It's hard to believe that the same Peter O'Fallon who turned out the twisty and surprisingly nasty thriller SUICIDE KINGS also made this simpleminded, would-be heartwarmer. Twelve-year-old James Neubauer (Trevor Morgan) finds himself in a heap of trouble when he's caught poking around the weather-beaten Maine cottage belonging to crusty recluse Maddy Bennett (Vanessa Redgrave), who fires off a round of salt pellets in the boy's direction. The following day, Maddy shows up at the house where James lives with his Uncle Charlie (Ron Livingston) and stepmother Mary (Catherine McCormack). James's father, Nathan (Ray Liotta), spends most his time away on business, and his mother was killed two years earlier in a car wreck; James survived, but the accident continues to haunt him. Maddy insists that James fix the piece of fence he destroyed while making his escape, and once the job is done, offers him a small sum to help paint it. Salty Maddy, it seems, has taken a shine to the boy; he reminds her of her own son, Bobby, who died years ago in Vietnam. And James soon grows quite fond of Maddy. She offers the kind of warmth Nathan has been unable to provide since his wife's death, and an affection James refuses to accept from Mary. The bond between James and Maddy grows even stronger when Maddy reveals that even though Bobby is gone, she communicates with him through a dusty old telegraph and antique signal lamp. Maddy teaches James Morse code and how to listen to the voices of the dead, hoping that the grieving boy will soon come to terms with the loss of his mother and understand that there's really no horror in death, only release. O'Fallon and cowriters James Eric and Jamie Horton based their screenplay on Grace Duffie Boylan's book of purported missives from the dead, My Son Liveth: Messages from a Soldier to His Mother. (Boylan also wrote a "young folks" version of Uncle Tom's Cabin in which all the former slaves happily return to work the plantation they love so much.) Only Redgrave's imperious presence makes the film in any way bearable, and even she endures her share of embarrassing moments. But what's most offensive isn't the waste of a good cast, but the film's denial of sincere grief and mourning in favor of bogus spiritualism. Only devotees of Ouija boards and TV's Crossing Over will find anything of merit here.
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- Released: 2002
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: It's hard to believe that the same Peter O'Fallon who turned out the twisty and surprisingly nasty thriller SUICIDE KINGS also made this simpleminded, would-be heartwarmer. Twelve-year-old James Neubauer (Trevor Morgan) finds himself in a heap of trouble w… (more)