Somewhere toward the home stretch of The Last Mimzy, the guy investigating the movie's Big Mystery asks a question sure to be on the minds of many of us in the audience. "Am I the only one here who doesn't have a clue what's going on?" shouts the man in charge, his utter befuddlement apparently being played for comic effect.
The joke isn't remotely funny, though. That's because The Last Mimzy really is a bewildering mess — so much so that when the guy on screen gives voice to his confusion, you may just find yourself murmuring a soft but enthusiastic "Amen, brother." (The main reason for murmuring rather than shouting is that The Last Mimzy is ostensibly a children's movie — and full-blown meltdowns in front of the kids are still considered bad form in some quarters.)
The movie's actual story, and its accompanying mystery, is a pretty simple one, but The Last Mimzy communicates it in such a tedious, convoluted manner that it's hard to get a handle on what's happening until the movie's nearly over. Curiously enough, the filmmaker presiding over the muddle is someone who should know better: Robert Shaye, founder and co-CEO of New Line Cinema (taking a rare turn in the director's chair). After all, this is the executive producer of all three of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings epics. Then again, this is also the guy who gave us Freddy vs. Jason.
The Last Mimzy quickly introduces us to its heroes, a thoroughly generic bunch consisting of adorable little Emma (Rhiannon Leigh Wryn), her slightly older brother Noah (Chris O'Neill), their perky blonde mom (Joely Richardson) and wise, workaholic dad (Timothy Hutton).
There's also a pair of quirky sidekicks in the form of a bug-eyed science teacher (The Office's Rainn Wilson) and his mystically inclined girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn). Introductions duly dispensed with, the movie cuts to the chase (savor it; it's the last gasp of clarity to be had here), when Noah and Emma discover a mysterious box containing what the kids refer to as "toys."
The toys are basically just a handful of ordinary-looking rocks (plus one vaguely Cronenberg-esque thingie resembling a large rubber spleen), but the movie's manipulative soundtrack and the kids' wide eyes let us know that we're supposed to be filled with wonder by the very presence of these objects. There's also apparently some connection between the toys and the special powers the kids seem to be developing (I only know this because it was explained to me by my 8-year-old, who had already seen the movie's trailer), although it's unclear what exactly those powers are or what purpose they serve in the scheme of things.
As it turns out, the children's powers are just one more red herring in a movie filled with them. Very little of what occurs here seems specifically connected to anything else; entire areas of the plot are introduced and then haphazardly discarded; and even the main idea driving the story — some gobbledygook about the toys being beamed here by a future civilization in need of saving — is only explained in what amounts to a perfunctory postscript. The audience spends a large part of the movie as much in the dark as the young protagonists, and it's no real comfort that we're all babes in the woods together.
The real problem with The Last Mimzy seems to have more to do with delusions of grandeur than simple incompetence. Shaye's not a bad director per se, but he doesn't seem to have quite reconciled himself to making a "mere" children's movie. Pitching the film in some bizarre netherworld between kid-friendly fare and adult drama, Shaye gussies up what is essentially very slight material with baroque visual effects and contrived narrative flourishes that are probably supposed to pass as sophisticated but only add to the general air of incoherence. The result is unlikely to appeal either to kids or grown-ups, a dreary hybrid that obscures more than it entertains.
On the other hand, there's the new Mark Wahlberg movie, Shooter, which is every bit as what-you-see-is-what-you-get as its title suggests. Even in those rare moments when nothing seems to be happening on screen (as in the opening credits, where the camera simply tracks through an unfamiliar landscape), there's an inescapable sense of forward momentum that reminds us of why they call these things action movies. Our sense of the story advancing is so palpable that it hardly matters when we arrive at the inevitable realization that there's not really much story to advance.
Wahlberg stars as Bob Lee Swagger, an ex-Marine sharpshooter who becomes the fall guy for a high-level political assassination he's been recruited to foil. With every armed body in America on his tail, Swagger spends most of the movie running for his life, pausing only for brief attempts at proving his innocence, not unlike The Fugitive meets Sniper on a grassy knoll (the movie teases us not just with Presidential assassinations, but with all manner of shadowy conspiracies and compromised government officials).
Wahlberg's character eventually hooks up with a renegade FBI agent and a doe-eyed Kentucky babe with a penchant for peek-a-boo T-shirts, but mostly he's on his own, racing against the clock, stopping periodically to work some MacGyver-esque magic whereby ordinary household items are transformed into pipe bombs and other devices that blow up real good. There is no shortage of high-powered weapons here, a lethal treasure chest of grown-up toys both high-tech and low, along with the obligatory sprinkling of high-speed car chases.
There's nothing particularly spectacular about Shooter, frankly, but neither are there any spectacular screw-ups (although the climactic face-off, where all the previously omnipotent bad guys turn themselves into convenient targets, tests our suspension of disbelief). It's sometimes a bit difficult to catch all of the characters' dialogue — what with all the gruff, Dirty Harry whispering going on, they could be saying almost anything, but by now you've probably already figured out that doesn't much matter.