Friday February 13, 1998

     Things are missing in the Lender residence. Small things, like hat pins, tape measures, double-A batteries, spools of thread, refrigerator leftovers. Just enough to be an annoyance to the family, especially Pete, an innovative 10-year-old who has begun setting nasty little traps for the thieves.
     But the missing items aren't stolen, they're merely borrowed. They're the raw materials of life for the house's other residents, a 4-inch-tall family of four, who live just beneath the floorboards of the upstairs landing.
     The premise of director Peter Hewitt's "The Borrowers" is full of promise that the film, unfortunately, doesn't fulfill. Adapted from Mary Norton's children's book series, "The Borrowers" does a superb job of creating a scaled environment for its Lilliputian characters, but neither the characters nor the story matches the innovation of the design.
     Hewitt and the screenwriters, Gavin Scott and John Kamps, seem to be caught in a familiar creative gap, trying to tell a story that will hold the attention of small children while amusing their parents, and not quite accomplishing either. "The Borrowers" is so anxious to get into its adventure--which has Pete (Bradley Pierce) and the Clocks trying to save the Lender/Clock home from a malicious lawyer (John Goodman)--that you can only tell members of one family from the other's by their size.
     Like the recent "Mouse Hunt," "The Borrowers" borrows most from the "Home Alone" movies. The essence of its comedic action has the Clock children, Arrietty (Flora Newbigin) and Peagreen (Tom Felton) and a friendly scamp Borrower named Spiller (Raymond Pickard), tormenting their giant adversaries, Ocious Potter (Goodman) and the pest exterminator (Mark Williams) he hires to delouse the Lender house.
     Potter is the primary aggressor-victim, having each attempt to kill the Clocks double-backfire on him in the form of hair-raising electrocutions, facial acid baths, submersions in dairy cheese and head-to-toe binding--a la "Gulliver's Travels"--by armies of Borrowers rallying to the Clocks' defense.
     The surprise is not that the cast is over the top but that it's also flat. Goodman is a by-the-numbers villain, neither terribly funny nor particularly scary. British actor Jim Broadbent seems more lost than in command of Pa Clock's oversized world. And the kids simply aren't defined well enough for even the most superficial bonding with children in the audience.


The Borrowers, 1998. PG. Times guideline: Kids who can take "Home Alone" can certainly take this. A Working Title Films production, released by Polygram Filmed Entertainment. Director Peter Hewitt. Producers Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Rachel Talalay. Screenplay Gavin Scott, John Kamps. Music composer Harry Gregson-Williams. Score Hans Zimmer. Costumes Marie France. Production design Gemma Jackson. Editing David Freeman. Cinematography John Fenner, Trevor Booker. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes. John Goodman as Ocious T. Potter. Jim Broadbent as Pod Clock. Mark Williams as Exterminator Jeff. Flora Newbigin as Arrietty Clock. Tom Felton as Peagreen Clock. Bradley Pierce as Pete Lender.