As I departed the theater after a screening of Unaccompanied Minors and set off for the long train ride home, I attempted to let the film sit with me for a little while before forming an opinion. However, one other movie kept gnawing at me, and no matter how hard I tried those Goonies wouldn't leave me alone. Really, the only thing both films have in common is that they focus on a group of teenage misfits, each with their own bizarre idiosyncrasies, who are desperately trying to allude a common enemy. Aside from that they're completely different in every way, shape or form.
Yet, part of what makes flicks like The Goonies so special and memorable is that the actors, while only teenagers, do a tremendous job of not only convincing us they are these characters, but also making us feel -- we sympathize, we root and we run right alongside them until the very last frame. Now, if you take The Goonies, strip anything even remotely adventurous and free-spirited about it, then wrap the entire thing in plastic -- the kind your grandmother uses to keep her living room furniture stain free -- then you'll wind up with Unaccompanied Minors, a film so formulaic, rehearsed and polished that it would make a great companion next to that fake basket of fruit on grandma's dining room table.
It's Christmas Eve and a monstrous blizzard has paralyzed half the country, as well as shut down the airport. Spencer (Dyllan Christopher as the lovable geek who's afraid of talking to girls but can spit out a snappy one-liner when it's most convenient) and his little sister Katherine (Dominque Saldana as the cute and cuddly little muffin who only cares about Santa knowing where she is at all times so that he can safely deliver the doll she wants) are traveling to their father's (Rob Corrdry) house for the holiday. And so mom (Paget Brewster) drops the kids off with Zach (Wilmer Valderrama) -- that person from Passenger Relations whose job it is to make sure the kids don't get lost or miss their flight. Almost immediately, Zach takes the two youngsters to a huge room (or holding pen) -- the kind you imagine exists only in the filthiest of maximum security prisons -- meant to hold a large amount of UMs (short for Unaccompanied Minors). The little buggers trapped inside are running around like lunatics, save for Donna (Quinn Shephard as the tomboy in need of some anger management training), Charlie (Tyler James Williams as the well-spoken, anti-social geek), Timothy , aka Beef, (Brett Kelly as the overweight silent type, who should be menacing, but is as soft as a roll of scented toilet paper) and Grace (Gina Mantegna as the spoiled rich kid who's way too mature for a little fun).
When Zach winds up engulfed in the madness, the kids see an opening to escape the dungeon and, while all completely different, they band together with a common purpose: to get as far away from that room as they can. It's at this point that Spencer gives up on his little sister (who's already melted in to the hectic environment) to join the revolution -- and everything is wonderful until the five unaccompanied minors run into the one person hell-bent on snatching away their all-access airport pass: Passenger Relations Manager Oliver Porter (Lewis Black).
From then on, it's a cat and mouse game -- the kids look for new places to hide (one of which is a room where unclaimed baggage sits waiting to be auctioned off to the highest bidder), while Oliver and his team of bumbling security personal remain hot on their trail. When the blizzard officially grounds every plane for the evening, the remaining UMs (along with Katherine) are escorted off to a nearby hotel. Spencer soon figures out that his sister has been hauled off without him, and then makes it his quest to get there, with a doll in hand, by 4:25AM (the exact time he told his sister Santa would be arriving with gifts). Thus, the race is on -- and hey, perhaps everyone will learn the true meaning of Christmas at some point along the way ... amidst the hijinks's and absurd amount of physical comedy.
The greatest performances in the film come from its adult cast -- Black's obnoxious rant-ish dialogue is always funny, Terri Garr has a hilarious uncredited cameo as a woman addicted to anything and everything Christmas related and Corrdry is entertaining as the dad who's just as concerned with saving the environment as he is with driving across the country to rescue his kids. After his underrated TV show Freaks and Geeks failed to find more of an audience, director Paul Feig managed to land a few other random television gigs before helming episodes of the critically-acclaimed shows Weeds, Arrested Development and The Office. However, in order to make it to the big screen, Feig would have to lose some of that quirky humor he's known for and replace it with cookie-cutter, commercial humor -- more physical, more relatable and more annoying. Here, he surrounds himself with a bunch of kids who were probably taking acting lessons soon after escaping their mothers' wombs and a script that's too afraid to push the boundaries.
The film's greatest weakness is that it's too safe -- something most parents might find comforting -- but a trait that's all too familiar these days. The Goonies succeeds in that it will always remain enjoyable for kids, as well as the young at heart. On the other hand, Unaccompanied Minors will definitely keep the young ones busy and entertained ... for a little while, but they'll most likely forget it five minutes after the thing ends. And the adults, well, they'll find it charming. It has its laughs. It has its Christmas message. And it has its manageable running time (89 minutes). But it's not The Goonies. They just don't make them the way they used to.