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MOVIE REVIEW Stephen King should be flattered by this one



Published: Thu, January 27, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Imaginary friend provides movie's hook.

By ROGER MOORE

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

Mustn't say which Stephen King novel and movie "Hide and Seek" rips off, because that would give too much away.

And really, the scares are rare enough in this ho-hum, little-girl-and-her-ghost thriller. No sense ruining any of them with a silly old movie review.

Robert De Niro plays a New York psychologist whose daughter (Dakota Fanning) turns into Wednesday Addams when they find mommy's body in a tub of blood.

He decides they need to move to the country.

Let's just hope Danny doesn't live here, Mrs. Torrance.

Whoops.

Danny doesn't. But Emily meets Charlie, an imaginary friend who plays her favorite game, hide and seek. He also seems to know her troubles, and seems bent on blaming Daddy for them. Strange things happen, then bad things.

There's a stillness, the unsettling vibe of the town, the too-friendly realtor, the nervous neighbors. The shrink is nagged by his star shrink student (Famke Janssen) about making this rural move without allowing himself and his daughter to mourn.

A mystery

And before you can say "Heeeere's Johnny," (whoops again), the good doctor starts to wonder just what is going on here.

The story has the feel of a meditation on grief, but there's little more than the film's barren, overcast look to reinforce that. What it's mainly about is "gotchas" -- gotchas it never delivers.

Elisabeth Shue shows up as a baby-sitter who's a little too fond of the same low-cut dress. She's here to provide the little levity the movie manages, joking about her niece, who takes foolish risks on the swing set.

"Is your little girl as crazy as her?"

Why, yes, she is.

Fanning, of "Uptown Girls," "Man on Fire" and "The Cat in the Hat," is a hollow-eyed horror here, a Goth girl in the making. Underneath the dark hair and dark clothes and morbid world view is a child trying to convince her father that the awful things that start to happen are traceable to Charlie. And Dad, a man of science, can't buy that.

Why care?

De Niro plays this doctor as a man with no hint of a bedside or couchside manner, a father who never hugs his grieving little girl. So naturally he's susceptible to that. He and Fanning never click as father and daughter, giving the whole relationship, and the movie, a clinical, bloodless feel. Give us a reason to care.

Director John Polson, a reformed actor, seems more concerned with maintaining the slim mystery here than in delivering real frights. Whatever Oscar-winner DeNiro and Oscar-nominee Shue took a shining (whoopsie) to in the script, what came out was cut-rate King.

And while there's no shame in paying homage to the master by borrowing from the works of his heyday 25 years ago, you really do him no honor when you hide what you should be seeking -- the fear.




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