SXSW Film Review: Midnight Special

A child with an array of special powers needs transported to a specific location while avoiding capture by the government. That’s the plot to “Midnight Special.” It’s also the plot to Disney’s “Race Witch Mountain,” and I liked the remake with the Rock a lot more than the garbled nonsense in “Midnight Special”. No, no matter how you package it, there is nothing special about “Midnight Special.”midnight special

When you first meet Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) he’s been ‘kidnapped’ according to the news. But he’s under no distress, yet, you immediately know that something weird is going on with the child because he is wearing goggles at night for some unspecified reason. In the first act, Midnight Special” tries to play their cards close to the chest, which keeps audiences intrigued for a little while as the “whys” build up. Adding to the intrigue is that the kid was kidnapped from a mega-church-like cult commune. What happened there? Abuse? Brainwash? Sadly, nothing that interesting. As the movie sloppily fills in answers, the disappointment builds.

What makes Alton so special? The answer and his specialness is pretty half-baked and randomly inserted when the movie slows to molasses and needs a kickstart. The goggles from the poster are quickly abandoned when they don’t serve a purpose to the plot. In fact, half of the kids’ powers are inconsistent and only used when the film needs a ‘wow’ moment for a particular character. There is some nuggets that could be interesting for a religious and spiritual exploration as some characters have a faith-based interest in Alton while others require science to believe in his uniqueness, but even that is abandoned when it doesn’t serve a purpose. There’s some loose attempts at a Jesus analogy, but it’s not really effective. The inconsistencies are the only constant, which is why I’m so shocked other critics could even hope to give this film a decent review.

The saving grace of “Midnight Special” is the cast. Michael Shannon brings his role as Alton’s father a much needed sense of urgency and Joel Edgerton as the sheriff turned follower Lucas helps sell the wonderment when given so little to work with. Newcomer Jaeden Lieberher as Alton brings a gravitas to his youthful exterior that would have been more powerful in showing his specialness if it wasn’t accented with the crappy JJ-Abrams wannabe lens flare effects forced on him from time to time.

“Midnight Special” could have been and should have been something special. Sadly, it’s a cliched, garbled mess that pretends it is something “smart.” It’s not. Don’t be fooled. If you still want to try and see it for the cast’s sakes, “Midnight Special” is playing in select theaters now with a wide release April 1, 2016.

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