Cynicism has always been part of the ABCs of children's movies, snuggled alongside avarice and banality, but rarely does this kind of movie divulge its craven underpinnings as nakedly as does "Catch That Kid." An exercise in rank exploitation, this remake of a recent Danish hit tracks how three eighth-graders rob a bank, professedly for worthy reasons and all in the name of good, clean, felonious family fun. To borrow the tag line for "Bonnie and Clyde" — they're young, they're in puppy love and they rob people.
Directed by Bart Freundlich, who hit the independent film scene some years ago with the dreary dysfunctional-family saga "The Myth of Fingerprints," and written by Michael Brandt and Derek Haas, whose contributions to the seventh art include "2 Fast, 2 Furious," the remake follows the original in broad outline. After 12-year-old Maddy (Kristen Stewart) discovers that her family can't afford to pay for a pricey experimental operation needed by her paralyzed father, she opts to raise the cash any which way she can. Deploying her chaste prepubescent wiles, she persuades her best friends, go-cart enthusiast Gus (Max Thieriot) and technical savant Austin (Corbin Bleu), into aiding and abetting her criminal ways, thus establishing that even at age 12, women will use sex to bring a man down, down, down.
Don't blame the moppet squad, especially the lead. Stewart is an appealingly melancholic girl with world-weary eyes and estimable chops who first came to attention playing Jodie Foster's daughter in the David Fincher thriller "Panic Room." As Foster did in many of her lesser tyro roles, the young actress has the ability to go deep into the movie moment while also suggesting that she's much better than her material. That's to the good of her screen appeal because the dire story opens with Maddy disobeying her parents and nearly falling to her death as a consequence, only to up the brat ante by having her engineer a heist that puts the lives of her friends and brother at risk. This kid actually complains about watching her baby brother while Mom (Jennifer Beals) visits Dad (Sam Robards) in the hospital.
Aimed at the demographic that's grown up with Harry Potter though apparently not enough Dr. Spock, cheered on the "Spy Kids," and can't wait to get its sticky little fingers on big brother's copy of "Grand Theft Auto," "Catch That Kid" is serviceable trash. It looks and moves like a low-end action movie, complete with thumping soundtrack, nanosecond-fast edits, stunts that probably look scary to anyone who doesn't know better and even a third-act police chase through downtown L.A. In other words, it's Bruckheimer for babies. All of which suggests that the movie's true meaning isn't that crime pays (which it does here) or that kids do the darndest illegal things (which they certainly do). It's that it's never too early to spoon-feed the audience a diet of depravity, mindless violence and full-throttle schlock.
'Catch That Kid' MPAA rating: PG, for some language, thematic elements and rude humor Times guidelines: Dangerous stunts, go-cart crash, bank robbery, police chase Kristen Stewart...Maddy Max Thieriot...Gus Corbin Bleu...Austin Jennifer Beals...Molly Phillips Sam Robards...Tom Phillips Fox 2000 Pictures presents a Mad Chance/Nimbus Film production, released by Twentieth Century Fox. Director Bart Freundlich. Writers Michael Brandt, Derek Haas. Based on the film "Klatretøsen." Producer Andrew Lazar. Director of photography Julio Macat. Production designer Tom Meyer. Editor Stuart Levy. Costume designer Salvador Pérez. Music George S. Clinton. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. In general release.