Robert De Niro in 20th Century Fox's Hide and Seek - 2005
Photo Copyright 20th Century Fox
Robert De Niro, it can be asserted, is the preeminent actor of his age. Without a doubt, he is one of a few who can truly be called the greatest actors of all time. These facts are undisputed. What is it then, that drives such a smart actor to make such dumb choices when it comes to roles? Since the year 2000, he has made thirteen movies. Thirteen! Granted, Meet the Parents was good, and City by the Sea, though little seen, was a powerful and moving drama. But what about Godsend? Or Showtime? Or Rocky & Bullwinkle, for God's sake? Thirteen. Do you know how many movies Jodie Foster made in the last five years? Three. And she's also considered to one of the best actors of her generation. You don't have to take every role that comes down the pike just to prove you can. Do you really think Hide and Seek looked good, even on paper? At best, it could be just another in a long line of B-Grade family-trauma thrillers, and at worst, well...
De Niro is Dr. David Callaway, psychologist and depressed father of Emily, who is traumatized after witnessing the suicide of her mother. Emily, played by Dakota Fanning, done up in early-Christina Ricci, has few friends, and things get worse when dear old dad moves the twosome out into the country. There we meet, or rather, don't meet, Charlie, Emily's imaginary friend; a friend with a deadly agenda. I won't spoil the "shocker" ending for you, but it's not like it's hard to spot coming. This is one of those movies where you think, "Surely that's not it. Surely I haven't guessed the entire plot twist in the first twenty minutes. They'll hit us with something else, a surprise. I'm sure of it." They don't. The bottom line is, you've seen this movie a hundred times, sometimes done better, sometimes worse, but fundamentally the same. This led me to wonder who this movie is aimed at. My friend and I spoke to one of our high school students before we went in to the theater, and she told us the movie was great. Awesome, in fact. "The ending will totally get you," she said. Maybe she hasn't seen this movie a hundred times. Maybe this is new to her. Maybe this movie isn't marketed to me, after all. Maybe I've finally progressed in age beyond the brunt of Hollywood's marketing juggernaut. Does that excuse them for making a bad movie? Maybe not.
Suspense/horror/thrillers all have one giant hurdle in common. Motivation. In order to drive the story, your characters have to say and do things that will result in a knife in the back or a shovel to the head. How do you get people to act in a way contrary to the way any normal person would act? The answer? You can't, so you just write it the way you want to, and hope no one knows the difference. As a result, you end up with scenes in which a man is slashed with a butcher knife only to tell the sheriff that he had a "little disturbance" with his neighbor. Then you have the same sheriff ignore his own blatant suspicions and blithely wander around a house, ignoring the blood and broken glass, innocently shouting, "Hey! Anybody home?" Haven't these people ever seen one of these movies? Dark, creepy cellar? Sure, I'll descend into certain death. No light? No problem!
Motivation is of further issue in this film where the love story, such as it is, is concerned. This has been a problem in several of the movies I've seen lately. It seems as though the romance is more a matter of course than a legitimate result of character and story. There is very little chemistry between our good Dr. Callaway and the young, fetching Elisabeth Shue, but there must be a love interest to heighten the tension with the little girl, so, viola! We are subjected to lines like, "Emily, I'm not trying to replace your mother." Shue, inexplicably dressed as though she were constantly on the verge of a night of clubbing, and De Niro share an awkward goodbye kiss at one point, the most awkward part being that this is only the second time they've ever spoken. It's ok, I suppose. She's not really there for any reason other than as fodder for the eventual bloodbath anyway. As are the rest of the supporting cast. Oh, I'm not saying they all die, just that they are completely one-dimensional and have no purpose beyond giving you, the audience, a face on which to pin a label of either "killer" or "killed."
Hide and Seek carries a few minor scares and features passable acting and cinematography. For a run-of-the-mill thriller, the directing is capable, though barely. The obvious plot holes and ridiculous dialogue are more an element of the genre than a script problem. In short, this film falls into place adequately among such other pedestrian thrill-fests as Raising Cane, The Glass House, Mother's Boys, and Hush. Don't remember any of those? Well, don't worry, it won't be long before Hide and Seek sneaks out of sight as well. Grade: C-
Hide and Seek is rated R for blood and traumatic scares.
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