Chicago Sun-Times

Like its mag­i­cal crea­ture, film pro­duces a foul aroma

- BY RICHARD ROEPER, MOVIE COLUM­NIST rroeper@sun­times.com | @RichardERo­eper Entertainment · Parenting · Movies · Family · E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial · Michael Caine · Cornwall · England · Joel McHale · Matthew Goode · Paula Patton · Amanda Brugel · Russell Brand

“It’s not a per­son, it’s just this thing that grants us wishes.” — Child de­scrib­ing the E.T. -look­ing crea­ture in “Four Kids and It.”

The kid has it right, and that’s one of the prob­lems with the un­der­whelm­ing fam­ily fan­tasy film “Four Kids and It,” which is light on the magic and heavy on the dumb­ness. The sup­pos­edly won­drous and amaz­ing Psam­mead, a flop­pyeared, long-limbed, bug-eyed, grumpy crea­ture who has lived un­der­neath a beach for cen­turies, doesn’t do much other than bur­row around in the sand and grant one wish per day to any hu­mans who hap­pen by.

An­other prob­lem: Psam­mead is voiced by the 87-year-old leg­end Michael Caine, who has one of the most dis­tinc­tive de­liv­er­ies of any ac­tor ever, and ev­ery time Psam­mead speaks we’re think­ing: Well this must have been an easy pay­check for Michael Caine, I won­der how he’s do­ing these days …

“Four Kids and It” is based on the 2012 young adult novel “Four Chil­dren and It,” which in turn was based on the E. Nesbit book “Five Chil­dren and It” from 1902, and the mod­ern retelling re­tains lit­tle of the charm and whimsy of the source ma­te­rial, in fa­vor of a cloy­ing story, a most un­wel­come new char­ac­ter and some pretty cheesy spe­cial ef­fects.

The story kicks off with Matthew Goode’s David and Paula Pat­ton’s Alice tak­ing their re­spec­tive chil­dren on a sur­prise hol­i­day to the Coast of Corn­wall in south­west­ern Eng­land. David’s daugh­ter Ros (Ted­die-Rose Malle­son-Allen) is 13, as is Alice’s daugh­ter Smash (Ash­ley Aufder­heide). Ros’ lit­tle brother Rob­bie (Billy Jenk­ins) and Smash’s lit­tle sis­ter Maudie (El­lie-Mae Si­ame) are about the same age as well. Up to this mo­ment, the kids hadn’t the faintest clue David and Paula were a cou­ple — and yet these two dimwits think it’s a great idea to spring this news at the out­set of a va­ca­tion get­away. (Too bad they haven’t seen the hor­ror film “Becky,” in which char­ac­ters played by Joel McHale and Amanda Brugel tried the same move, to dis­as­trous re­sults.)

The kids are livid. They can’t stand one an­other. They drag their feet on a trip to the beach — but things liven up when they hap­pen on the afore­men­tioned Psam­mead, who grants each of them a wish on suc­ces­sive days, with the caveat the wish dis­ap­pears at sun­set. When Psam­mead hears a wish, he blows up like a beach ball, ex­pends a hor­rific amount of gas (no really) and presto! Wish granted.

Smash wishes to be a pop star. Maudie wants to fly. Rob­bie be­stows su­per­pow­ers on him­self and the neigh­bor­ing kids. Ros? She’s think­ing about us­ing her wish to force her father to get back with her mother, and Alice to re­unite with her ex. That seems … prob­lem­atic.

Rus­sell Brand has ar­guably the most em­bar­rass­ing role of his ca­reer as the vil­lain Tris­tan Trent III, who is ob­sessed with cap­tur­ing and killing all kinds of crea­tures and putting their stuffed re­mains on dis­play in his big creepy man­sion. Matthew Goode and Paula Pat­ton, two fine ac­tors, are re­duced to play­ing bum­bling car­i­ca­tures who are obliv­i­ous to their kids’ ad­ven­tures. And while it’s no fun to crit­i­cize the per­for­mances of chil­dren, the four young ac­tors who are asked to carry this story are … not ac­com­plished. Far too of­ten, scream­ing sub­sti­tutes for real emo­tion. It doesn’t help that Psam­mead never comes across as a real, three-di­men­sional char­ac­ter. He’s just a dig­i­tal pup­pet/ CGI cre­ation with a big flat­u­lence prob­lem and a small per­son­al­ity.

 ?? LIONSGATE ?? The mag­i­cal crea­ture Psam­mead (voice of Michael Caine) hitches a ride with Ros (Ted­die-Rose Malle­son-Allen, left) and Smash (Ash­ley Aufder­heide) in “Four Kids and It.”
LIONSGATE The mag­i­cal crea­ture Psam­mead (voice of Michael Caine) hitches a ride with Ros (Ted­die-Rose Malle­son-Allen, left) and Smash (Ash­ley Aufder­heide) in “Four Kids and It.”

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