106 minutes | Rated: PG-13
Opened: Friday, October 23, 1998
Directed by Peter Chelsom
Starring Elden Henson, Kiernan Culkin, Sharon Stone, Harry Dean Stanton, Gena Rowlands, James Gandolfini & Gillian Anderson
SMALL SCREEN SHRINKAGE: 10%|
LETTERBOX: NOT NECESSARY
Kind of an after school special anyway, TV is a fine format for this film. It's nothing special, but it wouldn't be a bad family rental assuming the kids haven't reached the Age of Cynicism.
Crippled kid movie bests similar 'Birch,' but still has after school special feel
It's unfortunate "The Mighty" comes across like an after school special, because if it wasn't for the albatross of inane cliches and insultingly transparent, warm and fuzzy self-esteem messages, I think director Peter Chelsom really might have had something here.
Adapted from Rodman Philbrick's novel "Freak, The Mighty" about a pair of junior high outcasts ostracized over their physical oddities, "The Mighty" is littered with sparks of creativity and some very good acting from unexpected sources.
Kiernan Culkin (Macaulay's younger brother) stars as Kevin, a clever and smart-mouthed 12-year-old who is crippled, coincidentally, by the same growth disorder as the clever and smart-mouthed kid in last month's sorry "Simon Birch."
He's the new kid on the block in a working-class enclave of Cincinnati where he and his mom (Sharon Stone) have moved in next door to Maxwell (Elden Henson), a hapless, six-foot, 200-pound, grunt of a 13-year-old who has a big heart, but is a little on the slow side -- a malleable, withdrawn man-boy who has lived with his grandparents (Gena Rowlands and Harry Dean Stanton) since his father went to jail for killing his mom.
The set up is that these boys bond in the face of mutual taunting and abuse at the hands of the local teenage thugs, band of rotten apples (and rotten actors) straight out of a 1960s drive-in movie. They're even called the Doghouse Boys. Gimme a break.
Max is shy, but Kevin reasons "You need a brain and I need legs, and the Wizard of Oz doesn't live in South Cincinnati," so they become a team that is greater than the sum of its parts. Their friendship is given a theme by Kevin's fondness for the Arthurian legend, which is quickly exploited for all kinds of sappy metaphors.
They go everywhere together, Kevin riding on Max's shoulders, which cuts an endearing and imposing figure. Meanwhile clever Kevin teaches Max to explore his right brain (the story is narrated as chapters of a book that Max has written in retrospect) and Max's bulk finally allows Kevin to smart off at the mean kids without fear.
Culkin gets all the best lines, and his dialogue is pretty snappy. The emotions (Kevin is doomed by his disease, of course) are very bare and genuine, even though many of the circumstances are contrived. Culkin, Henson and especially Stone give prime performances.
The question is, who is "The Mighty" aimed at? If the target was the after school special crowd, it's a bit complex and adult in nature, as evidenced by the PG-13 rating. The movie is none too subtle about its messages, and it would have made a fine kids' movie if that had been the director's intention and he'd minded his PGs and Qs.
But clearly Chelsom was aiming for something else, and it's not at all clear what that something else is.
The climax comes in the form of Max's murderous father (James Gandolfini) being released from jail and trying to get a hold over Max. This leads to strength of character moments that both boys must face alone, but it get silly in a hurry with disabled Kevin mustering the chutzpah to try to drive a van to Max's rescue instead of just calling the cops.
One of the best things in the movie I couldn't work into the body of this review, so I'm going to stick it here: Gillian Anderson, of "The X-Files," has a small part as Gandolfini's white trash ex-girlfriend and damn near steals the movie. This part is the anti-Scully, and she obviously saw it as a chance to demonstrate her range. Mission accomplished.