Film review: Alaska

Published: Tuesday, May 1 2001 2:01 p.m. MDT

There's no mistaking "Alaska" with a true-life adventure. Featuring some of the most ludicrous plot twists ever in a "family film," its only saving graces are its beautiful scenery and a scene-stealing polar bear cub.

Of course, that might have helped if the movie wasn't saddled with really bad performances, an awful script straight out of a TV movie of the week and one of the least appealing, most irritating young heroes in recent screen history.

Also, the film tries to have a social conscience, but its messages (about saving the environment, poaching and animal cruelty) are delivered in a such a ham-fisted manner that they're more headache-inducing than eye-opening.

Young actors Thora Birch ("Now and Then") and Vincent Kartheiser ("Little Big League") star as Jessie and Sean Barnes, two teenagers who set off into the Alaskan wilderness to find their father, Jake (Dirk Benedict), a pilot who has crashed in the mountains while trying to deliver urgently needed medical supplies.

While his plane rests precipitously on the top of a cliff, the bickering duo kayaks the most perilous rapids and climbs the highest mountains to rescue him. Aiding them is Cubby, a polar bear cub whose mother was killed a pair of poachers (Charlton Heston and Gordon Tootoosis) who want to sell the cub to black marketers.

That the plot leads to beautiful location shots (in both southern British Columbia and Mount McKinley) is obvious, but director Fraser Heston (Charlton Heston's son) so falls in love with the scenery that he completely forgets about effective storytelling.

Many scenes drag along ponderously, while the actors seem to be making some of their lines up — or else, screenwriters Andy Burg and Scott Myers think there's something fresh about cliches and unconvincing, but hilariously wooden, dialogue.

Worse still, the audience is supposed to believe that two teenagers (who only know about mountain climbing from ESPN!) could survive in the harsh Alaska wilderness and actually find their dad, while more experienced search pilots miss his bright yellow plane sitting near the top of a mountain.

It would help the film if there was at least one convincing or believable character, but the performances are as lackluster as the script. Without much direction, Birch seems lost and Heston (the actor) hams it up like he's on a sitcom. And Kartheiser is so whiny that you'll be rooting for him to get lost along the way.

Only Agee, the cub portraying Cubby, comes off OK. If Heston (the director) has been wise enough to make "Cubby, the Bear Who Saved a Family," the film might have been watchable. Unfortunately, the cute-and-cuddly animal hero isn't around for nearly long enough.

"Alaska" is rated PG for violence, including scenes of bears attacking humans, and profanity.

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