Heroic kids and a biking chimp

Times Staff Writer

The smartest aspect of “Moto X Kids” is how TAG Entertainment has booked it into five local Loews Cineplex theaters for Saturday- and Sunday-only matinees and some early-evening screenings as part of a subsequent broader release in such cities as Atlanta, Detroit, Houston and San Francisco. This children’s film is as lively as it is elementary.

It opens with a daredevil supercross competition in an arena with an elaborate, hilly earthen course constructed for the event, which is handily won by young Callie Reed (Alana Austin), who profoundly disappoints her coach father, Evan (Lorenzo Lamas), when she announces she’s retiring to enter medical school.

Evan has little time to brood because he’s received an emergency call from his own onetime motocross coach Bear Madigan (Dan Haggerty) with the news that the Pirates, a bunch of middle-aged guys who pretend they’re real bikers, led by the nasty Viper (Gary Busey), is on the verge of foreclosing on Bear’s ranch, a combination wildlife habitat and training ground for children eager to become supercross contenders. Evan comes up with the $100,000 to save the ranch -- a day too late. (Wasn’t Roy Rogers or Gene Autry always saving someone’s ranch from the bad guys?)

That’s when Bear’s three young pupils (Josh Hutcherson, Alexa Nikolas and Bobby Preston) take action: They confront Viper at his bar and propose that the three of them go up against Viper’s young son Spike (Wayne Dalglish) and two other young motocrossers. Whoever wins the competition walks off with the ranch.


There’s soon a catch: Hutcherson’s T.J., the most promising of Bear’s proteges, breaks his arm, and Evan, Bear and Callie, who also wants to help, have no recourse but to replace T.J. with Bear’s chimpanzee, Cody. Lest this seem a bit of a stretch, Callie early on remarked to her father, “You could teach a monkey to do what I do.”

“Moto X Kids” plays just fine for its intended audience of children, although some parents may find Michael Gannon’s script does not bear close scrutiny, even if they accept the idea of young kids taking part in motocross. When Viper’s lieutenant Mongo and the other Pirates start threatening Bear, why doesn’t he send his three little charges home to keep them out of harm’s way? But the way the movie plays out, of course, allows the children to emerge as heroes.

Under the direction of Richard Gabai, who wisely keeps things simple and brisk, Lamas, Austin and Haggerty come across as likable pros, and the film’s youngsters are appealing. As Evan’s frustrated business manager, Phyllis Diller is sharper than her material.