Wednesday, July 29, 1998

Fractured-family fantasy

Movie: The Parent Trap

Posted on Wed, Jul 29, 1998 at 4:00 AM

Our Rating: 2.00

The Walt Disney studios, with the remake of "The Parent Trap" nearly three decades after the beloved original, may have consigned a whole new generation of children of divorce to a long future of psychotherapy.

The genial romantic comedy, starring all-American guy Dennis Quaid and elegant Brit Natasha Richardson as the split parents of identical twins played by perky Lindsey Lohan, unfortunately is loaded with a screwy, downright damaging message.

The misguided moral to this story: Kids who are cute enough, smart enough and good enough ultimately will succeed in reuniting their fractured families. That's fantasy. And children already burdened with plenty of guilt about their parents' divorce don't need Hollywood to reinforce that mistaken idea.

But why fool with a successful formula when boffo box-office earnings are at stake?

The twist on the new version of the 1961 Hayley Mills' film has the sisters hailing from opposite sides of the Atlantic. Annie lives in London with her mom (Richardson, of "Widow's Peak"), a dress designer with celebrity clients and a butler. Hallie lives in northern California with her dad (Quaid, lately seen in "Dragonheart" and "Something to Talk About"), the owner of a profitable vineyard.

Lohan, as cute and as spirited as required for the job, portrays the freckled, red-haired twins -- who accidentally meet at an East Coast summer camp -- distinguished from one another by a handful of differences.

Annie, a reserved fashion plate with long hair, is given to faux aristocratic expressions in an English accent that tends to drift, and she's better at fencing than her twin. Hallie, with shorter hair and pierced ears, is more of a tomboy, and able to beat her future best friend at cards.

The two contrive to secretly switch places, and the real fun begins, as Hallie finally meets her mother and grandfather in England. Cue the scenery of Big Ben and other London landmarks. Annie in turn gets to know her father in California, a great opportunity to fill the frame with shots of the Napa Valley.

The big obstacle, other than the obvious one of a decade's worth of personality change, is pop's impending wedding to Meredith Blake (Elaine Hendrix), a leggy, blonde 26-year-old publicist whose intentions are less than pure. During a camping trip with dad and his trophy girlfriend, Hallie and Annie play a series of increasingly nasty pranks on the woman they refer to as Cruella de Vil. She finally exits, offering yet another reason for step-families to avoid this movie like the plague.

The teary, feel-good finale provides the conclusion viewers have been preparing for all along, with three couples -- the loving parents, their twins and a surprise pair -- vowing to forge futures together. Who's giving up a career for the sake of romance? Don't worry about it. It will all work out.

Another complaint: Does it bug anyone else that once potent music from earlier eras is again gratuitously appropriated as shorthand for character traits? The Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun," George Thorogood's "Bad to the Bone" and other gems from the '60s, '70s and early '80s are great to hear, but they're likely to shoot straight over the heads of the preteen audience members. Maybe it's a consolation for the chaperones in the crowd.



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