Like its magical creature, film produces a foul aroma
“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.