A blizzard grounds all flights out of an East Coast airport on Christmas Eve, prompting its scrooge-like security chief (Lewis Black) to round up the airport's gaggle of unaccompanied minors and have them thrown into a holding area. In the raucousness that follows, the sister (Dominque Saldana) of one of the kids gets separated from her brother Spencer (Dyllan Christopher). What follows is a series of predictable episodes in which Spencer and four other derelict kids — Charlie, the brainy one (Tyler James Williams); Grace, the cute one (Gina Mantegna); Donna, the rebellious one (Quinn Shephard); and "Beef," the gentle giant (Brett Kelly) — try to foil security goons and find Spencer's sister before Christmas morning (when his sister nervously anticipates gifts from Santa). Along the way, the kids bond or, actually, pair off as Spencer and Grace, then Charlie and Donna start to get sweet on each other. "Beef," meanwhile, goes off on his own tangent — a mission to retrieve a Christmas tree, a move that smacks of writers desperate to jettison their odd-man-out in order to facilitate their plot.
Sequences involving a Monsters, Inc. -esque chase up and down baggage chutes and a late-stage escape from a holding pen through (you guessed it) ventilation ducts are equally unexciting. Feig briefly finds his legs during a high-speed sled chase that involves clever visuals and line deliveries. (A favorite: Black, floating across the screen in slo-mo while headed for a crash-landing, calmly remarks, "This will be interesting.") An interlude in which the rubber-limbed Charlie takes a dance break (a Breakfast Club nod if there ever was one) mildly amuses, as do bit-part appearances by veterans of TV shows on which Feig has cut his teeth: Arrested Development (Jessica Walter and Tony Hale) and Freaks and Geeks (Dave Allen and Steve Bannos, who, as a tree salesman, partakes of a Charlie Brown Christmas tree joke that's sure to elicit a chuckle). But, aside from easily entertained children, the above will only appeal to the few in on the novelty.
The teen and preteen actors all turn in efficiently cute performances. Black chews up the screen nicely as the kids' arch-nemesis, and Rob Corddry's engaging presence as an environmentally over-conscious dad takes the edge off all that is so wrong and stale with this picture. Feig wants to make a statement about American family dysfunction: The parents of every kid here is either divorced or screwed up. This leaves Spencer and company to form ad hoc, surrogate families among each other. The resulting message of resourcefulness is empowering enough, but
lacks the cleverness and invention worthy of it — here, Feig would've done well to borrow the example of 2005's lovely
— foundering instead in its own eggnog of overly sweet, formulaic Christmas cheer.
Cast: Lewis Black, Wilmer Valderrama, Tyler James Williams, Dyllan Christopher, Quinn Shephard, Gina Mantegna and Brett Kelly
Director: Paul Feig
Screenwriters: Jacob Meszaros & Mya Stark
Producers: Lauren Shuler Donner and Michael Aguilar
Rating: PG for mild rude humor and language
Running time: 89 min.
Release date: December 8, 2006