A better movie than one might expect, JOSH AND S.A.M. takes questionable material and presents it with consummate professionalism. Though some scenes may upset young children, it's agreeable fare for older kids, who will be able to look past its uneven tone and structure.
Twelve-year-old Josh (Jacob Tierney) and his younger brother Sam (Noah Fleiss) are constantly shuttled between the unhappy homes of their divorced parents. Josh has developed a wild imagination and penchant for storytelling to cover for his painful sensitivity, while Sam frequently retreats into
his own private world or lashes out violently. Their mother, Caroline (Joan Allen) sends them to Florida to stay with their father Thom (Stephen Tobolowsky) for the summer. There, Josh's insecurity is exacerbated when Thom questions his manhood, and he begins to plot an escape. To persuade his
brother to join him, he convinces the child that he's actually a "Strategically Altered Mutant," a government-designed warrior who will soon be called to fight a secret war in Africa.
When a subsequent flight from their father's place to their mother's is forced to make a stop in Dallas, Josh seizes his chance. Infiltrating a high-school reunion at a nearby hotel, he convinces Derek (Chris Penn) that he's his son. But Derek soon sees through Josh's story and becomes
threatening, and Josh is forced to hit him with a golf club, knocking him out. Believing he's killed Derek, Josh steals his car and plans to drive to Canada, where he tells Sam the "Liberty Maid," who can prevent him from being sent away, will meet them.
As their parents try to track them down, Josh and Sam embark on a series of adventures on the road, picking up a teenage hitchhiker, Alison (Martha Plimpton), who resembles Josh's fictitious "Liberty Maid." Alison goes along with the story and becomes the boys' driver, and along the way, the
three begin to bond. While developing a strong attraction to Alison, Josh also finds his own strength and sense of responsibility, while Sam begins to lose his self-destructive reactions to bad situations. Ultimately, Alison must leave the boys and go her own way, and Josh realizes that he has to
confront the reality of his situation. Arriving in Canada, he contrives a scam that allows his brother to get a free airline ticket back to Florida, and eventually returns himself. Older, wiser and able to deal with life's problems more clear-headedly, he discovers that the same is now also true
of his parents.
The story of JOSH AND S.A.M.--two young boys crossing the country in a stolen car--sounds like contrived material, a sort of THELMA & LOUISE for kids. But it's more thoughtful than the HOME ALONE on wheels suggested by the ads, exploring the problems of its two young leads. In fact, the opening
half hour or so seems too grim and upsetting by half for a children's film, particularly when Thom humiliates the sensitive Josh by asking him if he's homosexual in front of the boy's unsympathetic jock half-brothers.
The circumstances that get the boys on the road are contrived, but it's fun to watch the filmmakers take their story into implausible realms; this is certainly less predictable than most studio movies, particularly those made for young audiences. And once the boys begin their journey, the movie
gets its kids-driving-a-car thrills out of the way early to become an often charming and moving story of brotherly love and learning to look out for oneself. Though their personality problems don't make them the most instantly likable young protagonists, Josh and Sam have a depth not seen in many
screen children, and the ways in which they reveal and deal with their vulnerabilities are often affecting. Plimpton, a talented young actress who deserves more and better parts than she's gotten, adds an engaging and feisty quality to the mix, and has at least one great moment when she tells off
Thom over the phone.
Veteran film editor-turned-director Billy Weber can't completely slide past the weak spots in Frank Deese's script, but he makes the most of the screenplay's best qualities, and delivers a quirky entertainment with more maturity and style than most kids' films. (Violence, adult situations,profanity.)
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: A better movie than one might expect, JOSH AND S.A.M. takes questionable material and presents it with consummate professionalism. Though some scenes may upset young children, it's agreeable fare for older kids, who will be able to look past its uneven ton… (more)