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Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – Film Review

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Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Thomas Horn with Tom Hanks
Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) horsing around with dad Thomas Schell (Tom Hanks), whose death in the 9/11 attacks sets Oskar on a key-related quest © 2011 Warner Bros

Extremely lousy and incredibly cloying, this bloated Christmas turkey is one of the worst movies of 2011.

The normally reliable Tom Hanks now has the distinction of appearing in two painfully embarrassing films in a single year — but at least he isn’t onscreen as much in this maudlin and meandering misfire as he was in the lamentable Larry Crowne.

As Thomas Schell, a father so flawlessly perfect he could have sprung from a neglected orphan’s wish-fantasy, Hanks is a combination hero, playmate and best friend to his oh-so-preciously precocious young son Oskar (Thomas Horn). Unfortunately, the world’s greatest dad is unlucky enough to be making a delivery to Manhattan’s World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001.

The problem with using the 9/11 attacks as the basis for what’s supposed to be a quixotic quirky-kid dramedy isn’t that pimping the tragedy so shamelessly is in bad taste (although that point certainly could be argued). The problem is that this movie is so mawkishly sappy, aggravatingly over-earnest and thoroughly unconvincing that it isn’t worthy of association with an event that comes with so much inherent emotional resonance. This is the cinematic equivalent of an insincere and condescending politician who makes it a point to stand onstage with wounded war veterans, abused pets and handicapped children, just daring anyone to boo.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Thomas Horn
Clownishly attired Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn), equipped with his eccentric adventure accessories and ever-present anxiety tambourine that are supposed to seem charming © 2011 Warner Bros

Annoying Oskar is an overindulged and achingly eccentric tween twat who attends dad’s funeral in pajamas, carries a tambourine that he constantly rattles to ward off anxiety whenever he goes outside, and uses a walkie-talkie instead of the phone to chat with his grandmother in the next building. This high-verbal, full-of-himself know-it-all is the most irritatingly obnoxious movie brat to come along since the borderline-psychotic Max in 2009’s unwatchable Where the Wild Things Are.

In dead dad’s closet, Oskar finds a key in an envelope bearing only the word “Black.” He decides he must visit everyone named Black in New York’s five boroughs, using a systematic grid and random numbering system, until he finds whatever marvelous secret the mysterious key may unlock.

Incredibly, this contrived excuse for a plot was the basis of a novel (by Jonathan Safran Foer) that actually became a bestseller. I have no idea how faithful the screenplay by Eric Roth (who also wrote the film adaptations of Forrest Gump and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) may be to the source material. But if Foer’s version is even remotely as saccharine as what director Stephen Daldry has put onscreen, it’s amazing that readers didn’t die of insulin shock.

Nearly everything about this movie is grating, from the way Oskar keeps referring to 9/11 as “The Worst Day” to the way the manic little motormouth spouts entire paragraphs of overwritten exposition. A final twist involving his mother Linda (Sandra Bullock) manages to be even more insultingly ridiculous than everything that went before. And that’s saying something, because this heaping helping of hokum clocks in at over two-and-a-half hours.

The one enjoyable guilty-pleasure performance in the film is by Max von Sydow, a feat made even more impressive considering he’s playing the sort of character who could have originated in a middle-school creative-writing class and lacks any real-world credibility. Referred to only as “the renter,” he’s a mute tenant who lives in Oskar’s grandmother’s apartment and who most likely is Oskar’s grandfather, but the family’s not telling. Anyone believing this? Communicating only with short scribblings in a note pad, he lets the pained expressions on his time-worn face do the talking.

It’s too bad that Oskar doesn’t do the same.

[Rating: 0.5]

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close has a limited theatrical release in USA and Canada tomorrow, December 25, and a more general release on January 20, 2012. The UK release is February 3, and Australia February 23, 2012. You have been warned!