She's a cute tomboy named Maddy (Kristen Stewart, Panic Room), a determined mountain climber-in-training who idolizes her dad (Sam Robards) and helps her overworked mom (Jennifer Beals). She's got two pint-sized buddies: Gus (Max Thieriot), a mini-Mr. Fix-It who loves go-karts and really digs Maddy, and Austin (Corbin Bleu), a crack technology whiz who also really digs Maddy.
When an old climbing injury resurfaces and paralyzes dear ol' Dad, Maddy convinces the boys to help her rob a bank and snag the quarter-million dollars necessary for Dad's operation. But wait, this scheming femme fatale recruits her guys as powerfully as any strong woman in cinema: she separately professes her love to each of them! Tramp! By swearing exclusive allegiance to both boys, this conniving hussy has her crew ready to go.
This is all in good fun, of course, and the steps involved in planning the bank hit feel both lively and wholly unimportant. Director Bart Freundlich (Mr. Julianne Moore, if you wish) is smart enough to keep the pace brisk, the scenes light, and all of the peripheral characters tied together (including Michael DesBarres as a coldhearted bank manager). But Freundlich's overall presentation has a bland generic feel, lacking any sense of high energy or urgency. The kids' efforts feel more like school-project shenanigans than a major heist.
Anyone expecting Spy Kids-lite should forget it. Even though the plot involves cracking computerized, high-quality security systems, there's no real high-tech gadgetry worked into the story. There's a certain purity to the kids' raw talents getting the job done, but there's not enough basic cinematic suspense to get young viewers rooting for each accomplishment. The film's pace actually slows when we get to the heist.
Catch That Kid does have a definite cool factor that will excite youngsters and keep parents chuckling. Gus uses an Xbox controller to rig his go-kart with some Fast and the Furious power. When the trio is dressed to kill and ready to roll, Freundlich shows them walking toward the camera, strutting in confident, slo-mo Tarantino style, hip-hop music pumping.
After all the heist hijinks, however, there's an epilogue that answers the real question in this film: Which diminutive lovesick hero will our blossoming Maddy choose? In a movie with life-threatening injuries, high-pressure go-kart chases and $250,000, this is the where the real bingo is. The story is harmless, cute, and perhaps too simple. The concept is sweet and idealistic. And the boys are suckers. Get used to it, guys.
On DVD, deleted scenes are spiffy, but a commentary track from the three stars proves once again that children have no business recording these things.
Catch that grid.
Run time: 91 mins
In Theaters: Friday 6th February 2004
Box Office USA: $16.5M
Box Office Worldwide: $16.7M
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Production compaines: Fox 2000 Pictures, Mad Chance, Nimbus Film Productions, Mediastream Dritte Film GmbH & Co. Beteiligungs KG, Splendid Productions
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 12%
Fresh: 10 Rotten: 76
IMDB: 5.2 / 10
Director: Bart Freundlich
Starring: Kristen Stewart as Madeline "Maddy" Rose Phillips, Corbin Bleu as Austin, Max Thieriot as Gus, Jennifer Beals as Molly Phillips, Sam Robards as Tom Phillips, John Carroll Lynch as Mr. Hartman, James LeGros as Ferrell, Michael Des Barres as Brisbane, Stark Sands as Brad, Lennie Loftin as Flagler, François Giroday as Nuffaut, Christine Estabrook as Sharon, Kevin G. Schmidt as Skip, Audrey Wasilewski as Nurse, Lucy Butler as Brisbane's Assistant, Elizabeth Decker as Brisbane's Secretary, Grant Hayden Scott as Max, Shane Avery Scott as Max, Dawn Lewis as Blonde, Marcus Hester as Gate Guard, Robert Harvey as Detective, Todd M. Hofacker as Reporter One, Claudia DiFolco as Reporter Two, Patrick Stinson as Reporter Three, Jerry Penacoli as Reporter Four, Maria Quiban as Reporter Five, Kane Ritchotte as Kid Two, Franklin Dennis Jones as Enforcer, Linus Merwin as Kid #3, Kristen Kerr as Mom, Gianina Sbardellati as Racer, Chelsea Bond as Mom 2, Daniel Dotterer as Boy, Meagen Fay as Doctor