The end of the summer vacation season has provided a crop of films that give kids something to think about. Searching for Bobby Fischer explores the challenges of being talented, while The Man Without a Face teaches the importance of looking past appearances. But kids may go back to school talking about The Fugitive, a thrill ride of a movie that changes the standards of adventure films.
What It’s About: Three high school buddies (Jason Priestley, Jerry O’Connell, Gabriel Olds) head for Hollywood in the early ’60s to meet Marilyn Monroe. Will Kids Want to Watch It? Only the older ones, and even they’ll probably feel that this story would have been better as a Wonder Years episode. MPAA: PG-13. Sex/Nudity: Monroe’s ”Miss Golden Dreams” calendar is prominently shown, as is Priestley’s tattooed butt in a nude-beach scene. Drugs/Alcohol: Drinking at a party; pot smoking in a car. Violence/Scariness: Mobsters break a man’s nose. Profanities: About 33. Mature Themes: Friends last longer than heroes; you can’t put Ben-Gay on a heartache. Appropriate Ages: 12 and up.
What It’s About: Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford), wrongly convicted of murdering his wife (Sela Ward), races to elude U.S. Marshall Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) and track down the real killer. Will Kids Want to Watch It? Definitely: This one is truly suspenseful and intelligent and, for an action film, surprisingly devoid of the usual gratuitous violence. MPAA: PG-13. Sex/Nudity: A flashback to Kimble and his wife making love. Drugs/Alcohol: A drug dealer is arrested; Kimble drinks a beer. Violence/Scariness: The murder is shown in stylized slow motion; there’s an explosive train-bus crash; a prisoner is shot after attacking a guard; Kimble stitches up his own wounds and gives himself an injection. Profanities: 14. Mature Themes: Jumping to conclusions is worse than jumping off dams. Appropriate Ages: 12 and up.
Heart and Souls
What It’s About: Yuppie Thomas Reilly (Robert Downey Jr.) shares his body with four dead souls. Will Kids Want to Watch It? It’s gimmicky but sweetly romantic — so much so that boys may sit this one out. MPAA: PG-13. Sex/Nudity: None. Drugs/Alcohol: None. Violence/Scariness: A bus crash kills five; a man is hit with a poker. Profanities: 21. Mature Themes: There is a reason for everything; parents shouldn’t doubt their kids’ imaginary friends. Appropriate Ages: 12 and up.
Manhattan Murder Mystery
What It’s About: A New York couple (Woody Allen, Diane Keaton) play detective when they suspect their neighbor of murdering his wife. Will Kids Want to Watch It? Teens who’ve been following the Woody-Mia-Soon-Yi saga might want to check it out, but they’ll be disappointed. The movie is infinitely tamer than that real-life scandal, and all the jokes — about menopause, therapists, Prozac, and stale marriages — are too old for kids. MPAA: PG. Sex/Nudity: None. Drugs/Alcohol: Wine tasting; beer drinking; drinks at dinner. Violence/Scariness: The man next door pulls out a gun and is then killed. Profanities: About 10. Mature Themes: There’s a good reason that New Yorkers don’t get to know their neighbors. Appropriate Ages: 12 and up.
The Man Without a Face
What It’s About: Twelve-year-old Chuck Norstadt (Nick Stahl) befriends a disfigured recluse known as the Freak (Mel Gibson). Will Kids Want to Watch It? Doubtful: This is neither action Mel nor cute Mel, but a new Mel with a message. MPAA: PG-13. Sex/Nudity: Chuck catches his sister in bed with her boyfriend. Drugs/Alcohol: A friend’s dad offers Chuck a beer; adults drink at a party. Violence/Scariness: Mostly emotional. Profanities: About 23. Mature Themes: When you get to know someone, you don’t see their scars anymore. Appropriate Ages: 12 and up.
The Meteor Man
What It’s About: An idealistic inner-city schoolteacher (Robert Townsend) discovers he has superhuman powers after being struck by a meteor. Will Kids Want to Watch It? Yes. The ‘hood could sure use a superhero, and Townsend is a warm, appealing one. The movie itself is funny, hopeful, and an appropriate fairy tale for the ’90s. Unfortunately, the adorable Baby Lords inadvertently glorify gang membership. MPAA: PG. Sex/Nudity: None. Drugs/Alcohol: A drug deal takes place; MM raids a crackhouse. Violence/Scariness: A gun-toting gang terrorizes the community. Profanities: About seven. Mature Themes: Some urban problems can’t be solved by mere mortals; clothes make the man. Appropriate Ages: 10 and up.
My Boyfriend’s Back
What It’s About: After being killed in a convenience-store robbery, high schooler Johnny Dingle (Andrew Lowery) returns from the grave so he can take his childhood sweetheart (Traci Lind) to the prom. Will Kids Want to Watch It? No. Although, to its credit, this silly zombie movie rarely takes itself too seriously, it often lapses into bad taste and becomes gross. Example: Johnny’s nose falls off and his girlfriend uses her gum to stick it back on. MPAA: PG-13. Sex/Nudity: Johnny fantasizes during class about sex on a basketball court. Drugs/Alcohol: None. Violence/Scariness: Johnny is shot; after the school bully accidentally kills himself with an ax to the head, Johnny eats his stomach; as Johnny decays, body parts fall off. Profanities: 28. Mature Themes: Love can outlast life; moms will do anything to make sure their kids eat. Appropriate Ages: 12 and up.
Searching For Bobby Fischer
What It’s About: Discovering that their 7-year-old son, Josh (Max Pomeranc), is a gifted chess player. Fred (Joe Mantegna) and Bonnie Waitzkin (Joan Allen) struggle to nurture his talent. Will Kids Want to Watch It? Chess isn’t the most exciting subject for a movie, and although the moves are fast and Josh is a character with heart, parents rather than kids will get the most out of this true story. MPAA: PG. Sex/Nudity: None. Drugs/Alcohol: A spectator smokes a joint. Violence/Scariness: None. Profanities: None. Mature Themes: Being the best can be a burden as well as a blessing. Appropriate Ages: 8 and up.
What It’s About: Two California dudes (Nicolas Cowan, Ernie Reyes Jr.) turn out to be princes of a distant island. Will Kids Want to Watch It? Saturday Night Live’s Rob Schneider is pretty obnoxious here, and girls will probably think the whole film is a wipeout, but young boys may appreciate the fancy footwork and pro-video-game attitude of this Samurai Beach Boys flick. MPAA: PG. Sex/Nudity: None. Drugs/Alcohol: A joke about the islanders’ favorite word meaning ”free beer.” Violence/Scariness: Lots of ninja swordplay and martial-arts moves; a violent coup takes place on the island; the boys’ protector is shot; two policeman are killed. Profanities: Three. Mature Themes: You can’t change your destiny; surfing can set you free. Appropriate Ages: 8 and up.
What It’s About: A 1960’s love affair between a rebellious teenager, Sheryl (Juliette Lewis), and her greaser boyfriend, Rick (C. Thomas Howell), as seen through the eyes of her 10-year-old neighbor, Alice (Eliza Dushku). Will Kids Want to Watch It? There’s so much romance and passion emanating from the screen that girls and their moms will love it. But be forewarned: With all those hormones raging, you’ll feel a parental urge to lock up your daughter. MPAA: PG-13. Sex/Nudity: Lots of making out; sex under the boardwalk. Drugs/Alcohol: Teens drink on the beach; Alice’s dad drinks a beer; Sheryl washes down oysters with tequila. Violence/Scariness: Sad scene when Sheryl’s dad dies and Alice talks about the death of her baby brother. Profanities: About 13. Mature Themes: Idols turn out to be just people; love isn’t always enough. Appropriate Ages: 12 and up.