The “Home Alone” kid as an amoral, psychotic killer? What next, Barney leveling Tokyo? The bizarre prospect of Macaulay Culkin as a latter-day “bad seed” should prompt enough curiosity to generate initial box office visits, but this peculiar thriller doesn’t deliver enough jolts to leave the audience screaming, and without a kid audience this R-rated entry should make a relatively quick trip to the foster care of homevideo.
Though Culkin will accrue most of the ink — and no doubt a few complaints about casting this childhood icon as the embodiment of evil, as if he needed to expand his repertoire — the action centers around another prominent moppet, Elijah Wood (“Avalon,””Forever Young”), playing a young boy with very bad luck.
Not only does Mark (Wood) watch his mother die at an early age, but he then gets shipped off to spend a couple of weeks with his aunt and uncle, only to discover that he’s sharing a room with a prepubescent psychopath.
At first, Henry (Culkin) just seems a bit eccentric, but the stunts gradually become more outrageous, until he hints that he did away with his brother and tries to off his baby sister (Quinn Culkin, making her debut as yet another sprig, along with brothers Macaulay and Kieran, on the Culkin money tree).
Mark tentatively turns to adults for help but no one wants to believe him — including Henry’s mom (Wendy Crewson), eventually a target herself of Henry’s supposition that once you’ve done wrong and gotten away with it, you’re capable of anything.
Working from a script by novelist Ian McEwan, producer-director Joseph Ruben (“Sleeping With the Enemy”) employs some of the same hackneyed thriller elements but runs across the pitfall of mixing suspense with day care.
Culkin’s cold, dispassionate performance will evoke too many laughs of the derisive kind, not just the genre’s characteristic release of nervous tension.
Indeed, the filmmakers hold back too long in establishing the depths to which Henry will sink, and when the action does boil over, it too often feels silly — if, in some respects, strangely compelling, particularly the climax.
The film also pushes the rather dispiriting conclusion that there’s such a thing as inherent evil with a capital “E”– but for convenience’s sake, without examining the more chilling aspects of that hypothesis.
Culkin projects soullessness, but not the darkness we need to see behind those eyes. Wood fares better in the easier role of Mark, while Crewson (“The Doctor”) is the only standout among the adult roles.
With its low-caliber thrills, “The Good Son’s” greatest asset may be its spectacularly shot scenery by cinematographer John Lindley, from the mesas of Arizona to the snowy climes of New England. Unfortunately, that’s also about the only territory of any note the pic explores.