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I just thought I would get that confession out of the way and into the
open. Yes, I went to see this in theaters twice when I was 11 years
old. I could list to you the excuses I have, such as the fact that my
parents paid for my ticket, and there were only six theaters in my
local multiplex at the time, and I had already seen "Forrest Gump". I
could go on. The truth is that when I first saw a matinée showing of
this film with a friend, neither of us thought it was a bad movie. Then
I went to see another matinée showing a few days later on a rainy day
with my brother and a babysitter, and they both hated the film. Not
disliked, mind you, but hated it.
They weren't the only ones. In the sixteen years since the film's release, I have heard nothing but bad things about it. It was released on VHS once, never on DVD, and Roger Ebert's review ("I hated this movie. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it") is now more famous than the movie itself.
As a kid, I knew "North" wasn't a perfect film. In fact, its major flaw was (and still is) the major cop-out (and frankly lazy) ending that I won't give away. However, I thought it was enjoyable enough, it had a creative (but highly unrealistic) premise, and I liked (and still like) Elijah Wood. Before seeing the movie again after so many years, I wonder what I missed about it in the first place that other people didn't. After seeing it as a 27 year old, I wonder how I could have missed these things to begin with.
I think what disappointed people the most about this movie was the fact that it had an all-star cast, a likable lead, an accomplished director (Rob Reiner) who had not directed a bad film before this one, and was based on a book written by Alan Zweibel, one of the original Saturday Night Live writers (who also wrote the screenplay). I haven't read that book, but the idea of a child leaving his parents is more sad than funny.
Wood plays a child named North who is a stellar student, athlete, and actor, yet he is worried that his parents don't pay enough attention to him simply because they ignore him while arguing one night at the dinner table. His successful legal divorce from his parents causes a contrived media circus resulting in kids having control over their parents. Such a revolution is spearheaded by North's acquaintance Winchell (Matthew McCurley), a journalist for his school's newspaper who reminded me then of Stuart Minkus from "Boy Meets World" but now reminds me of Dick Cheney. In an even more contrived circumstance, Winchell becomes head of a major corporation, and plots to kill North when he decides to return to his original parents.
Throughout the film, North goes around the world searching for better parents. He stays with various sets of adoptive parents. They include a couple in Texas (Dan Aykroyd and Reba McEntire) who dress like cowboys you find at the Ice Capades, Alaskans (Graham Greene and Kathy Bates) who send their elderly father (Abe Vigoda) out to sea to die in an archaic ritual that hasn't been practiced in 150 years, and Hawaiian parents who are all too eager to show North's rear end on a highway billboard. It makes me sick writing about these jokes, so you can imagine what it's like to watch it.
Seeing this as a kid, I never took these plot points seriously, perhaps because I never thought about divorcing my parents. Seeing it again as an adult, here's what I missed that was so bad about the movie: the awful ethnic stereotyping that came in the form of tasteless one-liners and myopic character depictions. The worst came in the form of Kathy Bates putting on a blackface equivalent to play an Eskimo. I cringe now at the terrible joke made by the Hawaiian Governor Ho (Keone Young) about his wife (Lauren Tom) and her inability to procreate: "Hawaii is a lush and fertile land. In fact, there is only one barren spot on all of our islands. Unfortunately, it's Mrs. Ho.". If I were Mrs. Ho, I would have kicked him in the balls.
We've all done foolish things as children. My foolish thing was the 12 dollars that went to waste from seeing this movie twice (although they were both matinees, so I saved some money). The important thing is that I know better now, and I reviewed this film recently before writing this review. This rule should apply to every amateur critic on this site: the way you remember movies you saw years ago is not the same as the way these movies actually are.
Siskel & Ebert declared "North" the worst movie of 1994, and looking back, their reasoning was good. Is it the worst movie I've ever seen? No. Worse movies came out in 1994 ("It's Pat: The Movie" and "Exit To Eden" come especially to mind), and any movie written or directed by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer make "North" look like "Citizen Kane", and I doubt Ebert would disagree. However, there's no question that there's only one barren spot in Rob Reiner's directing career. Unfortunately, it's this movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this movie with an 8 year-old. It made me want to cry. This isn't because it was scary. It was because it was the worst movie I had ever seen and probably the worst I will ever see. Great cast means great movie, right??? NO! Not this time. Great cast, absolutely pathetic movie. Garbage, toxic waste, junk: they all describe North. North has no plot. It starts out with a kid falling asleep in a department store-- how original!!! Even members of it's intended audiences (children) do not like it. I saw the six year old girl behind me weeping and the nine year old boy ahead of me sleeping! Do not rent. Do not buy. Do not think about. Do not act foolishly like I have and waste even a minute writing about it. Forget that it ever existed.
When Harry Met Sally, A Few Good Men, The Story of Us... and I hear that This Is Spinal Tap is utterly hilarious... so what happened, Reiner? I guess everyone is entitled to make at least one mistake. Even if this particular one is really tough to forgive. If he hadn't proved himself so thoroughly after this, I'm not sure one could disassociate him from this. I haven't read the novel. Can it be as awful as this? I sure hope not. This is painfully stupid, unbelievably offensive and never actually funny. The jokes are disturbing, sick, weird and/or poor, and often based on ridiculous stereotypes that serve no other purpose than to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the two guys who wrote the script for this, Alan Zweibel and Andrew Scheinman, have not been out of their own country in their entire lives. This wastes so much acting and comedic talent that you have to wonder if there was some sort of bet involved, to see if they could actually get all of these skilled people and have them recite horrible material, and see if anyone would outright quit. I'm not sure I'd say that Elijah was one of them at this point, but then again, all the child performers in this are annoying. There is brief moderately strong language in this. The DVD has a trailer and about about ten minutes worth of interviews with the director and cast. I recommend... well, not this, not for anyone. If you do find yourself watching at least a little of this, I urge you to treat yourself to the Nostalgia Critic's video review of it. 1/10
Director Rob Reiner in eccentric spirits, but not quite getting the offbeat laughs and sentimental subtext he was going for. Extremely unfunny fantasy concerns unappreciated youngster who receives emancipation from his parents under the proviso he find a new set of guardians within 2 months. Celebrity-studded misfire is slick but not clever, with Bruce Willis in nearly a career-killing role as an angelic "guide" (he's also the film's narrator, in what plays like a last minute decision to fill in all the gaps). One or two fanciful scenes, but it needed more humor, less gooey uplift, and most especially an ending that didn't turn the picture into a pointless dodge. *1/2 from ****
NOTE: Some of you may be offended by the language in this review. If you
are, DO NOT see the movie. All the language here is taken directly from
Roger Ebert "hated, hated, hated" this movie, and while I wouldn't go as far as to say that, this certainly ranks as the worst (by far) Elijah Wood movie on record. The quality of such an actor as Wood or Bruce Willis can't overcome the fact that "North" has absolutely no idea what kind of movie it wants to be.
At first glance, "North" seems to be a kids movie. The plot, in which the title character searches for the ideal parents, is a child's dream. The main characters (except Willis' "guardian angel" role) are either kids or stupid. The message is a simple one about what constitutes a true family, and only a child would be unable to determine the exact outcome within the first thirty minutes of the film. "North" feels like a live-action Saturday morning cartoon.
But do kids movies have sex jokes? Do kids movies talk about men having blood in their stool or boys balls sticking to their legs in hot weather? Do kids movies have children utter words like "asshole"? Do kids movies have the main character apparently get shot in the head? It's one thing to have elements that will appeal to adults, but those elements shouldn't force parents to cover their kids' ears.
North is a bad movie. Parents (and everyone else) be warned.
Grade D- (a few good jokes and the always lovable Wood, but this is a movie that never should have been made)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is the closest Hollywood has come to doing a Monty Pythonish spin
of American society (at least until the SOUTH PARK movie); but
unfortunately it was made at the time when America took itself far too
seriously and was too priggish to handle satirical jabs; especially
compared to British, Australian or Canadian societies. It took the
success of animated TV series like The Simpsons and South Park in order
to get America to lighten up about itself. (It is very telling that
most American critics enjoyed the poke at French society, yet couldn't
stomach anything closer to home. It is also interesting that the only
classic US geographic stereotype not included here is "hippyish"
The movie isn't without it's faults. The "assassination" scene in particular feels like a stock Hollywood action scenario that's been tacked on at the end. And the use of a pre-pubescent boy in a provocative advertising commercial is quite tasteless. But most of the time, this consists of well-staged comic set pieces with the tongue-in-cheek feel of a usual stand-up routine. My fav line is "So THAT'S why we had to stop 47 time!"; which is delivered with zeal - especially in the original theatrical release (you have to see the story to geddit). And it also has in the Texas scene one of the best staged musical numbers in modern American cinema (along with MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING). It is also interesting to compare the fictional critical reaction to North in "Fiddler on the Roof" to the real-life critical reaction to Haley Joel Osment in THE SIXTH SENSE/A.I.
The movie deals with two central concepts. The first is the stock presentation of the young whizz-kid genius common at the time, with the attendant attitude that the World Owes Me a Living. (The prime dramatic example is Wesley Crusher of the TV series Star Trek:TNG). The second, related theme is the way that in the 80s and early 90s, Hollywood (and to a lesser extent America generally) tended to think of children almost purely as undersized adults - with the attached responsibilities and privileges. This film isn't the only one to deal with this; other examples include BIG SHOTS, THE LITTLE RASCALS, HOME ALONE 2 & 3 and even the TV series Uncle Buck. Attitudes have changed slightly since; Hollywood's notorious backlash against child actor Macaulay Culkin, and real-life incidents like the young girl who crashed piloting a plane across the US, and the grade-school boy who was suspended for kissing a girl have caused America to re-think the issue somewhat.
Prior to this movie was the film IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES starring a young Drew Barrymore; and though it handled a child's divorce case a lot more crassly and tastelessly, it didn't receive nearly half the critical outrage this movie did. Even more amazing; an almost identical storyline was revamped (read: ripped off) in the film RUSHMORE; and though it's a lot more pretentious and ponderous in its delivery, the critics lauded it. Apparently having a whizz-kid neurotically stalk a grade-school teacher (among other things) is more critically commendable than having him learn "there's no place like home". Go figure!
One of the regrettable outcomes of this movie is that talented actor Elijah Wood went from playing broad-ranging all-rounder variety of roles leading up to this film; to playing almost exclusively standard rote grungy drama roles afterwards. I half-suspect he's been put off comic roles for life; and quite frankly I wouldn't blame him - though it seems a crying shame! He showed a great deal of range and personality as a kid; and the Hollywood system squelched it!
In summary; this is a flawed, but still widely under-appreciated satire of America's more eccentric social mores; which the American general public (and professional film critics in particular) weren't maturely sophisticated enough to handle.
North (Elijah Wood), a bright and talented eleven year old boy (or so
we're told) who clearly never had to go hungry but whose parents are so
preoccupied with their career that they don't let him speak at the
dinner table to dispense the wisdom his many gifts have bequeathed him
(speaking of child-abuse), decide to "divorce" them and find himself a
new set of parents more appreciative of his talents. Consequently, he
meets a bunch of wannabe quirky characters who all desperately want to
adopt him and is being helped along the way by his "guardian angel"
I've never really been one to join in on a mob. Crowds generally make me nervous and I usually regard any gathering of any kind with a healthy dose of suspicion. So jumping on any bandwagon just isn't me. Furthermore, I've always had a soft spot for the underdog, the ugly duckling, the universally vilified, always finding redeeming features to features that usually can't be redeemed. So obviously, when I heard of "North", the 1994 comedy from director Rob Reiner, with its stellar cast and very bad reputation, I was intrigued. Reiner has always been a director with a rather good track record, his movies usually ranging from decent to excellent. So how bad could "North" be? Or more accurately put: how does a bad Rob Reiner film look like?
Well... "North" is a film that constantly struggles to find its audience and eventually fails to find any. As a film for adults, the "philosophical" narration provided by Bruce Willis never succeeds to soften the absurdity of the plot and as a film for children the whole thing is riddled with off-colour jokes and somewhat waspish clichés that make this spectacle quite inappropriate for that particular target audience. But where "North" really goes south is that failing to have a single joke that work, the film goes for the jugular and turns downright crass (the Hawaiian episode springs to mind, in that respect).
Of course, one could argue that the film has its heart beating at the right place (like any other Rob Reiner film) and was simply a misguided effort but not quite. The fact of the matter is that "North" is never funny (which in itself is pure torture for a so-called comedy) but offensive and ultimately mean-spirited through its boring stereotypes and its attempts at poking fun at somewhat dodgy subjects, going as far as insulting the audience's intelligence with truck loads of ludicrous and stupid characters, the main villain here chief suspect among these, deserving of a good spanking before being sent to bed without dessert... for life.
I so wanted to like this film, if only for the fact that it was generally reviled by everyone, which I admit is rather obnoxious of me. But I simply can't and must add my voice to the sound of the crowd as the song goes. Is "North" the worse film ever made? Well, I've certainly seen a lot worse. But somehow, thinking of it I feel like punching something. So that can't be good...
May contain spoilers.
I was only 6 years old when I watched North - apparently this was old enough to notice its stupidity. Despite all of its manic plot points, the movie is very forgettable. In fact, I completely forgot that Bruce Willis was in this movie. But maybe that was just my unconscious mind it blocking out.
So, at only six years old I found this movie incredibly stupid. Watching the scenes in Hawaii, I was incredibly embarrassed - for the actors, for the people of Hawaii - everyone.
And it only got worse.
I enjoyed the musical number in Texas, mostly because I'm a Reba fan. And it was kind of amusing to see George and Elaine from Seinfeld as a couple, amusing at first anyways.
And what else can be said about this movie? Most of it is horrible and or unwatchable. But it's not the worst movie I've ever seen. Hell, I suppose it's better than Mortal Combat 2, or Garbage Pail Kids. ( Hardly high praise ).
So remember, if you are stuck with the choice, North is probably better than MK2, but worse than say, most anything else.
Wow this movie was bad. I heard Siskel and Ebert slandering it when I was younger...and I was thinking that it couldn't possibly be that bad. Well,...I was wrong. Elijah Wood plays a boy who doesn't like his parents because they don't let him do everything that he wants to. She he decides to take them to court. And the suprising thing is that he actually wins. Kids don't get out of their homes when their parents are molesting them, beating them, and neglecting them, and North gets out because his parents don't let him run wild like he doesn't have any? The movie is just lame. Maybe it's amusing to 10 year olds who think that parents should let them do whatever they want, but the world just isn't like that. So get over it. The only good thing about this movie...of which many other commentaries have mentioned, was Bruce Willis in the pink bunny suit. I bet he will never live that down. He's probably looking back on this movie and crying. It was nice to see him in a 'family' movie. 2 out of 10. The 2 points are for the bunny costume.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The late Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert both picked this film as "The worst
film of 1994". (However, they both missed "It's Pat: The Movie"!) I can't
blame them. Coming off the huge commercial and critical success of the
excellent, "A Few Good Men" (1992) Rob Reiner and his team assembled an
all-star cast for this very strange film! "North" is one of the biggest
movie misfires I've ever seen. But at the same time it's very curious and
odd. Fans of Elijah Wood (I've been a fan of his since "Radio Flyer") must
not miss this one, as bad as it may be it's unlike anything you'll see. The
only funny moment in the whole film (spoiler alert) is the reference to
Jerry Lewis, every other joke bombs.
The cast is tremendous yes, and with the current success of "The Lord of the Rings" (which I found very boring, btw) Elijah Wood has FINALLY 'arrived'. But I have a hunch that no matter how successful he becomes, "North" will always be to Wood (and Reiner) what "Bossom Buddies" is to Tom Hanks. "North" is a bad film, yes. But it's bad in a very 'bizarre' way. If your a fan of these people, rent it, if only as a curiosity item.
I can't really give this film a 'rating' because it's awful AND awfully interesting.
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