'George's Island'

More severed heads and less business about loving families is what the Canadian family film ''George's Island'' needs.

With a meandering narrative that shifts from a story about buried treasure and pirate ghosts to a contemporary tale of grumpy grandpas and busybody teachers, the modestly budgeted movie, despite a fairly impressive cast, too often plays like one of the parodies of such efforts by the old SCTV gang. However, there is enough here to while away a rainy afternoon, and OK business could develop.

The title location is an uninhabited spot near Halifax, Nova Scotia, where, in a prelude, Captain Kidd buries a stolen treasure and then murders his five piratical companions so that their skeletons can guard it.

Rushing into the present-day confines of a Halifax grammar school, we find young George Waters (Nathaniel Moreau) taking a rap from crabby Miss Birdwood (Sheila McCarthy) for believing the old story about buccaneers and treasure.

Before long, Miss Birdwood and social worker Mr. Droonfield (Maury Chaykin) have set out to separate George from his salty old grandfather, grog-quaffing Capt. Waters (Ian Bannen), a grouchy but lovable soul who spends his days shooting rock salt at young trespassers and spinning tales about pirates and ghosts.

After a very lengthy and very slow-moving account of George's removal from his home and placement in a foster home -- where he discovers a fellow victim, a girl from school -- the movie finally gets down to combining the two tales when everyone, human and otherwise, ends up on the haunted island at midnight on Halloween.

Much time is wasted on feeble attempts at adult caricature, with the broad lampoons at teacher, social worker and foster parents both too weak and too precious for young heads. McCarthy plugs away doggedly at her serio-comic teacher, but Chaykin never makes much of an impression as the weak-willed social worker. Bannen makes the most heroic attempts at performance of all, but he is undermined by the film's recessive direction.

In fact, director Paul Donovan, who also co-wrote the script, acts as though he could not make up his mind whether to make a larger-than-life fantasy, or a quieter and more modest poignant family drama. As a result, the film is stuck somewhere in between, doing justice to neither.

Cinematographer Les Krizsan, however, deserves some praise for his daytime exteriors, which nicely capture the cold clarity of the northern autumn.


New Line

Salter Street Films and the National Film Board of Canada

Producer Maura O'Connell

Director Paul Donovan

Writers Maura O'Connell, Paul Donovan

Director of photography Les Krizsan

Editor Stephen Fanfara

Music Marty Simon

Production designer Bill Fleming



George Nathaniel Moreau

Miss Bordwood Sheila McCarthy

Capt. Waters Ian Bannen

Mr. Droonfield Maury Chaykin

Running time -- 90 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

(c) The Hollywood Reporter

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