Southern California exports filmed images of sunshine to the eyeballs of kids around the nation, so it's only fair that snowy upstate New York gets its chance at being the locale of childhood fantasies.
However, "Snow Day," a harmless co-production of Nickelodeon Movies and Paramount Pictures, may be a hard sell in places where kids have never experienced the joy of a surprise day off school--or at least one that wasn't caused by the violent shaking of the earth. But it is not completely without charms, most notably that rare thing, a girl protagonist.
The presence of Chevy Chase, Pam Grier, Chris Elliott and Jean Smart might suggest that there is more in "Snow Day" for adults than there really is. Chase is preoccupied with a slight subplot that pits his meteorologist Tom Brandston against a rival weatherman played by John Schneider (hardly recognizable from his "Dukes of Hazzard" days), which doesn't allow for much goofing off. If Grier, who plays his boss, didn't complete filming on all her scenes in one day, her time was wasted.
The plot instead focuses on two of the Brandston children. High schooler Hal (Mark Webber) is trying to make inroads with immensely popular Claire Bonner (Emmanuelle Chriqui) despite threats from Chuck Wheeler (David Paetkau), her ex-boyfriend who refuses to allow a breakup. Meanwhile, Natalie Brandston (Zena Grey) and her posse of fellow 10-year-olds are trying to secure a second snow day by stopping the dreaded Snowplowman (Chris Elliott) from clearing the streets.
In the production notes, Elliott, like most of the adult cast, expressed some pleasure at making a film he could watch with his children. But neither Elliott nor Chase seemed excited enough to do anything interesting with their short parts. Elliott's role in particular could've been played by any scruffy yellow-toothed grunting actor.
"Snow Day" isn't for teens, it's for the kids who aspire to be teens. Nonetheless, Webber and Schuyler Fisk, who plays his best friend, are a welcome relief from the teenager-cum-fashion models who populate so much of entertainment. That's not to say they're unattractive, but they have a naturalness that, even in a film as contrived as "Snow Day," suggests a career beyond such material.
The writers and director are feature-film rookies out of Nickelodeon's farm team--which makes sense. The cable network is already the most consistent provider of children's broadcast entertainment. Director Chris Koch and writers Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi worked on the network's shows "The Adventures of Pete & Pete" and "KABLAM!" Not surprisingly, "Snow Day" has the look and feel of a slick network production--and the Nickelodeon seal of approval. The film could--and probably will--run on Nickelodeon as-is. There's nary a swear word heard nor an inappropriate patch of skin revealed. The 15-year-olds here seem only distantly related to the PG-13 high schoolers of "10 Things I Hate About You," let alone their R-rated brethren in "American Pie." It's all good, clean--if slightly dull--fun.
Snow Day, 2000. PG for brief, mild peril and language. A production of Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies. Producers Albie Hecht and Julia Pistor. Executive producer Raymond Wagner. Director Chris Koch. Writers Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi. Editor David Finfer. Director of photography Robbie Greenberg. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. Mark Webber as Hal Brandston. Zena Grey as Natalie Brandston. Chevy Chase as Tom Brandston. Schuyler Fisk as Lane Leonard. Emmanuelle Chriqui as Claire Bonner. Jean Smart as Laura Brandston. Chris Elliott as Snowplowman.