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Predictability takes the fun out of 'Hide and Seek'

| Friday, Jan. 28, 2005

Because it holds attention throughout, I wish I could report more favorably on "Hide and Seek," another descendant in "The Sixth Sense's" burgeoning family tree.

It's a mystery of sorts that people functioning above the neck can get into. But it misses nary a cliche of an abused genre.

In the New York apartment of psychologist David Callaway (Robert De Niro), wife Alison (Amy Irving, too seldom visible lately) playfully puts to bed their daughter Emily (Dakota Fanning).

The scene plays with a candied bliss that guarantees either Mommy is about to be off'd or the child stolen.

Cut to a shot of Mommy in a bloody bathtub lighted by several candles.

Once again, Hollywood reminds me I'm the last person extant whose bathroom isn't illuminated by countless candles.

When neither Daddy nor fellow psychologist Katherine (Famke Janssen) can urge Emily out of her near-comatose funk, David takes Emily for an indefinite stay upstate in woodsy Woodland. Has he no patients• No other life?

David tries being friendly with neighbors such as Elizabeth (Elizabeth Shue) and Laura (Melissa Leo), but he's put off a little by Sheriff Hafferty (Dylan Baker) and a lot by the rather-too-friendly neighbor Steven (Robert John Burke).

The least welcome visitor is Emily's imaginary friend Charlie, who seems to titillate her at first.

Is she schizophrenic• Is there really a Charlie•

If done even somewhat competently, movies like "Hide and Seek" can be a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, despite an unsettling score by John Ottman, director John Polson ("Swimfan") indulges an exceptionally high quotient of contrivances and red herrings in the screenplay by newcomer Art Schlossberg.

Fanning, 10, is an efficient little actress ("I Am Sam," "Man on Fire") who here gives a mechanically accomplished performance that lacks any purely intuitive feeling.

"Hide and Seek" isn't so much a mystery as it is a protracted trick. At some point, audience members who have been around the corner a few times will catch on -- perhaps earlier than intended -- and not because the movie plays fair but because it adheres so rigorously to a familiar strain of hokum.

Watchable• Absolutely. Let's just say it isn't a thriller that can withstand scrutiny even through bottlecap glasses. Additional Information:

Details

'Hide and Seek'

Director : John Polson

Stars : Robert De Niro, Dakota Fanning, Elizabeth Shue

MPAA rating : R for frightening sequences and violence

Two and a half stars

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