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Unaccompanied Minors DVD Review

Unaccompanied Minors movie poster Unaccompanied Minors

Theatrical Release: December 8, 2006 / Running Time: 90 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Paul Feig

Cast: Lewis Black (Oliver Porter), Wilmer Valderrama (Zach Van Bourke), Tyler James Williams (Charlie Goldfinch), Dyllan Christopher (Spencer Davenport), Brett Kelly (Timothy "Beef" Wellington), Gina Mantegna (Grace Conrad), Quinn Shephard (Donna Malone), Paget Brewster (Valerie Davenport), Rob Corddry (San Davenport), Dominique Saldaρa (Katherine Davenport), Jessica Walter (Cindi), Rob Riggle (Head Guard Hoffman), Michelle Sandler (Mary Lynn), David Koechner (Ernie), B.J. Novak (Desk Attendant), Mindy Kaling (Restaurant Hostess), Kevin McDonald (Guard in the Hall #1), Bruce McCullough (Guard in the Hall #2), Mark McKinney (Guard in the Hall #3), Dave (Gruber) Allen (Gas Station Attendant), Steve Bannos (Tree Salesman), Tony Hale (Alan Davies), Cedric Yarbrough (Melvin Goldfinch), Kristen Wiig (Carole Malone), Nick Thune (Handsome Santa), Teri Garr (Judy - uncredited)

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Take the basic premises of Home Alone and The Terminal, lose all the dramatic content, multiply the protagonist by five, and you get Unaccompanied Minors. Of the three critically-drubbed, family-friendly, Christmas-themed comedies released to theaters last fall, Unaccompanied opened latest, had the youngest leading cast, and drew the smallest audience.
Now it beats The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause and Deck the Halls to DVD, having arrived on disc in early August, three full months before the window usually reserved for holidays-set fare.

Unaccompanied Minors deals with five pre-teens who are stranded at the fictitious Hoover International Airport on Christmas Eve. There's lots of snow falling outside wherever Hoover is, leaving anyone in the titular group -- children traveling without adults -- to have their transferring flights cancelled.

Before anything happens, our main characters are established. Spencer (Dyllan Christopher) is the slightly dorky but normal young lead who is saddled with a little sister (Dominique Saldana) that's very concerned about Santa Claus finding her. Charlie (Tyler James Williams, "Everybody Hates Chris") is a preppy, by-the-book kid already thinking about his college prospects. "Beef" (Brett Kelly, this decade's Patrick Renna and "The Kid" from Bad Santa) is a hefty 12-year-old who says little and based on the firmness with which he grips his ever-handy Aquaman figure, may not be all there. Donna (Quinn Shephard) is a standoffish, tomboyish, somewhat emo girl. And then there's the "hot girl" Grace (Gina Mantegna), who is rich, spoiled, and an inevitable love interest.

Spencer (Dyllan Christopher), Donna (Quinn Shephard), Grace (Gina Mantegna), and Charlie (Tyler James Williams) plot their next authority-defying move in "Unaccompanied Minors." Rant comedian Lewis Black plays Oliver Porter, the airport's grouchy antagonist who is not amused by the kids' antics.

Logic comes into question early when the film's villain, a grouchy airport suit named Oliver Porter (stand-up comedian and "The Daily Show" commentator Lewis Black), is informed that "All flights to Hawaii have been cancelled due to heavy snow." Because airports typically announce weather-sparked cancellations based on destination and tropical islands are the first to go? Of course, it's a way of showing our antagonist will be in a particularly bad mood because instead of going on vacation, he's working this December 24th. But it also clues you in that realism shouldn't be sought in this film, which probably explains why airport security guards didn't protest their unflattering depiction the way their flight attendant brethren sillily did over Flightplan.

The film proceeds to cover the hijinks of the five kids, who escape from the loud, unruly Unaccompanied Minors room for some airport fun. In the process, they miss out getting transferred to the lush lounge nearby the airport where Spencer's young sister ends up. With the roads now closed, Oliver decides to keep the kids in the dirty, drab UM lounge under the supervision of the thankless Zach Van Bourke (Wilmer Valderrama, "That '70s Show"). Through some Breakfast Club-type plotting, Spencer, Charlie, Beef, Donna, and Grace sneak out again. They end up in an unclaimed baggage lot, and soon the cat-and-mouse continues with the relentless Oliver, the torn Zach in pursuit of the adventure-loving tweens.

Though it has an interesting premise in place, Unaccompanied falters due to its unappealing characters. None of the five chased leads emerges with any real likability. They're one-dimensional and each persona's lone dimension is fairly grating or phony-feeling. They're also not funny, most noticeably Williams, who is given ample opportunity to ham it up in broad gags. That would be completely forgivable -- how often are kids humorous in more than a cute way? -- if the situations were entertaining or even just fun enough to qualify this as the comedy it's billed as. At best, however, the scenarios are mildly diverting.

Move over Cohen and Renna, there's a new curly-haired kid in town, and his name is Brett Kelly. Rob Corddry supplies laughs as the misadventure-riddled environmentalist on his way to pick up his son.

The adults don't fare much better. In a cast widely composed of recognizable comedic actors, few are allowed to do anything amusing. Appearing are supporting cast members from such winning TV comedies as "The Office" and "Freaks and Geeks" (created by director Paul Feig), plus three of the five stars of "The Kids in the Hall." They don't get much out of the lifeless script and their limited opportunities to improvise from it. One exception is Rob Corddry of "The Daily Show" who earns laughs as Tyler's extreme environmentalist father making the long, arduous trip from Philadelphia to the airport. His occasional co-star Black claims top billing and plenty of screentime, but his ranting, obnoxious shtick does not a funny foe make.

Before it wraps up, Unaccompanied goes some length towards redeeming itself. The obligatory merry Christmas ending manages to not feel schmaltzy or hackneyed, though all earlier signs point otherwise.
The film even strikes a chord for those with divorced or difficult families; it's repeatedly observed that the friendships formed provide cheer greater than what's expected at the kids' varied, unexciting destinations. The solid final act -- which even produces some decent dramatic work from Lewis Black -- isn't enough to redeem the film as a whole, but it does leave the viewer with a moderately good feeling.

Among the hundreds of available Christmas movies and specials, Unaccompanied definitely isn't good enough to make it into the annual holiday viewing requisites list, but I'm confident that many of today's tweens will enjoy it quite a bit (and perhaps years from now will look back at it with fondness). Their parents may also find the movie worth investing in, if only for Corddry's character and the impressive roster of supporting players. As for cynical folks and anyone with a low tolerance for kid-driven comedies (and there are lots of you out there), you'd be best to avoid, at least until a time when holiday joy makes you a little more forgiving to movies with lots of glaring weaknesses.

Buy Unaccompanied Minors on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen,
1.33:1 Reformatted Fullscreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish; Closed Captioned
Release Date: August 7, 2007
Double-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-10)
Suggested Retail Price: $14.98
(Reduced from $28.98)
Black Keepcase


Not really the type of movie you'd expect to see in 2.40:1 widescreen, Unaccompanied Minors arrives on DVD in both this wide native theatrical aspect ratio and a 4x3 television-filling 1.33:1 presentation, on opposite sides of a DVD-10. Being asked to comment on new studio films' DVD releases' picture/sound without repeating myself often proves challenging. I can't allow myself to repeat "It's a new movie and it looks just great". Fortunately for me (and unfortunately for viewers), Minors gives me something different to say: It's a new movie and it doesn't look so great. On an average 27" television, the visuals seemed okay and technically sound. On a DVD-ROM that simulates large-screen displays, grain, softness, and ringing were more prevalent than on any recent movie I've come across in a while. It's something I'd more expect to see on an overly-compressed watermarked screener than final product, but it's the latter I'm judging. That's both surprising and disappointing and those with high-end home theaters will lament choosing between this and nothing, as no high-definition release has been made available.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is less troubled. The mix of neighbor-waking bursts of music and softer stretches of dialogue may have you reaching for the remote, but the pop-heavy audio delivers a reasonable good time and doesn't challenge one's hearing acuteness.

More to his delight than ours, Tyler James Williams dances at length in "Charlie's Dance Reel", which doubles as an outtakes montage. Spencer enjoys the perfect mall meeting with dream girl Ashley in this proposed opening that was deleted. Kids in the Hall Bruce McCullough, Mark McKinney, and Kevin McDonald are the Guards in the Hall in this extended improv session that runs over 20 minutes.


The biggest bonus among a modest selection is an audio commentary by director Paul Feig, writers Jacob Meszaros and Mya Stark, and actor Lewis Black. Feig is generally a funny guy and,
happily, he does the brunt of the talking on a track that gladly opts for a light tone. He mentions deleted scenes that aren't included, but most other observations are less frustrating. He points out actors in minor roles that hold some importance and reveals a lot of the movie magic used to stretch the film's modest budget. (For instance, a Utah public library was often used to stand in for Hoover, and a real airport was only used briefly as a filming location.) While those with a less than glowing reaction to the film might grow uncomfortable with the mentions of harsh critics, on the whole this commentary is easy to digest, quite insightful, and appropriately entertaining.

"Charlie's Dance Reel" (3:15) finds Tyler James Williams dancing at length. It isn't especially entertaining, but there are also some mildly amusing outtakes sprinkled throughout.

Seven additional scenes are provided. Outside of the first sequence (an alternate opening in which Spencer dreams of meeting an attractive older girl), the deletions are very brief moments that would merely have extended existing scenes or montages. Some can be labeled humorous, so if you liked the movie, these are worth checking out. They don't demand much time investment, collectively running just over 5 minutes excluding the excessive copyright notices.

"Guards in the Hall" offers 20½ minutes of improvising done by the three "Kids in the Hall" cast members playing security guards (Mark McKinney, Kevin McDonald, and Bruce McCullough). In character, they riff about their professions, Christmas, and anything else that comes to mind. Some of it's funny and about 95% of it didn't make it into the film, but it's still a bit of an endurance challenge to spend so much time on three people talking in a long shot.

No trailers for Unaccompanied Minors or any other movies are found on either side of the disc. No insert is found inside the keepcase.

Like the package artwork, the static menus use the poster imagery without the Christmas elements like the previously prominent wreath and holly. A few brief selections of the score (including an instrumental sampling of "O Christmas Tree") accompany the main menu, but the other screens are silent.

It's lovely weather for a... downhill boat ride? Charlie leads down a group that includes beleaguered airport page Zach Van Bourke (Wilmer Valderrama, 2nd from right). The Unaccompanied Minors pose for their obligatory group lineup photo.


Unaccompanied Minors doesn't even come close to entering the Holiday Movie Hall of Fame, but it also doesn't provide the painful kiddie film you might expect and therefore avoid. Despite the plentiful talent on hand here, there's not enough to yield the fun family Christmas comedy that is attempted. A fine conclusion helps to overlook the earlier parts' shortcomings, but upon reflection, the film as a whole lands squarely on mediocrity.

Warner's DVD wisely supplies both fullscreen and widescreen versions of the movie, sparing customers the wrong-purchase-and-exchange or a harried-cell-phone-call. Its bonus features are appropriate, diverting, and very easy to take. The lacking picture quality, however, is sure to disappoint any fan with high home theater standards, a class that's admittedly quite small in relationship to the somewhat successfully targeted tween audience.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

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Reviewed September 3, 2007.

Text copyright 2007 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2007 Warner Bros. Pictures, Village Roadshow Pictures, The Donners' Company, and Warner Home Video.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.