the extreme incompatibility of the two species by following a group of children who, understandably frustrated at their seeming abandonment on Christmas Eve, outsmart and abuse any and all adults they meet.

Before they’re stranded in a Chicago airport by a blizzard, the core group of “minors” are introduced in a sequence in which each is supposed to sit in a department-store Santa’s lap, establishing his or her essential characteristic.

With his parents divorced, Spencer (Dyllan Christopher) feels responsible for his little sister, Katy (Dominique Saldana). Harvard-bound Charlie (Tyler James Williams) worries about proper behavior and looking smart all the time. Tomboy Donna (Quinn Shephard) hates to be touched (and tends to whomp offenders in the crotch area). Wealthy Grace (Gina Mantegna) tries to act older than she is. Lonely Beef (Brett Kelly) clings to his Aquaman action figure in lieu of a friend.

Horrified by the chaos of the airport’s “unaccompanied minors room,” these children start to bond, mainly over Spencer’s problem. See, he left Katy in the terrible room, so he spends the rest of the movie trying to bring her a Christmas gift so she won’t lose faith in Santa.

His efforts are paralleled by those of his father, Sam (Rob Corddry), who’s driving through snow and darkness from Pennsylvania on his way to get them. Their mother, Valerie (Paget Brewster), is less effective, watching TV and worrying back home as Aunt Judy (Teri Garr, in a cameo) drinks herself into a stupor while wearing ornaments and a Santa hat.

As annoying as such silly displays may be, the children’s more immediate concern is with their primary adversary, Scroogey airport manager Oliver Porter (Lewis Black).

Common Sense note: Parents need to know that although this film is relentlessly dumb, children — especially those who like slapstick violence and watching other children outsmart adults — probably will want to see it. (That said, during one preview screening, after about 30 minutes, a 6- or 7-year-old asked his mother if they could please go home.)

Families can discuss the movie’s premise. If real children got stranded at an airport, do you think they would act like this? Children, how would you behave in that situation? What precautions can families take to make sure such trips go off smoothly?

Sexual content: An early, brief scene has a rich girl sitting in an older male model’s lap to show that she’s experienced and provocative — later, she’s revealed to be sweet and naive; minor flirting between children; a boy finds a bra in a suitcase where he’s trapped.

Language alert: Name-calling by children.

Violence alert: Lots of silly slapstick stuff. Repeated punches; children throw objects at one other and adults; a child’s face is smashed by an inflatable life vest (plus other equipment-related abuses); children stuck in and on top of a suitcase are bumped during a ride on the luggage conveyor; a man is knocked over by a pop-up Santa lawn ornament; chases take place throughout the airport and down a snowy hill; a caged dog growls; guards play musical chairs and slap each other when they lose.

Commercialism alert: Images of or allusions to M&Ms;, Al Roker on TV, Aquaman action figure, Abercrombie & Fitch, Dior, Sharper Image, Humvee, Slinky (with song lyrics).

Social-behavior alert: Drinking by Aunt Judy.

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