Aside from occasional moments, the same could be said for Hoskins’ film, which has an intriguing premise but lacks the production values to make the idea really sing. In a beard and long wig, Hoskins plays a slightly batty amateur magician, Frank, whose youngest grandson, 10-year-old Mike (Willy Lavendal), discovers the foot of a rainbow in a railroad siding. His school chums (Jonathan Schuman, Eleanor Misrahi) are initially skeptical but later join him in building equipment to calculate where the next rainbow will touch down. When one appears, the trio (plus Mike’s older brother, Steven) pedal off like the tornado hunters in “Twister,” and next thing they’re swept up into the sky, “riding the rainbow.”
Where should they be set down but (you guessed it) Kansas, setting off a media frenzy about how they managed to travel 1,200 miles in a couple of hours. After a run-in with a dumb local cop (Dan Aykroyd), they eventually make it back to N.J., where their elders, apart from Frank, tag them as monstrous fibbers.
Soon after, however, the universe starts to slip out of joint: Colors start fading, the temperature rises, people turn ornery, and riots break out. Turns out that because Steven stole some nuggets of gold while riding the rainbow, the balance of the spectrum has been disturbed and photosynthesis cannot take place. No photosynthesis, no oxygen; no oxygen, no human life. The kids have only a few hours to retrieve the nuggets and implant them in the next rainbow.
It’s a clever idea that makes full use of the ability to play with colors in the video process, and the last half-hour, set in a world devoid of color, is often genuinely unsettling. (Film buffs will recall Marius Goring’s well-known line from Michael Powell’s “Stairway to Heaven,” when he sets foot in the living world: “One is starved for Technicolor up there.”) The problem is that Hoskins and the scriptwriters fail to elevate the material in a way that someone like Spielberg could have done with major resources and a genuinely wonder-full approach.
The other problem is script’s structure, which sets up story and characters in a haphazard, confusing way and then takes a major left turn for an embarrassingly unfunny section in Kansas with Aykroyd chasing the kids around an airport.
With a wobbly American accent, Hoskins mostly coasts as an avuncular eccentric, mouthing platitudes like “Don’t just dream the dream, be the dream” and getting by asa kind of Burl Ives on a bad-hair day. Other roles are better played, with the four kids fine and Saul Rubinek and Terry Finn performing yeoman service as the understanding teacher and overworked mother-with-a-career, respectively.
Pic, which shot in Montreal, reps a curious late-career entry for veteran British lenser-turned-horror-director Freddie Francis, 79, who worked as a camera operator on “Moulin Rouge” and second-unit d.p. on “Moby Dick,” two distinguished ’50s color productions by John Huston.