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123 minutes | Rated: PG
Opened: Wednesday, July 29, 1998
Co-written & directed by Nancy Meyers

Starring Lindsay Lohan, Dennis Quaid, Natasha Richardson, Elaine Hendrix, Lisa Ann Walter & Simon Kunz

Enjoyable "Parent Trap" redeaux peppered with small problems

It occurred to me while watching Disney's remake of "The Parent Trap" that parents who could, as part of a divorce, agree to separate their newborn twins forever and act as if each was an only child, are people who are pretty screwed up.

And then for the father to be incapable of seeing through his cold-hearted, gold-digger fiancee -- who is completely vicious to his kid besides -- well, he doesn't come across as the brightest bulb on the porch.

But Dennis Quaid and Natasha Richardson somehow manage to seem like pretty swell folks anyway in this comedy designed specifically for family viewing.

Aped from the 1961 Disney movie of the same name about twins who learn of each other for the first time when they meet at summer camp, this update stakes its modern ground by way of '90s cliches: Hip kids with cell phones and blue nail polish.

Like the original starring Hayley Mills (which, you should know for the sake of perspective, is a movie I can't stand), the new "Parent Trap" features a young unknown (11-year-old Lindsay Lohan) playing both twins -- prim Annie from London and cool Hallie from Napa. Lohan gets off to a shaky start in the camp scenes, playing the twins' mutual dislike disappointingly flat in spite of the energetic dodge-and-parry of cruel hijinks they pull on each other. As a result, the movie takes 20 hard minutes to wind up.

But once Annie and Hallie realize they're sisters (they seem to be a little slow on the uptake), Lohan successfully fleshes out the girls' identities and the movie proceeds on good footing.

The twins, each curious about the parent she's never met, instruct each other on the minute details of their lives then -- after cutting Annie's hair and piercing her ears with a sewing needle (parents beware, kids may want to try this at home) -- switch places, knowing once they are discovered mom and dad will have to meet again to switch them back and hopefully rekindle old romance.

Co-written and directed by Nancy Meyers (the "Father of the Bride" remakes), this "Parent Trap" has several pitfalls, not the least of which are crummy dialogue, Meyers' heavy reliance on music video sequences (which she employs ad nauseam) and some distracting tangents, like a freeze-frame of Richardson and Lohan in an English crosswalk, a la the Beatles "Abbey Road" album cover, for absolutely no reason at all.

But this remake does carry the spirit of the original. Each twin's reunion with her long-lost parent is surprisingly touching as they try not to blow their cover despite the tears rolling down their cheeks. By this point in the picture, chipper, freckle-faced, red-haired Lohan has blossomed, mastering not only Annie's English accent, but aptly juggling the girls' personalities. Even without the London and Napa settings, we always know which girl we're watching. And, by the way, Lohan is adorable.

Both girls plan to spend as much time as they can with the other parent before being found out, but Brit Annie (pretending to be Californian Hallie) puts their reunion plan in overdrive after meeting Meredith, Dad's pretty, young, prima donna fiancee (Elaine Hendrix, "Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion").

As in the 1961 version, the movie is most enjoyable when the twins are sabotaging Meredith's scheme to marry their father. The climax is still a camping trip, during which the twins torture their mom-to-be with creepy-crawly forest dwellers, weigh down her Prada backpack with rocks and set her air mattress afloat on a lake while she's sleeping on it.

At 123 minutes might be a bit long for little kids to sit through quietly, but "The Parent Trap" is nonetheless a fairly fun family picture with lively performances from the whole cast. Especially keep an eye on Lisa Ann Walter and Simon Kunz, who are clever comic relief as family compatriots who aid the girls' plot.

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