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Frankenstein and Me
1996 - PG - 91 Mins.
Director: Robert Tinnell
Producer: Richard Goudreau
Written By: Robert Tinnell
Starring: Jamieson Boulanger, Ricky Mabe, Louise Fletcher, Burt Reynolds, Ryan Gosling
Review by: Harrison Cheung
   
A lot of good children’s television and film come from Canada. ‘Frankenstein and Me’ is not one of them. Written and directed by Robert Tinnell, this 1996 Canadian movie has the look and feel of a low-rent Spielberg wannabe production – think Joe Johnston on a really tight budget – but is surprisingly over-wrought with mature themes. Unfortunately, the movie moves with a drudgery that turns what could have been lighthearted fare into misery.

Earl Williams is a 12-year old boy who dreams of movie monsters – Frankenstein, Dracula, the Werewolf – but lives a life of isolation in a dustbowl town set in the Mojave desert where everyone, except the kids, speak with an exaggerated Southern drawl with the occasional peek of a Canadian accent.

Earl and his kid brother, Larry, experiment with tools, chicken hearts, dummies and widgets from their father’s garage workbench, pretending to create their own Frankenstein. The father is played by Burt Reynolds who’s toupee often threatens to fly off into a good dustbowl gust. Rounding out the competent cast is Louise Fletcher as Mrs. Perdue, the evil schoolteacher, Myriam Cyr as Earl’s mother, and Ryan Gosling as Earl’s best friend, Kenny.

There’s an attempt to make a ‘Goonies’ type of movie here. The kids are very imaginative and go about their inventions with a manic enthusiasm inspired by their father, a failed actor who enjoys reminiscing about his abortive Hollywood career. But once Earl’s father dies of a heart attack (didn't Burt want to stay for the entire shoot?), the movie takes on a morbid air as Earl becomes determined to succeed at a ‘Frankenstein’ type of experiment. The message is clear – Earl loses his dad, Earl wants to bring him back to life. But it’s a touchy subject that isn’t handled very well in a children's movie.

Back in 1983, there was a wonderfully dark children’s movie called ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ based on Ray Bradbury's classic novel which explored love, family and mortality, and was set in the Midwest during the visit of an evil circus. If only ‘Frankenstein and Me’ had similar direction and precision. We also have a creepy circus that comes to town, but the device that Tinnell uses are b/w vignettes in which Earl imagines himself as the hero of a classic horror movie. It’s a cute idea that isn’t executed well, clearly beyond Tinnell’s abilities.

Earl and Kenny eventually find a cadaver to re-animate – that in itself is a grotesque scene – and there’s a mad rush to conduct their experiment before the police recovers the missing body. This is a movie that could depress a youngster – it made me cringe with the monstrous possibilities and disappointed that such an engaging cast would get mired in a gloomy story.

Fletcher steals the show with sadistic pleasure as a teacher happily stomping on Earl’s dreams. Earl, his brother and his mom act as if they were recreating a Norman Rockwell painting. ‘October Sky’ this is not. And a young Gosling (who went on to bigger and better things like ‘The Believer’ and ‘The Slaughter Rule’) brings some snap as the wisecracking friend who clearly sees Earl as more than nuts for wanting to steal and reanimate a cadaver. If only the rest of the movie had that kind of pluck. Instead, ‘Frankenstein and Me’ is a depressing children’s movie with creepy mixed messages about dealing with loss.
 
Movie Guru Rating
A train wreck.  So bad some may find it unintentionally entertaining.
  1 out of 5 stars

 
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