Originally scheduled to open opposite Spy Kids 3 last summer, Bart Freundlich’s $18 million kiddie caper movie is slow-moving, even for a February release. While it deploys stunts, gadgets, and special effects, not to mention a spunky girl protagonist, Catch That Kid never quite overcomes its ungainly alternations between exposition and episode, and no individual moment ever quite connects with another.
Maddy (Kristen Stewart) likes to climb mountains and rocks. You know this because she’s introduced in appropriate gear, with expensive lines and hooks and shoes, each item displayed in admiring close-up. As her family lives in the city, she’s left to climb buildings, scurrying up alongside drainpipes and marking her height with chalk every time she reaches a new goal. Maddy’s into this particular activity because she emulates her dad Tom (Sam Robards), or rather her dad’s former self, as he’s suffered a terrible climbing accident on Mount Everest that left him with a scar on his back, a job running go-cart races, and a lingering malady that suddenly blossoms into Desperate Circumstance. He faints, lands in the hospital, and needs surgery costing $250,000, that can, incidentally, only be performed in Denmark (a seemingly odd choice, until you remember that the film is a remake of a Danish movie, Klatretosen.)
This is way out of range for Maddy’s mother, Molly (Jennifer Beals), who does her best to hold it together. In between regularly assigning Maddy to babysit for her younger brother (he becomes something of a hip accessory, or maybe more accurately, a portable reaction shot), mom designs security systems. As the crisis hits, she’s just finished one for a bank run by the Mr. Smithersish Mr. Brisbane (Michael des Barres), who won’t even give her a loan for her husband’s operation. To pile on the convenient complications—though Molly warns Brisbane that the system is not yet ready to go online, he decides to go on with a big opening fete, anyway.
This creates a big splashy opportunity for Maddy, who decides to rob the bank and deliver the cash to her father’s hospital bedside, like the terrifically imaginative good daughter that she is. It’s a heavy load for a child to bear, feeling responsible for father’s very life, but Maddy takes it in stride, charming the sweet-natured bank manager, Hartmann (John Carroll Lynch), into giving her a tour of all the security facilities, including the password to open every lock.
Maddy also enlists the help of her two best friends, computer geek Austin (Corbin Bleu) and go-cart racer Gus (Max Theriot). She’s not a little conniving in her efforts to get her way, pretending for each eagerly adoring boy that he is the love of her young life. Poor guys: they both fall, hard. This metaphor comes up repeatedly in Catch That Kid: remembering well that her dad fell (100 feet), Maddy’s also afraid she might fall (the 100 feet marker looms for her), and for some bizarre reason, the bank vault is located at the top of a stairless and ladderless wall (just how the adults were thinking they would reach the vault is not so clear), that Maddy climbs while Gus looks on from the floor, narrating each step for the rest of us.
Toward the end of plying their troths, the boys fulfill their character traits. Gus tricks out a trio of g-carts so they can drive them to and from the bank (in traffic—this doesn’t seem the most inconspicuous way to get around d in the city, but, well, they look fast, for a minute). And Austin whips up a 3D holographic bank plan, based on an architect’s model—when this fancy apparition starts whooshing and swaying in Austin’s bedroom, you have to wonder, how come he doesn’t have a very well-paying job designing such things, so they wouldn’t have to go through all these illegal hijinks?
As the movie lurches from plot point to plot point, it pauses occasionally for an adult antic, primarily by the bank’s cocky security guard (James LeGros, a Freundlich regular), but it lacks the sort of spastic energy that makes so many children’s movies simultaneously alarming and entertaining. Worse, it lacks wit—by the time Molly sits Maddy down to tell her that what she’s done is “wrong,” the moral lesson seems both too late and too serious.