The Last Mimzy was a film I wanted to see in theaters last year, but missed. Now I'm glad I missed it. This is a poorly made film, which is sad considering the interesting story it is trying to tell, the relatively decent graphics, and the strong cast of adult actors. The story follows a pair of kids in Washington who find a mysterious alien box, inside of which is a stuffed bunny and some other nifty stuff. We're told from the start that this has something to do with saving the human race and the box is from the future (apparently the genetic structure of humans has become tainted and needs new genetic material to act as a cure). What could have been a really brilliant idea (based on a book) fell flat on its face for a variety of reasons.
Whether or not I'm basing this on poor acting or writing is irrelevant. There is a lot a director can do to make sure scenes come out right and not the way they arrived on screen. There were so many poorly built scenes that could have been fixed with a bit of direction, or heck, even re-shooting said scenes. Regardless, the directing falls desperately short, but certainly doesn't take the mantle as the biggest flaw in the film.
One big flaw in the cast are the two child actors (Chris O'neil and Rhiannon Leigh Wryn) chosen to play the roles of brother and sister (Noah and Emma). There is, and always will be, a certain amount of leeway we can give to children. After all, they aren't professional actors (Dakota Fanning is not a professional, she's a child actor), and often have very little experience when chosen for a role. The problem with this movie is that these children are clearly not ready for this level of acting. They come off stilted and obviously too fake. Some of this has to do with the writing, which gives them gee-golly wow lines from time to time that just sound stupid (they made me cringe). I personally have no problem with child actors, as they are often times rather good and add a childish flare to things (look at those Harry Potter kids), but these two, especially the oldest boy, are clearly not right for this sort of role.
Other issues are with the characters themselves. Beyond the children there is a homeland security agent (played by Michael Clarke Duncan), a somewhat nutty teacher (Rainn Wilson from The Office) and his mystic girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn). These characters would work well if they were written better. We don't see Duncan's character until nearly the end of the film, and we're supposed to actually care about him even though we only have a brief glimpse into his life. Moments later we see him using the Patriot Act to take into custody Noah, Emma, and their parents, whisking them away to a hospital or something along those lines for questioning (a note here is that a little bit before this Noah and Emma, while fiddling with the toys, accidentally shut off the power to all of Seattle).
I didn't read the short story this is based on, so I can't say anything here.
The writing serves to be probably the biggest flaw in the movie. First off, there is no child who magically teleports a soda can across the yard who goes "oh wow, what did I just do?" (that's almost word for word). I mean, really. Surprise, yes, a little of the woah factor, yes, but this sort of thing happens all throughout the story. Sometimes happens and the boy goes "gee golly wow" rather than doing what most kids would do: freak out a little.
The story and pace also fall short. Things occur within the story too suddenly or when they occur we never hear from them again. At one point Noah actually teleports a soda can, which is presented like a big surprise. The problem is that he never does it again. That's it. He teleports once. Noah is also supposed to be the "engineer" of sorts, and miraculously this C- science student suddenly starts building bridges through time when he's barely old enough to even know the basic rules of physics. We're supposed to believe it is from the alien artifacts, but because there is no gradual change in the character it just seems stupid. Really? He suddenly becomes a genius overnight? Uh huh. And I'm a popcorn monster. What else? The pacing moves so slow that we spend most of the movie seeing little of anything happen at all. Rather than trying to pull all the juicy bits to the front of the movie to keep people interested, the movie instead forces us to watch these two kids being nothing more than kids, even though we KNOW that there is something much bigger going on. The film makers should have pulled more of the magical intrigue to the forefront to really drive people to being interested, but instead we're left with a movie that doesn't go anyway for a long while, and then tries to get us interested in what does happen at the tail end, even though we don't really care anymore.
The graphics are probably the high point of the whole film. They intentionally try not to be too ridiculous, which a lot of SF and films for kids tends to do. Instead there is a focus on some sense of realism, which is great. The spinning rocks look like spinning rocks. That's pretty much all I can say here.
I could go on about what is wrong with this film. Many of the critical reviews of this remarked that what could have been an enchanting, engaging film fell flat because the film makers tried too hard to make it enchanting and engaging and ended up make it a film that couldn't unfold naturally. I would agree. The problems stem from poorly developing the story, not giving characters that have some importance a little more time to make us care, among a whole slew of issues. Pretty graphics aren't enough to save this film from its flaws. If it bored me, someone who gets great joy from all these fun magical kid films (like Harry Potter, Spiderwick, etc.), it has a high likelihood of boring children.