Rated PG-13 - Running time: 1:33 - Released 2/27/98

You know, for a hugely wealthy corporate enterprise such as Disney, they certainly seem to have a great deal of trouble doing the one thing that got them there in the first place. I applaud them for their many classic achievements, but lately I'm becoming more and more convinced that the writers have all left the building.

In this terribly stupid story, penned by Frank Parkin and Charlie Peters and directed by Todd Holland, college professor James Krippendorf (Richard Dreyfuss) is an anthropologist who has gone on an expedition to New Guinea to discover a tribe that doesn't exist. This, of course, begs the question: why did he think it was there in the first place? After the death of his beloved wife, he is left with three children: a teenage daughter, Shelly (Natasha Lyonne), who runs the house and openly regards her disorganized father as a loser; a preteen son, Mickey (Gregory Smith), who supports James so enthusiastically that he frequently gets him in trouble; and a younger boy, Edmund (Carl Michael Lindner), who hasn't spoken to his dad since his mother died.

James wakes up one day to discover that he is supposed to make a speech in front of a huge crowd of students, faculty, and the general anthropological community, describing his findings in New Guinea. This comes as a complete surprise to him, as if he didn't even know it had been scheduled. When he arrives at the packed auditorium, knowing that he must not admit that he has spent all his grant money and come up with nothing, he quickly makes up a name for his lost tribe — the "Shelmikedmu" — based on the first letters of his children's names.

Despite the skepticism of his nasty, conceited fellow anthopologist, Ruth Allen (Lily Tomlin), and the bothersome, overzealous support of another professor, Veronica Micelli (Jenna Elfman), he gets through the speech. When asked to produce film footage, he converts his back yard into a movie studio and his children into African natives, and makes a tape using this film interspersed with some real footage he and his wife took in Africa before she died. From there on, the movie is simply James's attempt to deceive the world, despite his ineptness, his daughter's disapproval, and the obvious certainty that eventually he'll be found out. And there's plenty of bathroom humor and sexual innuendo to go around.

This piece of tripe could be a clever idea, if the script weren't so full of incongruities. Statements are made and later patently contradicted. Relationships are inexplicably hostile, and then just as inexplicably friendly, or vice versa. None of the characters are developed beyond the need to fulfill some lame plot contrivance. And when the film wraps up, we have hammered home the shining moral of the story: "Dishonesty, if it can provide financial gain or political respectability, Is The Best Policy". Thanks for the gumball, Mickey. *

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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