Review: Unaccompanied Minors

When a monumental blizzard hits a Midwestern airport, it strands unaccompanied minor passengers Spencer (Dyllan Christopher) and his kid sister Katherine (Dominique Saldana) right before Christmas. Tossed into a windowless, concrete room with other stranded minors (including Gina Mantegna, Quinn Shephard, Brett Kelly, and Tyler James William from "Everyone Hate Chris"), Spencer finds friends with a similar yearning to break out and head for freedom. Standing in their way is airport manager Mr. Porter (Lewis Black), whose treasured Hawaiian vacation has been cancelled by the winter storm.

The first hour of "Unaccompanied Minors" (IMDb listing) is an amusing reminder that placing a family film in the hands of a director with an actual vision for this type of endeavor pays off well. Far too many filmmakers simply punch a clock with kid pictures, but helmer Paul Feig ("I Am David") has a master plan for the silliness, and he executes it with a bubble gum zip that hums especially well.

Feig, the brain behind "Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared," appears to conjure the spirits of "Mission: Impossible" and "The Goonies" for this pre-teen romp, welcoming the set-piece adventure of a desolate airport location and the promise of serious pratfall attention. "Minors" is silly Saturday matinee material, but instead of loathing the job of entertaining families, Feig delights in the challenge. "Minors" is sharply edited, snappily paced, and brightly performed by the entire cast. It's a hodgepodge of spills, pranks, and wide-eyed reaction shots, sold with Feig's fine-tuned, Hughesian comedic voice.

After some light character introduction, "Minors" takes off like a slingshot; pitting kid vs. establishment in the arena of the snowed-in airport. The hijinks extend to joyriding in a golf cart, sliding around the luggage sorter, trying to outwit a "guard cat," indulging in a little improv time with unclaimed lost baggage items, and culminating in an uproarious kayak/canoe chase down a steep snowy mountain. The underage cast Feig has assembled to express this mischief is terrific, each eager for the next bit of slapstick, and natural in their line delivery and bouts with physical humor.

"Minors" burns so quickly through tumbling scenes of tomfoolery that by the time it peaks, you assume that surely the film must be over; however, it turns out Feig has only brought us 2/3 of the way. The final 30 minutes turns "Minors" into a psychological study of the kids: their hopes, worries, and family situations. Even Mr. Porter's Grinch-like heart is given a good thawing. This is a Christmas movie after all, but Feig applies the breaks too abruptly, losing the buoyant, antsy mood of the piece, searching for characterization that is past its expiration date.

Even with that unfortunate detour, "Unaccompanied Minors" is a unique success story in a genre not known for crossover appeal and it's sure to please children of all ages. Besides, how can you hate a film with cameos by 3/5 of the Kids in the Hall?

Filmfodder Grade: B+