Simon Lynch (Hughes) is an autistic child, who, though he can barely
relate to anyone including his loving parents (John Carroll Lynch, Kelley
Hazen), possesses an uncanny ability to decipher puzzles. He can run his
pen from start to finish through the most difficult maze without error or
hesitation. When his teacher gives him a new book of brain-teasers, he is
intrigued by a page of numbers, letters, and symbols that to you and me
would just look like gibberish. But upon seeing it, he dials the phone and
calls the office of the most top-secret program in the U.S. government:
the Mercury Program.
The Mercury Program, headed by Lt. Colonel Nicholas Kudrow (Alec Baldwin),
has established this supposedly uncrackable code to protect U.S. informants
around the world. If it is ever deciphered, the safety of hundreds could
be compromised. But when he realizes that Simon figured it out without even
knowing what it means, he breathes a sigh of relief. The solution is simple:
off the child (and, of course, his parents).
An agent shows up at Simon's house and unceremoniously kills the parents,
but Simon disappears before the man can get him in his sights. That's when
FBI special agent Art Jeffries (Bruce Willis) is called in. He not only
finds Simon, but kidnaps him for his own good, of course and
begins his search for the reason this kid is so popular with the U.S. government.
The performances of the adults in this movie are nothing out of the ordinary.
Baldwin is his standard know-it-all suit; Willis is his standard renegade
tough guy with the heart of gold. And the script, written by Ryne Douglas
Pearson, who wrote the book (Simple Simon), with Lawrence Konner
and Mark Rosenthal, is nothing out of the ordinary either. It is strictly
run-of-the-mill Hollywood action, with U.S. government agents killing anyone
inconvenient to them.
Hughes is undoubtedly the star of this picture. His portrayal of an autistic
child whose ordered life has been thrown into chaos is quite unsettling.
His gaze is unfocused, aimed at the sky, mostly. His speech is slow and
deliberate, but seems not to be connected to reasonable thinking. He only
says things he has learned to say, through years of painstaking practice;
when presented with unfamiliar circumstances he instantly short-circuits
and becomes hysterical.
A word of warning for sensitive parents: though Hughes excels, this film is not for people who can't deal with child abuse. Simon is not abused in the traditional ways, but to him, simply being left with strangers is enough to rock his world. He's picked up, dragged around against his will, and placed in dangerous situations without so much as an "I'm sorry" from the supposedly sympathetic Jeffries. And witnessing the execution of his parents doesn't help. So if seeing a panicked kid screaming "Mommy!" puts you off, maybe you'd better give this one a miss. ***½
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