Run time: 90 mins
In Theaters: Friday 5th November 2004
Box Office USA: $0.3M
Distributed by: Lions Gate Films
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 38%
Fresh: 13 Rotten: 21
IMDB: 7.3 / 10
Director: Paul Feig
Screenwriter: Paul Feig
Pre-teen David (Ben Tibber) has grown up a prisoner of fascists running a camp whose purpose appears to be the breaking up of rocks. His sole friend is Johannes (Jim Caviezel), an adult who mentors him as a father figure. When Johannes is shot dead over a stolen bar of soap, David is given instructions on how to escape, where to go, the advice to "trust no one," and a bag of essentials including a compass, a pocket knife, a bar of soap, and a sealed envelope for delivery to whoever meets him at his destination in Denmark.
The episodes of his journey are weakly conceived idealizations by a female author to describe a boy's mind during an escape from evil, as true to life as a fairy tale. That the reality on which it's based was more dangerous and harrowing than its depiction here goes without saying. After days with no food, for example, the traveler comes into a small village where he finds a bakery. The baker inexplicably invites him inside, where, under a promise to return and feed him, he leaves in order to call in the authorities. For a few long minutes, David is surrounded by loaves of bread, but stoically touches none of them. We can imagine what the smell of fresh baking is putting his gastric reactions through, but his hands remain at his sides, obedient, slavish to his do-good nature, and dishonest.
When he sees the baker returning with two officers, does he grab a loaf and run as any starving boy would be expected to do for his own preservation? Apparently, no suggestion of delinquency by our little boy is allowed -- not even at the point of starvation! As an attempt at drama this drivel is more a tract on morality and goodness.
Not helping an essentially tepid script (written by director Paul Feig from a novel by Anne Holm) is the casting of the central character. It is difficult to imagine a less dynamic young actor than Ben Tibber, or one so physically awkward, one-dimensional, robotic, and expressionless. Whatever qualities caused him to be handed a lead role might have been found tenfold in hundreds of compelling Europeans of the same age.
Joan Plowright lends her warm, grandmotherly touch to the scenario in a penultimate episode of similar sentimentality while director-writer Feig unashamedly plays a lost American, demonstrating one more job for which he has little talent. Jim Caviezel (The Passion of the Christ) upholds himself best with his signature sensitivity as David's empathetic friend in slavery. In another context, his performance might have seemed to be overdoing it a bit, but here he comes off as downright disciplined.
This is a boy's grand adventure seen through a gauzy feminine filter. The ineptness of the writing is exceeded by the stiff, predictable staging. Everything's controlled, the starving boy is well fed, the situations ever comfortable and unconvincing. Its cocoon of safety and exemplary conduct provides little reason for anyone past high school age to waste their time on it. Get out the Game Boy instead.
Next time you be David and I'll wear the dress.