Every year, we get a fresh batch of treacle at the movie theatre, all in the name of "family holiday entertainment;" approximately 68 percent of it stars Tim Allen
. Because many Christmas movies have so little to recommend them, when Unaccompanied Minors comes in as "not too shabby," it's actually a rather glowing recommendation, given the context.
A group of wee teens, flying for reasons that range from divorce to Judaism, get snowed in to a fictional Midwest airport on Christmas Eve. They balk at staying in the unaccompanied minors' lounge -- sort of an unsanitary recess in a demilitarized zone -- and make a break for it. They have a mission (to deliver Christmas to one boy's idealistic little sister) and a sworn enemy (Lewis Black
as the airport's Scroogetastic head of passenger relations), and between them, they also have the full range of plucky teen clichés. There's Spencer (Dyllan Christopher
) the ringleader, a geek who is only geeky in the world of movies, a spoiled princess with a heart of gold (Gina Mantegna
), the sassy tomboy (Quinn Shephard
), and the stereotype trifecta, the anal, prematurely grown teen who is also the black kid and the Jew (Tyler James Williams
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To their credit, the kids in Unaccompanied Minors aren't cloying moppets, and all have a handle on how to act as real-kid-like as a holiday film will allow (Williams especially rocks the pitch-perfect comic timing he uses each week on TV's Everyone Hates Chris). And further thank heaven that the film is not, in fact, the Home Alone ripoff the previews advertise. Yes, there are precocious kids outwitting ill-tempered adults, but there are also a lot of jokes made at the expense of bio-diesel (Spencer's dad, played by Rob Corddry
, is a tree-hugger who sets out across a couple of blizzarding states to pick up his stranded son).
Director Paul Feig
, who's made a career out of directing cult-popular TV series like The Office, Arrested Development, Freaks & Geeks (which he co-created), trades on some of his cachet and rounds up a laundry list of pals and former co-workers to turn the supporting cast into sort of a who's who of hip comedy talent. In addition to Black and Corddry, fellow correspondent from The Daily Show Rob Riggle is a security guard; The Office's writer/actors Mindy Kaling and B.J. Novak
both show up as disheartened airport employees; Tony Hale and Jessica Walter
, both late of Arrested, each have a cameo; and former Kids in the Hall Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, and Mark McKinney play an inept group of guards (in the hall).
The killer cast, though, is pretty much the only nod to the sly humor Minors could have boasted to make it as appealing to adults as it will be to precocious pre-teens. The rest is purely PG-level wackiness that is admittedly funny at times -- I like a good jack-in-the-box Santa gag as much as the next person -- even as it is relentlessly predictable and unabashedly heartwarming. Screenwriters Mya Stark & Jacob Meszaros, both working on their first feature-length films, clearly do not have the same handle on subversive comedy that many of the actors, and Feig, have shown such brilliance with in the past, and they head instead for the broadest of gags.
In the context of comedy films, Unaccompanied Minors is probably mediocre at best. There are rather too many aw-shucks moments, the plot is wafer thin, and airport hijinks like this are patently ludicrous in a post-9/11, no-water-or-moisturizer-past-security world. But when it comes to movies that are meant to promote family togetherness and holiday cheer, there are certainly worse things you could be dragged to by your children/parents/siblings. And yes, I am looking at you, everything that Tim Allen has done for November release in the past decade.