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Kid Colter
(1984)

Director: David O'Malley
Cast:
Jeremy Shamos, Jim Stafford, Hal Terrance


Though at times in my reviews you might sense that I am some kind of a rigid guy when it comes to certain topics, there have been plenty of times in my life when I have had my beliefs converted from one extreme to another. Take certain kinds of food for instance. When I was a child, I never tried the fruit known as the cranberry in any shape or form, believing it was disgusting. I couldn't trust a fruit that was used during the main course of Thanksgiving when I firmly believed that fruit belonged in a dessert. In fact, it was only a few years ago, when I was treating myself to Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant that I decided to try the small portion of cranberry sauce that came with my turkey platter. I don't know why at that time I decided to try it, but I'm glad I did because I thought cranberries tasted pretty good. On the other hand, there have been some times when my rigid way of thinking has proven to be true. Another food item that I never tried as a child was cream soda. I remember taking a whiff of it as a child, and being disgusted by its odor. Decades passed, and one day I was at a corner store out in the boondocks that had a lot of various sodas that were normally not available in Canada. I bought several dozen of them and brought them home. Before drinking them, I did some online research on them, and discovered that one of them - Big Red - was in fact a cream soda. Well, I had bought it and I couldn't return it, so I figured what the hell, I might as well drink it. And it was as bad as I feared, tasting like bubble gum. I can only imagine the individuals who like drinking soda the taste of bubble gum, and they are people I hope that I will never meet.

When it comes to my often rigid way of thinking, one such topic that causes me to think hot or cold thoughts in many different aspects is of course the motion picture industry. Though I like to think that I was an expert on movies even as a youngster, there have been a few times when I have found that my rigid thinking has proven me wrong. For example, as a child I hated westerns, finding them boring and not that modern for a hip guy like me. Then I discovered Sergio Leone westerns, and I have been hooked on the genre ever since. However, there are certain film genres that I have more or less kept the same opinion about from childhood to the present day, and one of those genres happens to be the family film genre. When I was a child, I didn't watch that many family movies. I usually preferred grown up movies because I thought adults had it made, and I wanted to know how adults thought and acted so I could be one of them. The few family movies that I watched more often than not had a strong adult presence in the cast, such as the Disney movies that had Dean Jones in the cast. That was years ago, but several decades later I still have trouble finding the enthusiasm to watch a lot of family movies that are being released. I usually outright refuse to watch family movies that have children in the main cast, because I have put away childish things and I'm usually in the mood for something more mature. Also, modern day family movies have become uglier, with obnoxious child characters among other distasteful things. Every so often there is a family movie with a main child character that I like such as Kenny & Company, but these rare movies are smartly made in a way to appeal to the child in all of us. And intelligence is in short supply in movies these days.

As you've guessed, the movie that I'm reviewing here - Kid Colter - is a family movie with a child character up front and center. You are probably wondering why on earth I decided to review it after what I've told you. There are several reasons. First, the original box art (shown Kid Colteron the right hand side of this paragraph) intrigued me ever since I first saw the VHS case as a teenager. The second thing was that the front of the box of the Canadian VHS release proclaimed the movie got an "award of excellence" by the "Film Advisory Board". Who on earth would label their board with such a generic name? The third reason was that the plot of the movie suggested that though the movie was about a kid, it involved a kid being thrust in a situation where he would have to think and act seriously and put his childish ways aside in order to survive. Though the movie starts off in a more innocent fashion at first. At the start of the movie, we are introduced to Justin Colter (played by Jeremy Shamos), a twelve year old kid who lives in Boston with his divorced mother. Not long into the movie, Justin is sent to the Pacific Northwest to spend some time with his father (played by country music star Jim Stafford) in the wilderness, something he's not looking forward to since it will take him away from his computer and video games. But Justin makes the trip all the same, and over the next few weeks at his father's home, he slowly learns about the wilderness and how to live in it. When Justin trip has ended and he starts on his journey back to his mother in Boston, things turn for the worse. He happens to get into his possession a roll of film with pictures extremely valuable to some evil spies, and he is kidnapped by these evil characters. He is taken deep into the wilderness and handed over to some new but equally bad people - a couple of hillbillies - to be disposed of permanently. Justin manages to escape from his captors, but not only finds himself still stuck in the middle of the wilderness, but with his captors pursuing him. Justin quickly realizes it will take all of his skills to make the long journey to civilization without being caught or killed by either his captors or from the various dangers in the wilderness.

When it comes to making a successful family movie, filmmakers have one particular challenge that they don't have with the making of movies strictly for kids - or strictly for adults, for that matter. This particular challenge is to have characters in the movie that both kids and adults will find palatable and believable in whatever particular environment the movie takes place in. With that in mind, how do the characters in Kid Colter stand up? I'll start by taking a look at the movie's title and central character, the kid. The character of Justin is, thank goodness, a very palatable and likable youngster. In some aspects he is mature for his age (he is seen reading A Man Called Intrepid at one point), but for the most part he is a down to earth pre-teen. Justin is shown to be polite and respectful to adults and people his age. He is not perfect, making some mistakes along the way, but they are mistakes that other people in his shoes could very well make. Playing Justin, child actor Jeremy Shamos is not the least bit obnoxious, and while not a great actor, does all the same manage to acceptably sell his character to both kids and adults in the audience. One other likable character found in Kid Colter is that of Justin's father Bill. He comes across as a nice guy and a man who clearly loves his son and welcomes him visiting him. He also has a friendly relationship with his ex-wife, among other positive attributes. Like his young co-star, non-actor Jim Stafford does not give a fabulous performance, but he has an easygoing charisma that fits very well with the nice attributes given to his character in the screenplay.

However, while the characters of Jeremy and Bill are pleasing enough, there are some characters and performances that are strictly from amateur night. Let me make it clear, however, that I am not blaming the actors for these botched characters. Instead, I am blaming writer/director David O'Malley (Mountain Man), for reasons I'll get to shortly. Actor Jim Turner (Arli$$) has a cameo as a weathered lunatic mountain man the character of Justin stumbles across in the woods, and he outrageously overacts. But even worse are the two spies played by Thomas Peterson (Sole Survivor) and Tom Hammonds, and the two hillbillies played by Hal Terrance and Greg Ward (Larger Than Life). All four characters share one big problem: They are not only not evil enough, they are pretty dimwitted, enough to be downright obnoxious at times. This results in scenes like when one hillbilly shoots his television set when events on a soap opera he is watching upset him. I know, I know - if these four characters were made to be more realistic, they might scare kids in the audience. But so what? Kids should know that there are some really bad people in this world, so that they can be prepared when they find themselves on their own in whatever wilderness (urban or countryside) they may be in. But I'm not just objecting that these characters would be a bad influence on kids in the audience, but that they don't fit in well with the other parts of the movie. Up to the point when these four antagonists are properly introduced, the movie has been a sober and down to earth tale. But when these four characters show up, the movie almost becomes a live action cartoon. The two drastically different tones simply don't mesh well together, and in the end we have a movie that seems like half was done by one filmmaker with one vision, and the other half by another filmmaker with another vision.

Although I would have preferred Kid Colter to be sober and serious throughout, I would have accepted a complete live action cartoon-like tone throughout rather than the actual end results. However, there would more likely than not still be other big problems to be found with the movie. One thing I think that both kids and adults in the audience will object to is how slow and unexciting most of the movie is. It takes more than a third of the movie before Jeremy is kidnapped, and that third of the movie often flows at the speed of molasses. Things do pick up slightly once Jeremy is kidnapped, but it's not enough. As Jeremy makes his way through the forest, pursued by the hillbillies, there's usually no feeling that this kid is in the least bit of peril or danger. Instead, there's more often than not an almost casual and relaxed feeling instead. There is some action here and there, but it never really engages the audience due to the surrounding soft feeling. Writer/director O'Malley even manages to screw up what should have been easy even for a novice director, the scenery. Although the movie actually shot in the state of Washington, it was unfortunately shot during the fall or winter. The sky is constantly overcast, and everything looks extremely cold and wet. Instead of my breath being taken away by the backdrop, the miserable look of everything made me shiver in my seat and made me feel sorry for the actors having to perform in such dismal conditions. I think even kids will be thinking, "Why didn't they make this movie during the spring or summer?" To sum up, Kid Colter is an almost complete miss. If your kid is bored and wants some entertainment, hand him or her a copy of A Man Called Intrepid rather than have him or her watch this movie.

(Posted March 30, 2017)

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See also: Against A Crooked Sky, Seven Alone, White Wolves

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