I once read a joke on the internet to the effect that the typical career path for a promising American director these days is to go from helming an edgy, independently-financed debut which makes a splash at Sundance, to a more ambitious but less successful second film and then – in recovery mode – to a modest, impersonal studio movie for kids.
This is pretty much the path that Bart Freundlich has trod, from the promising The Myth of Fingerprints (1997) to World Traveler (2001) – both starring his wife, Julianne Moore – and now Catch That Kid, a spirited but also rather anonymous assignment.
Certain delicious moments recall his earlier work (such as a terrific minor role for James Le Gros), but mostly Freundlich turns in a solid, professional job.
In its own terms, however, it is not bad. Catch That Kid resembles a more modest version of the Spy Kids series, although its direct source is a Danish film, Klatretosen (2002). It hurls a trio of twelve-year-olds into a daring heist caper at which they prove themselves surprisingly adept.
The charm of all these movies is in the way the action plot arises from – and also serves to resolve – problems or tensions besetting a family unit. Here, the trigger is the accident that befalls Tom (Sam Robards), requiring costly surgery that his family cannot afford.
So Maddy (Kristen Stewart) – who is also feeling a little neglected by her career-minded Mom, Molly (Jennifer Beals) – rounds up her mates, Austin (Corbin Bleu) and Gus (Max Thieriot). They embark on a robbery which requires all their skills: Gus's mechanical grunt, Austin's computer hacking, and Maddy's winning ability to be both the chief brain and a kick-ass chick.
As I enjoyed the chase scenes involving go-carts and the tender jokes about our heroes as an asexual threesome just on the verge of puberty, I fondly recalled a true pre-teen classic from the '80s: Australia's own BMX Bandits (1983).
We don't make them like that anymore.
© Adrian Martin April 2004