A curious bandersnatch of a movie, “The Last Mimzy” is destined to attract attention because of its director — New Line Cinema’s founder, co-CEO and co-chairman Bob Shaye, who has returned to filmmaking for the first time since 1990’s “Book of Love.” It may also attract a solid kid aud, thanks to recognizable stars and the magic-driven, new-agey theme of imperiled humanity rescued by children. However, awkward cinematography and a lack of long shots give the film a claustrophobic feel. Distribution is assured; not so, perhaps, Shaye’s triumphant return to the helmer’s chair.
The story, adapted from Lewis Padgett’s “All Mimsy Were the Borogroves” (a title drawn from Lewis Carroll’s “The Jabberwocky”) concerns two ordinary children drawn into extraordinary adventures at their Seattle summer home by the arrival of a curious black box. Inscribed with obscure symbols, it makes noises like a whale and contains a large, blue, glass snail; an ornate, encrusted sea shell; and an antique-looking stuffed rabbit. The last of these is Mimzy, an emissary from the future who speaks in a strange language and must return to her time with something to rescue humanity from pollution and disease.
Noah (Chris O’Neil) and Emma Wilder (Rhiannon Leigh Wryn) become Mimzy’s accomplices, and come into possession of strange powers and prodigious intellects. Noah, for instance, studies spiders for his school project and discovers how to use various frequencies to get the insects to change the shape of their web. (They build one with the shape and strength of the Golden Gate Bridge.) Emma, who sometimes loses contact with the ground as she floats along, can glimpse the future via intersecting laser beams produced via rock-like “spinners” — another gift of the black box.
Problem is, not a lot of this is connected with the main mission in the story. From the mandala-like field of flowers that opens the film to the various themes of telepathy, palm reading, levitation, crystals and time travel, Shaye offers a catalog of alternative spirituality, a few raps at the Patriot Act (after the kids cause a blackout, there’s a frightening home invasion by the FBI) and the general message that the world is warming, ailing and on the way out. But there are too many distracting elements to allow a viewer total immersion in the story.
If the Wilder family is as close as we’re led to believe, for instance, why don’t the kids tell mom and dad (Joely Richardson and Timothy Hutton) about the black box? Because that would pretty much end the movie; keeping secrets is an essential in children’s literature. “The Last Mimzy” is no different, but the children in question, while likable and sweet, are not portrayed by very compelling actors.
Rainn Wilson is very good as Noah’s science teacher, Larry White, and Kathryn Hahn is perfect as Larry’s ironic Buddhist girlfriend Naomi. Neither Hutton nor Richardson seem particularly invested in the movie, but their characters are not very deeply drawn, rather serving as parental props.
Effects are understated, but convincing.
Kids will like “Mimzy” if for no other reason than it doesn’t talk down to them. And it imagines they will laugh and respond to the same things as adults, something adult filmmakers often have a problem understanding.