North (United States, 1994)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Rob Reiner has had an amazing string of hits. His resume dotted with such critical and popular successes as This is Spinal Tap, The Sure Thing, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, and A Few Good Men, Reiner has transformed his Meathead image into that of a "can't miss" director. Unfortunately, this time he has missed - and by quite a bit. The premise of North sounds flat, the previews look insipid, and, while the movie doesn't turn out nearly as bad as either would lead you to believe, North is still a lackluster production.

This is a modern fable, complete with a moral (something about the value of parents and families), that tries to be witty and offbeat, but more often is merely overlong. Reiner did a wonderful job in the realm of the fantastic and absurd with The Princess Bride, but here his approach comes closer to that of Barry Levinson's disastrous Toys.

The story opens with North (Elijah Wood) being ignored by his self-absorbed parents (Jason Alexander and Julia Louis-Dreyfus). The unstable domestic situation begins to prey on North's mind, affecting all aspects of his life, including his ability to play baseball and his unimpeachable academic record. He is in a quandary about what to do until he encounters a department store Easter bunny (Bruce Willis in a fuzzy pink suit) who gives him an idea: become a free-agent, and let parents everywhere make bids for his "services." And so begins the quest for the ultimate mother and father.

North's adventures are designed mostly as satire and, as such, painted with the broadest strokes. Sometimes, when the movie strikes the right chord, it is refreshingly funny, but on most occasions, it doesn't know when to move on. During the course of his search, North visits a number of prospective families: the wealthy Ma and Pa Tex (played by Dan Aykroyd and Reba McEntire), the governor of Hawaii and his wife, two Alaskans living in an igloo village (Graham Greene and Kathy Bates), a Parisian pair laughing at Jerry Lewis, an Amish couple (Kelly McGillis and Alexander Godunov from Witness), an African duo, and a Cleaver-Nelson version of the "ideal" mom and dad (John Ritter and Faith Ford).

In one way or another, each of these distorted snapshots into family life is intended to parody some facet of modern culture. When the sequences are kept short, they work. However, three of these (the Texans, the Hawaiians, and the Alaskans) take up too much screen time. Once we see Ma and Pa Tex in a 100-foot long stretch limo, is there a need to spend additional minutes hammering home the point?

Another problem is the inclusion of a subplot featuring Jon Lovitz as an ambulance-chasing lawyer (whose entrance is wonderfully-staged, by the way) and Mathew McCurley as Winchell, a kid with ideas of world dominance. Not only do these scenes not work, but they interrupt the already-unstable flow of North. The need to have villains seems to be a mistake.

In North, we are given an opportunity to view both ends of the child acting spectrum. On one hand, there's Elijah Wood, who is convincing as a boy wanting nothing more than to be loved and recognized by his parents. Then, on the other hand, there's Mathew McCurley, whose shrill and annoying performance recalls Macaulay Culkin at his absolute worst. Whoever cast this kid, a TV commercial veteran, made a blunder.

Despite all the flaws, however, this is still Rob Reiner's product and, as such, is not entirely devoid of worthwhile moments. These are sprinkled throughout - the only difficulty is getting through the padding in between. Aside from McCurley's nearly-unbearable job, the deficiencies seem more related to the script than the direction. Nevertheless, for a movie being touted as a sophisticated farce suitable for family viewing, North turns out to be surprisingly immature.

North (United States, 1994)

Run Time: 1:29
U.S. Release Date: 1994-07-22
MPAA Rating: "PG"
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2:35:1