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Hide and Seek Review

By Shawn McKenzie 01/29/2005

Robert De Niro has made a career out of playing some mentally unbalanced characters.  In 1976, he did Taxi Driver, which had the famous “You talkin’ to me?” line.  Next, he did the talk show wannabe kidnapper role in 1983’s The King of Comedy.  After that, he did, in my opinion, his best psycho role in 1991’s Cape Fear.  I actually thought that he did a better job in that remake than Robert Mitchum had in the 1962 original version.  From there, his psycho career went a little downhill.  In 1996, he did a variation on his Comedy role in The Fan, except it was a baseball player instead of a talk show host.  Last year, the psycho gene must have spread to his cinematic offspring, because the character De Niro played in Godsend was the doctor of a psycho clone that a couple had created.  Now, he is the father of another psycho kid, and he is a doctor again, in Hide and Seek.  Unfortunately, being either a psycho or the grown authority figure of a psycho isn’t scary in his movies anymore.

The movie opens with New York psychologist David Callaway (De Niro) and his wife Alison (Amy Irving) tucking in their nine-year-old daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning) after playing a game of hide-and-seek with her mom.  David and Alison had been at a New Years Party the night before, and they obviously are having some marital troubles, because she tells him that their problems are beyond therapy.  He goes to bed, and she relaxes in the bathtub with a glass of wine and some pills.  At 2:06 A.M., David wakes up to discover that Alison has slit her wrists in the bathtub.  He is distraught of course, but unfortunately, Emily witnesses the horrific scene, and she goes from a happy little girl to a depressed, raccoon-eyed girl, landing her in the NYC Children’s Hospital.  Emily’s therapist, Katherine (Famke Janssen), a protégé of David, works with Emily to try and help her get over the suicide of her mother, but David decides to move to the small resort town of Woodland, NY, with Emily, against Katherine’s advice.  David does this because he thinks that a change of scenery might snap Emily out of her depression.  While in Woodland, David and Emily meet a few people that David has varied degrees of trust with there.  First, he meets Mr. Haskins (David Chandler), the realtor who sold David their house, and he gives off a creepy vibe.  He then meets some of the locals, including their married neighbors Laura (Melissa Leo) and Steven (Robert John Burke), and Sheriff Hafferty (Dylan Baker.)  Laura seems happy and depressed at the same time, and Steven seems even creepier than Mr. Haskins, especially when David catches him playing with Emily.  We find out that they had a child who had died around Emily’s age, and Emily reminds them of their deceased daughter.  Hafferty seems nice, but he becomes confusingly suspicious of David as the movie goes on.  Next, he meets divorcee Elizabeth Young (Elisabeth Shue) and her young niece, Amy (Molly Grant Kallins), playing together in a park.  David hopes that maybe Emily and Amy might become friends, since they are about the same age.  It also doesn’t hurt that he is a little attracted to Elizabeth.  Emily says that she doesn’t need any more friends since she now has her new friend, Charlie.  David obviously can’t see her imaginary friend, so he chalks it up as a way for Emily to cope with her depression.  Things start getting disturbingly worse though, and Emily blames all of these weird things on Charlie.  For several nights in a row, at 2:06 A.M., something bad seems to happen.  First, David discovers the words “You Let Her Die” on the wall of the bathtub written with Emily’s crayons.  Emily swears that she didn’t do it.  He also notices that Emily has mutilated and thrown away her favorite doll in the trash.  The next night, again at 2:06 A.M., he discovers the words “Can You See Now?” written in blood on the shower curtain.  Not only that, he finds that Emily has drowned the family cat.  Again, she says that Charlie did it.  Later, he finds the diary that he had given her.  Emily had made it into a flipbook, showing her mother killing herself in the bathtub.  He begins to think that maybe his daughter might be a little psycho and might start harming people.  When things get progressively worse, he wonders if there really is a Charlie, or if he should institutionalize Emily.

Even a bad director, in this case it is John Polson, can’t hurt the acting performances of two of the best actors around, De Niro and Fanning.  Polson did the stupid Fatal Attraction rip-off Swimfan, and now it appears he is doing a variation on The Shining, complete with a creepy kid and a doubtful dad.  I don’t want to give anything away, but I figured out who “Charlie” was not long into the movie, and as soon as he was revealed, it took another 20 minutes for the movie to end.  De Niro was good, but his role just felt too similar to his Godsend role.  Ever since her breakout performance in 2001’s I Am Sam, Fanning has proven her acting chops in the 2002 Sci-Fi Channel miniseries “Steven Spielberg Presents Taken” and last year’s Man on Fire.  I’ve had several discussions with a critic friend of mine that we predict she will be nominated for an Oscar someday.  The problem is that she has been put into some average-to-bad movies, like Uptown Girls and the atrocious Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat.  I am interested in two upcoming roles that she is going to be in:  Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds (reuniting him with both Fanning and Tom Cruise) and the live action version of the classic children’s book Charlotte’s Web.  While neither of these projects sound like that they are going to earn her an Oscar, at least they don’t look like they will be bad flicks.

I just don’t want Fanning to play another clichéd “creepy kid” again, and I think that De Niro should hang up his psycho coat for now, based on the blandness of Hide and Seek.  He seems to be doing well lately in comedies, so I wouldn’t mind seeing more of them.  At least he isn’t playing another gangster (though he makes a good one.)  Maybe I’m just bored with thrillers overall, especially when they become so predictable that I can guess their ends right away (and I’m the biggest sucker for the “twist” endings.)  I would recommend hiding from this movie, and don’t bother seeking it out at the theater.

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