Kids run amuck while stranded on Christmas Eve at a snowed-in airport in the comedy "Unaccompanied Minors." Fast-paced, slickly handled kidpic probably won't create a stampede to the box office amid heavy Yuletide competition. But it's a crowdpleaser -- at least for crowds aged about 6 to 12 -- that should translate into modest theatrical returns before lucrative future seasons of annual rental and broadcast cheer.

Kids run amuck while stranded on Christmas Eve at a snowed-in airport in the comedy “Unaccompanied Minors.” Fast-paced, slickly handled kidpic probably won’t create a stampede to the box office amid heavy Yuletide competition. But it’s a crowdpleaser — at least for crowds aged about 6 to 12 — that should translate into modest theatrical returns before lucrative future seasons of annual rental and broadcast cheer.

A busy midwestern airport (pic was shot in Utah) is the layover point for a holiday season-full of travelers, including kids going solo, with most being passed from one divorced parent to another. Among them are a barely adolescent quintet first introduced on various department store Santas’ laps: Dorky but cute Spencer (Dyllan Christopher), towing his crybaby little sis Katy (Dominique Saldana); princessy rich girl Grace (Gina Mantegna); Donna (Quinn Shephard), a tomboy with anger-management issues; brainiac Charlie (Tyler James Williams); and massive “Beef” (Brett Kelly), who communicates primarily with his Aquaman action figure.

When weather conditions cancel all flights, no one is more upset than passenger relations chief Mr. Porter (Lewis Black), who was greatly looking forward to a Hawaiian vacation rather than working his 15th Christmas in a row.

Unaccompanied minors are shepherded into a cavernous basement room where, with unlucky Zach (Wilmer Valderrama), the sole staffer assigned to mind them, they fast create conditions akin to a prison riot.

Cycles of escape, recapture and punishment ensue, though a climactic infusion of Christmas spirit helps keep results merry.

There’s little here that will interest most grownups or teens, but “Unaccompanied Minors” generally avoids the crassness of so many recent family pics, as well as excess mawkishness. (There’s a little of the latter in the last lap, pointing an accusatory finger at divorced or uncaring parents, but scenarists and helmer refrain from laying it on too thick.) Though dialogue is routine, situations are colorful enough, product placements not too over-the-top (aggressively plugged The Sharper Image aside), and the ultimate community-minded message transcends the usual orgies of slapstick destruction and gift acquisition that too many contempo live-action kidpics seem to primarily support.

Juve leads are affable, with Williams (star of “Everybody Loves Chris”) getting a couple standout moments, especially when he demonstrates precocious dancing chops.

Black doesn’t do anything special with his Scrooge-y part, while Valderrama is stuck in an innocuous straight-man role. Faring better are “Saturday Night Live’s” Rob Riggle and three Kids in the Hall (Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney) as blundering security guards. Teri Garr and Jessica Walter have small parts; Rob Corddry has an entertaining larger one as Spencer and Katy’s dad, who braves the blizzard in his bio-diesel car to rescue them from airport purgatory.

Widescreen lensing and design contribs have a bright, polished look; Michael Andrews’ original score and a neat soundtrack selection of old and new holiday tunes are also plusses. While this may not be the hippest assignment for helmer Paul Feig, known largely for his TV work, he does an expert job with unremarkable material that suggests more bigscreen assignments should be forthcoming.

Unaccompanied Minors

Production

A Warner Bros. release presented in association with Village Roadshow Pictures of a Donners' Co. production. Produced by Lauren Shuler Donner, Michael Aguilar. Executive producers, Ira Glass, Carrie Morrow, Julie Snyder, Michael Lambert, Bruce Berman. Directed by Paul Feig. Screenplay, Jacob Meszaros, Mya Stark, based on the story "Babysitting" by Susan Burton.

Crew

Camera (color, Panavision widescreen), Christopher Baffa; editors, George Folsey Jr., Brad E. Wihite [that's correct, it's not White]; music, Michael Andrews; music supervisor, Jennifer Hawks; production designer, Aaron Osborne; art director, Erin Cochran; set decorator, Jennifer M. Gentile; costume designer, Lisa Tomczeszyn; sound (Dolby Digital), Christopher S. Aud; assistant director, Mathias Alvarez; casting, Allison Jones. Reviewed at AMC Kabuki, San Francisco, Dec. 3, 2006. MPAA rating: PG. Running time: 89 MIN.

With

Oliver Porter - Lewis Black Zach Van Bourke - Wilmer Valderrama Charlie - Tyler James Williams Spencer - Dyllan Christopher Timothy "Beef" Wellington - Brett Kelly Grace - Gina Mantegna Donna - Quinn Shephard Valerie Davenport - Paget Brewster Sam Davenport - Rob Corddry Katherine - Dominique Saldana
With: Jessica Walter, Teri Garr, Robb Riggle, Michelle Sandler, David Koechner, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney, Dave Allen, Al Roker.

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