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Expired

PARK CITY -- This meter maid is no pretty Rita. Dowdy and quiet, Claire (Samantha Morton) lives vicariously through insights she romanticizes about the owners of the upscale Brentwood-area vehicles she tickets.

A stirring story of one seemingly unremarkable woman's fortitude and inner beauty, "Expired" inspired its world-premiere audience here at the Sundance Film Festival. Told with a robust female perspective, "Expired" may win its widest appreciation as a cable offering, seemingly perfect for Lifetime.

In this smart story about people who never get center stage in life, Samantha Morton stars as meter-maid Claire, who lives with her mute, stroke-stricken mother (Teri Garr). Shy and inarticulate, Claire doesn't attract notice. Admittedly vulnerable, Claire is starved for attention and through social default begins to entertain the crude advances of Jay (Jason Patric), a bitter male colleague. A hostile lout of onetime promise, Jay too lives in essential isolation: His hostile personality precludes any real emotional involvement -- no male friends no female relationships.

On their surfaces both Claire and Jay could be deemed losers, yet screenwriter/director Cecilia Miniucchi musters our sympathies for their personal predicaments. Charting the course of their most uneven romance, we appreciate that Claire's toleration of Jay's crudity is not mere desperation, but rather her amazing capacity to distill the goodness in someone.
To her credit, filmmaker Cecilia Miniucchi does not manipulate heartstrings or resort to generic conventions to serve up a touchy-feely love tale. The narrative is unraveled with courage, depicting Claire's shortcomings and, quite remarkably, mining Jay's decencies. Truly, we care about Claire and if anyone can rescue Jay from himself, it is she.

Although its freeze-frame ending may seem too optimistic and enigmatic, "Expired" is a remarkable romance of no easy answers; to wit, like real life.

Samantha Morton's vigorous and self-effacing portrayal of Claire is wonderful: We see Claire's bravery and her incredible strength to endure personal assaults and indelicacies. Truly, she rises above her lot in life. Similarly edgy, Jason Patric is terrific as Claire's boorish admirer, not flinching from his character's nastiness and inner conflicts. In a dual role as Claire's invalid mother and selfish aunt, Teri Garr invigorates the story with her supple versatility.

Technical contributions are exemplary, especially Natalie Sanfilippo's revealing production design. From the kitsch of Claire's dwelling to the macho-techno void of Jay's apartment, she clues us to their inner worlds.

EXPIRED
(no production company listed)
Producer: Jeffrey Coulter; Screenwriter/director: Cecilia Miniucchi; Executive producers: Fred Roos, Antoni Stutz; Director of photography: Zoran Popovic; Production designer: Natalie Sanfilippo; casting director: John Jackso; Music: Jeffrey Coulter. Cast: Claire Barney: Samantha Morton; Jay: Jason Patric; Mother Barney/Aunt Tilda: Teri Garr

Running time -- 112 minutes

Hear and Now

HBO Documentary Films

PARK CITY -- Documentary maker Irene Taylor Brodsky focuses the camera on her own family in "Hear and Now," which tracks her deaf parents' decision to undergo cochlear implant surgery to enable them to hear for the first time.

A 2004 Emmy winner and experienced documentarian for HBO, CBS and A&E, Brodsky departs from typical docu form with extensive personal commentary about Paul and Sally Taylor's experience, creating something of a verite family melodrama. Winner of the Documentary Audience Award at Sundance, it likely will appeal more to those interested in the family dynamics involved in her parents' surgery than the significance of cochlear implants among the deaf. "Hear and Now," produced by HBO Documentary Films for 2008 broadcast, has only slight theatrical potential.

Paul and Sally were both born deaf and met as children while attending the Central Institute for the Deaf before parting to go on to high school and college. They married soon after meeting again as adults and had three hearing children. Paul pursued a career as an engineer, assisting with development of the pioneering TTY communications device for the hearing-impaired, while Sally worked as a teacher.
At age 65, both decided to get cochlear implants, devices that can enable hearing in the deaf by the insertion of an electronic device into the inner ear -- a procedure often found to be controversial in the deaf community. For the Taylors, it's an enormous decision to change their mode of interacting with the world after decades of deafness, but Paul and Sally are both eager to experience the realm of sound and all the possibilities it offers. Hearing ability "might give me more confidence, and with more confidence I could maybe become a more bold person and do things that I would never dream of," Paul says.

Although the surgery transpires without complications, the postimplant phase is more challenging. Both Paul and Sally have trouble distinguishing relevant sounds from background noise and experience significant frustration with the device.

Brodsky follows her parents from the presurgery phase to a year postsurgery, documenting their emotional highs and lows, as well as interviewing close relatives and recording family gatherings. She comments frequently in first-person voice-over, expressing her thoughts and ambivalent feelings regarding her parents' decision. Missing, however, is any meaningful context about either the medical procedure or its significance among the deaf.

Dark Matter

The film's inspired-by-true-events pedigree could reap modest rewards from art house markets.

PARK CITY -- Venturing into delicate emotional territory, opera and theater director-turned-filmmaker Chen Shi-Zheng crafts an unsettling first feature that examines issues of personal ambition, academic ethics and the obstacles to cultural assimilation in the U.S.

The film's inspired-by-true-events pedigree will interest discerning viewers, though its dark tone might prove a challenge for theatrical distribution. With careful handling by a specialty outfit, "Dark Matter" could reap modest rewards from art house markets. The film won the Alfred P. Sloan prize at Sundance, which honors an outstanding feature focusing on science or technology.

Referencing an actual incident at an American university more than a decade ago, the filmmakers reimagine the events as a story about Chinese cosmology student Liu Xing (Liu Ye). Leaving university in Beijing, Liu immigrates to the U.S. in 1991 to study astrophysics at fictional Valley State University with renowned researcher and academic Jacob Reiser (Aidan Quinn). With great admiration for his mentor, Liu quickly becomes Reiser's favored student, though fitting into American society and the university hierarchy isn't quite as easy.

Social support for immigrants is available from the local church, where wealthy Joanna Silver (Meryl Streep), a devotee of Chinese culture and philanthropist of the university's astrophysics department, frequently assists newly arrived students. She quickly develops an admiration for Liu's keen intellect, particularly after he explains the concept of dark matter to her, a theory positing that 99% of the universe is composed of invisible material.
Reiser and his graduate students are developing a model of the universe that doesn't include dark matter theory, so when Liu presents his thesis topic on the subject to Reiser and the dissertation committee, he meets with resistance rather than the support he expected. Liu suspects that Reiser is withholding the committee's approval because his ideas contradict his professor's. Indeed, Reiser resorts to ethically questionable tactics to thwart Liu's candidacy.

Although Joanna encourages Liu to pursue his own cosmological model, even her intervention can't persuade Reiser to give Liu a chance to prove himself. Meanwhile, a newly arrived Chinese student (Lloyd Suh) -- Liu's nemesis from Beijing University -- becomes Reiser's new protege.

The tension engendered by academic politics and the demands of advanced astrophysics push Liu toward a mental and emotional crisis as he becomes increasingly delusional and dangerous, finally erupting in a shocking act of violence.

Chen, himself a Chinese immigrant to the U.S., explores the difficulties that Chinese students face when relocating to the U.S. through the lens of the academic community, which often is the gateway for many new arrivals. Through Liu's frequent letters to his parents detailing his academic progress, voiced over scenes of his working-class family in China, Chen demonstrates the importance of the American dream to many newcomers.

The director's theatrical background is apparent in Liu's occasional fantasy sequences about becoming a famous researcher and the final climactic scene. However, neither the main narrative nor these stylistic devices goes deep enough to reveal his motivations. Liu Ye's acting abilities alone are insufficient for the task.

In an evocatively tamped-down performance, Streep skillfully evokes Joanna's drive to assist new immigrants, but her fascination with Chinese culture and Liu in particular comes across as rather obscure. Quinn is strong as the alternately affable and acidic Reiser.

Like the dark matter that forms the film's essential metaphor, Liu's desperate downward spiral from model student to disgraced outsider remains essentially mysterious.

DARK MATTER
American Sterling Prods. in association with Saltmill Llc.
Credits:
Director:
Chen Shi-Zheng
Screenwriter: Billy Shebar
Producers: Janet Yang, Mary Salter, Andrea Miller
Executive producers: Kirk D'Amico, Linda Chiu
Director of photography: Oliver Bokelberg
Production designer: Dina Goldman
Music: Van Dyke Parks
Costume designer: Elizabeth Caitlin Ward
Editors: Pam Wise, Michael Berenbaum
Cast:
Joanna Silver: Meryl Streep
Jacob Reiser: Aidan Quinn
Liu Xing: Liu Ye
Laurence Feng: Lloyd Suh
Running time -- 88 minutes
No MPAA rating

Agua


PALM SPRINGS -- Screenwriter-director Veronica Chen and cinematographer Sabine Lancelin achieve a bracingly visceral cinematic language in "Agua," the stripped-down tale of two swimmers at different points in their careers. With spare use of dialogue, Chen's second feature (after 2001's "Smokers Only") homes in on matters of identity, purpose and will with striking originality. Her approach will be too oblique for some, but those ready to go with "Agua's" flow will find an affecting drama. The Argentine-French co-production recently received the Special Jury Prize in the Palm Springs International Film Festival's New Voices/New Visions competition.

A decade after he was disgraced in a doping scandal, champion swimmer Goyo (Rafael Ferro), a tense, self-contained man in his 30s, returns to the Argentine city of Santa Fe to redeem his good name in the Open Waters Marathon, a daunting river challenge. He becomes a coach to up-and-comer Chino (Nicolas Mateo), a more measured, less instinctual athlete who sees competitive swimming as a ticket out of poverty for himself and his pregnant girlfriend, Luisa (Jimena Anganuzzi). The ambivalence of the young couple's relationship contrasts with Goyo's failed attempts to reconcile with his ex-wife, Maria (Gloria Carra), and the daughter who doesn't know he exists. Goyo is so cut off, he all but ignores the gentle but obvious advances of Ana (Leonora Balcarce), his daughter's swimming teacher; when they do get together, he's not capable of real contact. But with startling selflessness Goyo does ultimately break through his protective carapace.

The script by Chen and Pablo Lago offers no easy resolution to the existential dilemmas it presents. In what could have been banal symbolism, water becomes a character in its own right, life-giving and destructive. Sensuous photography underscores the precision, propulsion, suspension and grace of the swimmer's body, with essential contributions from editors Jacopo Quadri and Cesar D'Angiolillo. The effective, understated performances are in service to this very physical storytelling. Besides its compelling emotional twist, the climactic river sequence is as stunning as the scenes of a windswept desert landscape that open the film.

Noise

Retro Active Film

PARK CITY -- It's clear from the first few minutes of Matthew Saville's "Noise" that this highly compelling first feature has no intention of being your average, run-of-the-mill thriller.

Set in a small Melbourne suburb where two possibly connected heinous crimes have been committed just before Christmas, the film, which received its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, kicks off with a wallop, then constantly confounds expectations by approaching its subject matter from fresh directions.

Factor in some neatly modulated performances and a dynamic sound design entirely fitting for a film titled "Noise," and you've got an import that could make itself heard in the specialty market, though there are times when the heavy dialect can put a strain on untrained ears.
That startling beginning takes place in a subway station, where a young woman (Maia Thomas), immersed in the music coming from her headphones, is oblivious to the familiar screeching of metal and rubber that announces the arrival of her train.

But she can't help but notice when a fellow passenger keels over and falls to the floor. When she goes to assist her, it is then that she realizes that everyone else in her car has been shot to death with the exception of one lone survivor who turns out to be the perp.

Meanwhile, in another subway station, a young constable (Brendan Cowell) is about to go up an escalator when he suddenly passes out, cutting open his forehead on the sharp metal step. He's diagnosed with tinnitus and applies for workers' compensation but his unsympathetic superior instead assigns him to mundane surveillance duty in a police caravan stationed near a second murder scene.

Screenwriter-director Saville might be working in the police procedural/thriller genres, but he has no interest in confining himself to the usual cat and/or mouse perspectives. He also extends his reach to the peripheral characters whose lives have been impacted by the tragic events in very different ways.

Production values are solid, but it's sound designer Emma Bortignon who deserves a special shout-out here, with a remarkable mix that effectively simulates that crippling ringing in Cowell's head.

Like many other things about "Noise," it immerses the viewer in some intriguing new places.

The Last Mimzy

PARK CITY -- New Line Cinema honcho Robert Shaye makes a rare appearance in the director's chair (his first since 1990's "Book of Love") bringing the well-regarded short story "Mimsy Were the Borogoves" to the big screen as the family-friendly fantasy "The Last Mimzy."

In the process the Lewis Padgett piece, first published in a 1943 science-fiction collection, has been turned into a reasonably engaging movie filled with fun visual effects and an appealing tone reminiscent of a certain Spielberg movie about an out-of-his-element extraterrestrial.

While the Shaye picture, which was given an advance preview in conjunction with a New Line 40-year retrospective conversation hosted by Sundance director Geoffrey Gilmore, won't be phoning home those "E.T." figures, "Mimzy" packs sufficient whimsy to make it a solid performer when it lands in theaters on March 23.

Despite the spelling change, screenwriters Bruce Joel Rubin ("Ghost") and Toby Emmerich ("Frequency") are unlikely to offend many purists in their update of the original work, about a box of educational toys that have been sent back from the future to the present. The original title took its cue from a line in Lewis Carroll's poem "Jabberwocky."
Here, the Mimzy in question is an innocuous-looking, well-traveled toy bunny found among mysterious items in a box that turns up floating behind the Wilder family waterfront vacation home in Seattle.

Opting not to share their discovery with their workaholic dad (Timothy Hutton) and overly cautious mom (Joely Richardson), siblings Noah (Chris O'Neil) and Emma (Rhiannon Leigh Wryn) soon discover that playing with the newfound objects has a profound effect on their intelligence levels.

It's a development that doesn't go unnoticed by Noah's teacher, Mr. White ("The Office's" Rainn Wilson), who detects a higher purpose in the boy's complex geometric doodles that bear an eerie resemblance to the ancient configurations that keep popping up in his dreams.

Emma, meanwhile, has been picking up telepathically on Mimzy's warnings regarding the survival of the inhabitants of the future and has to act fast before special government agent Nathaniel Boardman (Michael Clarke Duncan), who's investigating the source of a citywide blackout, gets to her.

Viewers willing to go along for the ride should be agreeably charmed by the yarn. And whenever developments threaten to push the boundaries of credibility a little too far, Wilson's character reins in the excess with his sardonic line delivery.

But even he can't salvage a jarringly clunky bit of product placement concerning Mimzy's internal make-up that yanks older viewers out of the mythology with little time left to bring them back into the fold.

Fortunately, Shaye ultimately manages to win enough of them over with the help of his inventive visual effects team, his energetic cast and a gently expansive Howard Shore score, assuring "Mimzy" a promising future.

THE LAST MIMZY
New Line Cinema
New Line Cinema, Michael Phillips Prods.
Credits:
Director: Robert Shaye
Screenwriters: Bruce Joel Rubin, Toby Emmerich
Based on the short story "Mimsy Were the Borogoves" by Lewis Padgett
Producer: Michael Phillips
Executive producers: Robert Shaye, Justis Greene, Sara Risher
Director of photography: J. Michael Muro
Production designer: Barry Chusid
Editor: Alan Heim
Costume designer: Karen Matthews
Music: Howard Shore
Visual effects supervisor: Eric Durst
Cast:
Jo Wilder: Joely Richardson
David Wilder: Timothy Hutton
Nathaniel Boardman: Michael Clarke Duncan
Larry White: Rainn Wilson
Naomi: Kathryn Hahn
Noah Wilder: Chris O'Neil
Emma Wilder: Rhiannon Leigh Wryn
Running time -- 90 minutes
MPAA rating: PG

Blame It on Fidel

PARK CITY -- Documentary filmmaker Julie Gavras has made a successful transition into narratives with the remarkably assured, thoroughly delightful "Blame It on Fidel" (La Faute a Fidel).

Adapted with considerable grace and style from an Italian novel by Domitilla Calamai, Gavras has reset the story of social unrest as seen through the eyes of a young girl in France circa 1970.

The beautifully observed, terrifically acted production, screened as part of the expanded dramatic World Cinema Competition at Sundance, where it was met with an enthusiastic audience response, should have no trouble charming a suitable American distributor. It opened in France late last year.

When we first meet the fiercely logical Anna (splendidly performed by Nina Kervel), the 10-year-old has been living an orderly, comfortable middle-class existence with her French journalist mother, Marie (Julie Depardieu), and Spanish attorney father, Fernando (Stefano Accorsi).
But her structured, bourgeois lifestyle is about to undergo a serious upheaval when her parents turn into radical political activists after Fernando's sister and daughter arrive from Spain to live with them following the arrest of her anti-Franco husband.

The visit has triggered guilty feelings of familial neglect in her father, and after her parents return from an extended trip to Chile, Anna is thrust kicking and screaming into a daunting new world while her little brother Francois resiliently embraces the new developments.

Suddenly, Anna's former spacious home with a garden is replaced by a cramped apartment where women being interviewed for her mother's book on women's abortion issues and strange, scruffy young men come and go all hours of the day and night. Her beloved Castro-bashing Cuban nanny has been replaced by a succession of refugees who cook weird food, and she's forced to sit out her Catholic school's Divinity classes.

Through it all, Anna's constantly questioning, big brown eyes speak volumes as writer-director Gavras -- who comes by her political interests naturally as the daughter of famed filmmaker Costa-Gavras -- adroitly adds in witty dollops of irony to go along with all the conflicting ideologies.

Things come to a visually stirring turning point during a powerful sequence in which Anna is brought along on a protest with her parents and riot police turn back the crowds with tear gas.

The look on the girl's face, simultaneously registering fear, confusion and a strange, wise-beyond-her-years comprehension as she's enveloped in a suffocating gray haze, is a testament to young Kervel's exceptional portrayal (watch out, Dakota Fanning!), Gavras' never-heavy touch and cinematographer Nathalie Durand's artfully thoughtful compositions.

BLAME IT ON FIDEL
Gaumont
A Gaumont presentation in association with Les Films du Worso
Credits:
Screenwriter-director: Julie Gavras
Producers: Sylvie Pialat, Matthieu Bompoint
Director of photography: Nathlie Durand
Art director: Laurent Deroo
Editor: Pauline Dairou
Costume designer: Annie Thiellement
Cast:
Marie: Julie Depardieu
Fernando: Stefano Accorsi
Anna: Nina Kervel
Francois: Benjamin Feuillet
Grandpa: Olivier Perrier
Granny: Martine Chevallier
Running time -- 110 minutes
No MPAA rating

White Light/Black Rain

A stirring and heart-wrenching statement of the horrible powers that mankind holds in its fist.

PARK CITY -- Filmmaker Steven Okazaki asks several contemporary Japanese teenagers in a Hiroshima mall if the date Aug. 6, 1945, means anything special to them. Beneath their baseball caps, Western-style teen wear, they seem puzzled. That date, and its horrific Nagasaki partner of Aug. 9, should never be forgotten, and this thoughtful HBO Documentary Films Presentation offers firsthand accounts from survivors, people who were lucky enough not to be vaporized like 200,000 of their fellow citizens.

Of those "lucky" enough to have survived, many have endured physical disfigurement and long-lasting psychological trauma. In this compelling and compassionate document, filmmaker Steven Okazaki interviews 14 survivors, intercutting their reflections and obvious physical burdens with film footage and photos from the days following the bombings.

With his focus entirely on the survivors, Okazaki has delivered a compelling account of the ferocity of those two days of mass destruction. Not diffused by any political statement or argument regarding the bombings, "White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki" is a stirring and heart-wrenching statement of the horrible powers that mankind holds in its fist.

Credit to Okazaki, who is able to overcome the talking-heads nature of such an interview film: He masterfully blends in historical footage with survivors' art to distill the horror of those days. There's also a startling "This Is Your Life" segment, featuring the pilot of the Enola Gay and a Japanese survivor embracing each other with respectful trepidation.

HBO Documentary Films presents
A Farallon Films production

Credits:
Producer-director-editor: Steven Okazaki
Executive producers: Sheila Nevins, Robert Richter
Director of photography: Takafumi Kawasaki
Consulting editor: Geof Bartz
Running time -- 86 minutes
No MPAA rating

Once

PARK CITY -- Described by Irish director John Carney as an "art house musical," "Once" was one of the unheralded small films that took people by surprise and became a sleeper hit at the Sundance Film Festival, winning the World Audience Award. The story of a street musician and an immigrant girl who connect and then disconnect, the film has enormous charm and zero pretense. It deserves to find a home in theaters, where it should win over an indie audience with its likable characters and terrific music. At press time, "Once" was on the verge of being picked up.

Carney, who started out as bass player in the Irish band the Frames and became a filmmaker, had long been thinking about how to stage a modern musical. His solution was to make his main character a street musician (known as a busker in Ireland) and the heroine a Chechnyan immigrant who plays the piano, and have their relationship be expressed by the music they make together.

For the guy (the characters are never named), Carney had the good fortune to recruit Glen Hansard, the redheaded, charismatic lead singer of the Frames. For the girl, he found a beautiful Czech musician named Marketa Irglova, who was only 18 when shooting started. Hansard and Irglova already were friends and had made an album together, and they both get to the emotional truth of their parts with a naturalness that more seasoned performers rarely capture.

He's struggling to make a living singing on the street, and she sells roses to passersby to support her mother and young child. Struck by this guy singing his heart out, she starts a conversation and takes him to a music shop where she practices at lunchtime. As they run through a song titled "Falling Slowly," a soaring lament for wounded lovers, the camera films them separately and then together in the same frame, and it's clear that their musical bond is struck.
Hansard's character is talented, funny and tormented by the woman he has lost, while Irglova still is wondering what to do about the husband she left back home. It is impossible not to root for these appealing people to get together, but it might be the wrong time and place for them.

In the tradition of movie musicals, he wants to record some songs for a demo and recruits a motley crew of street musicians and rents studio space for a weekend. After the session, he plans to take off for London to try to win back his girlfriend, despite the growing attraction for his new friend.

The set-up of the film allows for wall-to-wall music. The tunes, most of them written by Hansard, are powerfully performed with a Gaelic directness in a folk-rock vein. As the songs come together in the studio, the music and their feelings build to a climax that is achingly real. In a Hollywood film, there is no doubt that they would wind up together. Here the maturity of the filmmaking allows for the possibility of disappointment. The accomplishment of the film is that it's just as satisfying.

Although made quickly and cheaply (the film was financed by the Irish Film Board), "Once" has an appropriately rough-hewn look, the visual equivalent of a talented garage band. Lensing by Tim Fleming on Dublin location captures the spirit of a town that is booming around characters who don't quite fit in. But their indomitable spirit comes through loud and clear in this lovely film.

ONCE
Samson Films
Credits:
Screenwriter-director: John Carney
Producer: Martina Niland
Executive producer: David Collins
Director of photography: Tim Fleming
Production designer: Tamara Conboy
Music: Glen Hansard, Markets Irglova
Costume designer: Tiziana Corvisieri
Editor: Paul Mullen
Cast:
Guy: Glen Hansard
Girl: Marketa Irglova
Guy's dad: Bill Hodnett
Girl's mother: Danuse Ktrestova
Ex-girlfriend: Marcella Plunkett
Timmy Drummer: Hugh Walsh
Lead guitarist: Gerry Hendrik
Bassist: Alastair Foley
Bill: Mal Whyte
Eamon: Geoff Minogue
Running time -- 88 minutes
No MPAA rating

Zoom

Let's see, there is those "Spy Kids" movies and, of course, "Sky High." Certainly, "The Incredibles" and the "X-Men" movies gave generously. Hey look, there's Tim Allen to remind you he did something very similar in "Galaxy Quest," only that movie was amusing and fun. Because, alas, this Dr. F -- namely, director Peter Hewitt and writers Adam Rifkin and David Berenbaum -- brings nothing to the creature other than ideas from other, much better movies.

A crashing, thudding dullness infects every moment of "Zoom," leaving a quartet of seemingly talented young performers and such old pros as Allen, Courteney Cox, Chevy Chase and Rip Torn to spin their wheels in comic quicksand. Allen's next movie is titled "The Escape Clause," and it looks like that will come one movie too late. "Zoom" plays best to children young enough to have never seen those other movies or the tired physical gags that accompany it.

Captain Zoom (Allen) is a former superhero, robbed of his powers and relegated to an auto repair shop as just plain Jack. Years earlier, a titanic battle between his Team Zenith and their nemesis, Concussion -- Jack's brother, corrupted by the effects of Gamma 13 radiation -- left everyone dead except Jack.

Only now Concussion, believed vanquished, is poised to return from another dimension in a matter of days. (You wonder what takes him so long. Don't sci-fi characters zip from one dimension to another in the blink of an eye?) This emergency prompts blustery General Larraby (Torn) and nutty scientist Dr. Grant (Chase), who has spent too many years in the lab, to revive the Zenith Program. Nerdy scientist Marsha Holloway (Cox, who does Chase's old act of falling down all the time) recruits four youngsters with the potential to become superheroes.

These are 6-year-old Cindy (Ryan Newman), who can lift and throw just about anything; Dylan (Michael Cassidy), a sullen but often invisible young man; Summer (Kate Mara), who is telekinetic; and Tucker (Spencer Breslin), who can expand his body parts at will. Jack is given the option of training these "special" kids or enjoying his stay in prison.

Bitter over the government's exploitation of him and his brother, Jack makes a reluctant teacher. But gradually the camaraderie with the kids and his growing attraction to Marsha snap him out of his .

The training sessions lurch ahead in fits and starts with scant narrative connection. Some scenes don't even logically fit, making you suspect that director Hewitt and editor Lawrence Jordan pulled this thing together in the editing room, using those scenes that fail the least.

Somehow no one delivers an embarrassing performance. The young actors acquit themselves well, and the veterans do their best with poorly conceived material. The youngest performer, Newman, is so precocious that she pretty much steals the show.

Production values on this Toronto shoot are cheesy, but what would be the point of making the design look better? That Ed Wood would have felt comfortable on this set is no doubt fitting.

Director: Peter Hewitt
Screenwriters: Adam Rifkin, David Berenbaum
Screen story by: Adam Rifkin
Based on "Zoom's Academy" by: Jason Lethcoe
Producers: Suzanne Todd, Jennifer Todd, Todd Garner
Executive producers: Nicholas Osborne, Trevor Engelson, Neil Machlis
Director of photography: David Tattersall
Production designer: Barry Chusid
Music: Christophe Beck
Co-producer: Julie Ragland
Costume designer: Ha Nguyen
Editor: Lawrence Jordan
Cast:
 Jack Shepard/Captain Zoom: Tim Allen
 Marsha Holloway: Courteney Cox
 Dr. Grant: Chevy Chase
 Tucker Williams/Mega-Boy: Spencer Breslin
 Connor Shepard/Concussion: Kevin Zegers
 Summer Jones/Wonder: Kate Mara
 Dylan West/Houdini: Michael Cassidy
 Cindy Collins/ Princess: Ryan Newman
 Larraby: Rip Torn
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