"Delivering Milo" never reaches full life as an expression of what it means, for both child and mother, to be brought into the world. This high-concept reverse on "Heaven Can Wait" posits that babies are prepped for life in an elegant mansion, and actually have free will to decide whether to cross a portentous threshold and pop out of mom's womb.

“Delivering Milo” isn’t quite stillborn as a Capraesque comedy fantasy, but it never reaches full life as an expression of what it means, for both child and mother, to be brought into the world. This high-concept reverse on “Heaven Can Wait” posits that babies are prepped for life in an elegant mansion, and actually have free will to decide whether to cross a portentous threshold and pop out of mom’s womb. Using up most of the conceptual comedy in the first third, pic cannot sustain the early energy despite pinpoint casting of Bridget Fonda and Albert Finney. Star element, plus some stellar production support, will greatly help to secure domestic distrib, though B.O. potential is murky at best.

While Elizabeth (Fonda) is ready to deliver any day now, her son-to-be, curly-haired Milo (young Anton Yelchin), has become a master of fortunetelling for other tykes — all of whom appear to be between ages 8 and 10 — at the Life Training Center, where the soon-to-be-born are given the basics for their future. Designer Patricia Norris’ set for the center is an elegant maze of halls and rooms recalling “Last Year at Marienbad,” complete with a spectacular waiting room from which the children exit through a pair of giant doors into the white light of impending birth. Despite the officious (and archly acted) staff of teenagers dressed in their MBA best, Milo would understandably rather hang out in these classy digs than step into the unknown.

His refusal to do the deed throws the center and staff, led by Mr. Gordon (Douglas Spain), into a tizzy. Elizabeth, helped all the way by her artist husband, Kevin (Campbell Scott), goes through contractions but no birth, and begins to dwell on fears of bringing a child into a dangerous world. Per direct order of the Man Upstairs, Mr. Gordon recruits fun-loving Elmore Dahl (Albert Finney) to escort Milo to Earth for a preview and convince him to say the key words, “I want to be born,” no later than midnight. If this doesn’t happen, the giant doors will close for good and no more babies will be born.

Without Fonda’s performance of bone-deep conviction or Finney’s turn as an older but still ribald Tom Jones (albeit with a growly Bronx accent), helmer Nick Castle’s fantasy would be pretty dreary. There is little excitement or cinematic adventure in Milo’s first visit, and even the seemingly obvious use of the ticking clock as a suspense device is employed only once. Sadly, Yelchin proves disappointingly glum as Milo. Tech support is consistently good, but Craig Safan’s score becomes a damaging irritant.

Delivering Milo

Production

A Lakeshore Entertainment presentation of an Immi Pictures production. (International sales: Lakeshore Intl.) Produced by Heriberto Schoeffer, Heidi Levitt. Directed by Nick Castle. Screenplay, Diana Wagman, David Hubbard; story, Heidi Levitt.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Willy Kurant; editor, Patrick Kennedy; music, Craig Safan; production designer/costumes, Patricia Norris; sound (Dolby Digital), Don Summer. Reviewed at Palm Springs Film Festival, Jan. 15, 2001. Running time: 94 MIN.

With

Elizabeth - Bridget Fonda Elmore Dahl - Albert Finney Milo - Anton Yelchin Kevin - Campbell Scott Anna - Lesley Ann Warren Mr. Gordon - Douglas Spain

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