Two children find a mysterious box on the beach that has traveled backwards in time from a harrowing future where humanity is on the verge of extinction. Within the box, they find various toys that train them to use new powers, but when one of those toys causes a massive blackout, the Department of Homeland Security comes after the children and their parents, believing the family to be a potential terrorist cell.
Released in 2007, The Last Mimzy is a very loose adaptation of Lewis Padgett's "Mimsy Were the Borogoves." Before I get into that, though, let me just write that, from a purely technical standpoint, there is nothing terribly wrong with the movie. It is competently directed by Robert Shaye; the music by Howard Shore is okay (not sure what Roger Waters is doing on the soundtrack, though); the special and visual effects aren't bad; and the acting goes from fine to actually pretty good, even from the two children on whose shoulders most of the movie rests. I'm sure that, in 2007, it was a perfectly serviceable family film. I want to make that clear, because when it comes to the writing, The Last Mimzy doesn't leave me with many other positives to discuss.
It feels like somebody took the very basic premise of "Mimsy Were the Borogoves," added in some standard save-the-world tropes, replaced all the story's philosophical and metaphysical implications with some new age nonsense, put in a happy ending, and then grafted it all onto the plot skeleton of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. It wants earnestly to be as good as the Spielberg classic, but at the same time, it's embarrassed by its own source material, as though some producer was looking for an I.P. to make into a family film and pulled "Mimsy" out at random, even though it doesn't quite fit the bill.
The child actors could have been a disaster, but they're decent
I'll give a molecule of credit to the screenwriters, of which there are many (never a good sign). They did try to fit the concept into the formula like the proverbial square peg and round hole. Putting a lot of emphasis on a cutesy white rabbit doll named Mimzy that has a weirdly compelling "voice" that speaks to the children is clever, and having the DHS get involved makes sense for the post-9/11 time period. However, these ideas are still tropes, clichés that the script doesn't even try to hide, probably on the cynical calculation that kids who watch the movie won't be tired of them yet.
In its rush to shove "Mimsy" into the mold of a sci-fi family film, though, it forgets to make any narrative sense. Spoiler alert, it turns out that the whole purpose of the time traveling box is to collect DNA from the past that hasn't been corrupted by the nebulously defined "pollution" of the future. The question of why it has to give the children generic superpowers goes largely unanswered, with the only handwaving explanation being that they have to construct a time machine in order to send it back to the future (which only opens up yet more unanswered questions).
It forgets to put drama in the family drama
The movie tries to put in some family drama with an overworked father (Timothy Hutton, who kind of phones it in), but it never fully commits to a broken family the way E.T. does, nor does it try to include the alcoholism that defines the parents in the short story. Nor can it decide on a point of view character, which would have improved things immensely. For example, the screenplay might have made sense from the mother's point of view, especially given that Joely Richardson puts in a pretty good performance in the role. However, the perspective wanders around aimlessly and listlessly, with not even the kids feeling like central characters in the story.
The film also throws in some light comic relief in Larry and Naomi, a science teacher and his fiancée who recently went to Tibet and are totally absorbed in hippie mysticism. While the actors who play them, Riann Wilson and Kathryn Hahn, are two of the best things about the movie, the comedy around them doesn't really work for more than a scene or two, after which it gets exhausting, with a recurring joke about lottery numbers being particularly asinine.
These two are great, but poorly utilized
Perhaps the script's biggest sin, though, is that it's just boring. There are flashes of the Spielbergian childlike wonder it is obviously trying to achieve, but they are fleeting and separated by long stretches of meaningless scenes that go nowhere. Even the DHS subplot feels half-baked and resolved too easily, only salvageable because of Michael Clarke Duncan. It's all too sanitized and safe, nowhere near as bold and interesting as the story upon which it is allegedly based.
As I wrote in my review last week, "Mimsy Were the Borogroves" would work better as a horror film, and the idea of turning it into a kid-friendly family film can only make sense to a film executive who doesn't understand the story. The Last Mimzy, therefore, was doomed from the start, and no matter how well it was made, it could never have worked as intended. It is an unforgivable waste of potential and a dull disappointment. Just read the story and let the film stay in the past.
-e. magill 1/28/2020
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