Mission Without Permission Review
Inadvertently, Mission Without Permission (retitled for the UK market, having previously been released as Catch That Kid in the US) serves a purpose as a cinematic State of the Union; one film in which a whole series of errors combine to offer a perfect demonstration of what can, and does, go wrong in the modern US film industry. Perhaps it shouldn’t be made required viewing for anyone aiming for a career in Hollywood, but such thinking does at least make its 87 minutes hold more fascination that they have any right to.
If, being unsurprisingly unfamiliar with the title, you’ve had a quick scan of the credits, director Bart Freundlich may possibly prompt a slight twinge of recognition. In 1997 he wrote, director and partly produced his debut feature, The Myth of Fingerprints, a film which, whilst not perfect, displayed promise and had earned itself a screening at that year’s London Film Festival. Seven years down the line, and unable to build on that promise (there was the little seen World Traveler in 2001), he finds himself as a director for hire. Insulting enough you would imagine, yet this is topped by being given a film which plays to none of his strengths. Rather than working on another keenly observed chamber piece, he has the ignominy of directing (no space for a writer and/or producer credit here) a small-scale children’s picture vainly trying to catch some of the success garnered by Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids series.
Moreover, Mission Without Permission represents another of those cynical Hollywood creations: the remake of a minor European film which had proved a minor success in its home territories, in this case Sweden’s Klatretosen (2002). Of course, generic exercises from foreign markets (or at least non-Asian ones) are deemed too risky, yet surely the indignity of a release in a poorly dubbed form must surely mark an improvement over this. That said, plotwise the two films are identical: a trio of youngsters set out on an extravagant bank heist in order to fund an expensive operation for the father of one of their number. Outside of this surprising lapse in morality (especially for a children’s film), however, Mission Without Permission never rises above the perfunctory. There may be an attempt at an emotional centre with the ailing parent and selfless child, but the decision to have the adult population consist almost entirely of two-dimensional comic stooges (Sam Robards and Jennifer Beals, as the parents, get to play it straight) completely undermines any serious edge. Moreover, the robbery itself commands almost three-quarters of the film’s duration, thereby preventing any development and reducing any characterisation to utter triviality, constantly playing second fiddle to the product placement.
Such a lengthy heist sequence will inevitable draw comparisons with Jules Dassin’s Rififi (and, perhaps, his later Topkapi, or even Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Cercle rouge), though, of course, Mission Without Permission cannot live up to them. Admittedly, the foregrounding of the set-piece (so much so that the film is essentially just that) does inject the proceedings with a certain pace, but whereas Rififi’s centrepiece famously took place in complete silence, Mission Without Permission is brash and noisy. Sanitised rock and techno are the order of the day, alongside screeching go-karts (plausibility being kept to the bare minimum) and tin-eared dialogue, demonstrating that for its bluster, this is a film with nothing to say.
Unsurprisingly for such a recent film, Mission Without Permission looks fine on disc. The relentlessly noisy soundtrack is well served by a busy DD5.1 mix, whilst the picture gets an anamorphic transfer (of the original 1.85:1 ratio). Taking place mostly at night or in darkened rooms, the disc needs to be able to cope with shadowy images and does so exceptionally well.
As for the extras, however, these bizarrely have little to do with the main feature. Outside of a handful of deleted scenes presumably cut for reasons of timing, there is also a featurette, a batch of trailers and a short film. The first is, strangely, an EPK for Garfield the Movie and as such presents nothing of interest whatsoever (partially because of the film itself, and partially because such featurettes never rise above the banal). The trailers again cover Garfield, plus Bratz (whose disc comes with exclusive handbag!) and Fox’s various Simpsons releases. And the short film turns out to be a sequel of sorts to Ice Age, Fox’s attempt to muscle in on the CG animation market. Entitled Gone Nutty! this piece follows Scrat, the only character of any interest in its predecessor, through an absurdist adventure which recalls that film’s opening (and best) sequence. It’s certainly not worth the price of the disc (and presumably it will crop up on other Fox titles), but it’s a likeable addition.