It’s depressing enough to see a director turn into a button pusher. But what can you say about a director who just keeps hitting the same button? Rob Reiner’s North is an egregious kiddie-comedy lark that seems to have no agenda aside from imposing its one-note brattishness on the world. Elijah Wood, whose wary blue eyes make him look like a prepubescent Steven Spielberg, is North, a sweet, smart, angelically well-behaved 11-year-old who happens to have parents from hell (they’re played by Jason Alexander and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss of Seinfeld, both bickering at the top of their lungs). Slipping into a dream world, with Bruce Willis (in various guises) as his laid-back guardian angel, North spins out a fantasy of redemption in which he wins a ”divorce” from his parents and jets around the globe, trying out assorted sets of alternative folks.
There are the filthy-rich Texans in hideous spangled outfits (Dan Aykroyd and Reba McEntire), who think everything should be as big as possible (now there’s an original joke). There’s the Hawaiian governor (Keone Young) who wants to feature North’s bare behind in a Coppertone-style tourism ad. There are the suburban Eskimos (Graham Greene and Kathy Bates), veritable Flintstones of the frozen tundra, who seem nice enough until they cart Grandpa (Abe Vigoda) off to die. There’s a brief stopover in France, where North learns, to his horror, that every single TV station plays Jerry Lewis movies — a gag as hypocritical as it is moldy, considering that North aims for a level of comedy that makes Lewis look like Moliere.
Had the parents been satirized in contrasting ways, the movie might have achieved some farcical momentum. As it is, they’re all variations on the same sour joke (i.e., everyone sucks). This nose-thumbing cynicism barely qualifies as a point of view. It’s more like a reflex, the crudest way Reiner could have come up with to make every scene ”play.” In a ludicrous parallel plot, a fascist kiddie dictator uses North’s case to spearhead an antiparent revolution.
This pint-size megalomaniac is played by Matthew McCurley, one of those frighteningly precocious child actors who lets ten-dollar words roll off his tongue with a self-satisfied lisp. North is structured like a black-comic Wizard of Oz, but by the time North awakens from his dream, even home doesn’t seem like a place worth visiting. D+