It’s Christmas Eve and Spencer is a none-too-happy teen. He has to put up with his little bratty sister, Katherine, as they wing their way cross-country for a Christmas break with Dad. On top of that indignation, his mom makes it his sole responsibility (being the man of the house since the divorce) to make this a good holiday for his simpering, Santa-believing sibling.
However, upon landing mid-trip at Hoover International Airport the kids find that all connecting flights have been grounded due to a gigantic snowstorm. As, ahem, unaccompanied minors, the two are hauled into a cavernous waiting area brimming with hundreds of rampaging children (“It’s like Lord of the Flies in here!”). Much to Spencer’s chagrin, Katherine settles in and starts being her embarrassing self again, so he finds (along with four other fed-up captives) a way to slip out and enjoy the amenities of the airport.
By the time the authorities realize the five are gone and herd them back together, all the other kids have been moved to a nearby lodge. As punishment for their misdeeds (and because of the worsening storm), Mr. Porter, the head of passenger relations, says that Spence and Co. will have to spend their Christmas Eve in the trashed airport waiting room. The kids grumble, “Smells like a horse died in here.” But then it dawns on Spencer that he made a promise to his mom. How can he live up to his word while stuck in this concrete prison? He needs a plan.
Spencer’s little sister always says and does things that are hugely embarrassing to her big brother, but he struggles through most of the movie to give her the merry Christmas that he promised Mom he’d deliver. And when Dad hears that the kids are stranded, he drives 2,000 miles (overcoming his own set of obstacles and mishaps) to reach them and bring them home. The kids are surprised that he came all that way, but Dad’s matter-of-fact about his dedication to them, saying simply, “Of course I did, I’m your dad.”
Using the fact that the five kids in Spencer’s “gang” are all from divorced or broken families to set the emotional stage (even Mr. Porter laments his wife’s leaving him five Christmases before), the film shows them slowly coming to realize that the people around them are the only family that they’ll have this Christmas. Through the kid’s efforts and sacrifices for each other, it’s stated clearly that everyone can come together and find some kind of healing at Christmastime.
When brainy Charlie connects with Spencer and the others, he says he believes that divorce and/or Judaism in your family can put a real damper on the holiday. It so happens that his family “suffers” under the weight of both. Another one of the kids says that his mom always claims that Christmas is when “Frosty the Snowman fights with the devil.”
A teen girl jumps onto a young Santa’s lap saying: “My friends and I have a bet.” She pulls down his beard and exclaims, “I was right. You’re hot!” (This “compliment” is also given to a teen girl.) While zipped inside a large suitcase, Charlie picks up a frilly bra and says, “Why, hello!” Grace is relaxing on a massage table with warm stones on her bare back when the guards catch up with her. She asks if they want her to get dressed or “do you want me to walk out of here naked?” (The guards turn away to give her a bit of privacy.)
Layering sexual innuendo onto a more innocent interaction involving a guy and two girls tussling, Charlie jokes about having seen cable porn before his dad blocked the channel. Later, as the conflicts are resolving, Spencer and Charlie both get kisses on the cheek from the girls.
All of the violence is seen through a slapstick lens with any potentially painful punches or spills happening off-camera. But it’s implied that some of the blows land in sensitive areas. For example, a bunch of kids pile up on one of the guards and we see his comical red-faced reactions as he’s kicked and crunched on the bottom of the pile. And when a young girl punches Mr. Porter somewhere in his lower extremities, we don’t see where the punch lands but we do watch his bug-eyed response. Porter also gets clocked offscreen by a large irate man. We later see him with a bloody nose.
Other incidents include: guards sliding down a snowy hill and crashing into snow banks and small evergreens, a guard being bitten on the derriere and possibly the crotch by a dog, Charlie slamming around inside a suitcase, a Christmas tree sliding off the top of a car and through another car’s windshield, and a car bursting into flames when filled with the wrong fuel.
One use of the word “h—.” One or two uses each of “omigod,” “omigosh,” “good lord” and “sweet Jehoshaphat.” Name-calling includes “loser,” “dork,” “punk,” “idiot,” “moron,” “psycho,” “fat boy” and “sucker.”
We see Spencer’s aunt waking up groggily in her chair on Christmas morning. There is an opened bottle of what appears to be alcohol on the table next to her and she speaks with slurred speech.
Charlie makes comments about urination and passes gas several times. In the containment area, kids play cards and gamble for cash.
Ever since the movie Home Alone set the bar and created a “need” for more kids-on-their-own flicks, many filmmakers have been bypassing poignant and heartwarming Christmas stories and settling for cutesy and active ones. Unaccompanied Minors slip-slides its way into that category as it details the adventures of five kids … left on their own. (Well, four kids actually. Number five goes outside looking for a Christmas tree about a quarter of the way through and shows up again at the end, probably leaving his best work in the editing room.)
Unfortunately, following this modern template, the movie tends to celebrate youthful rebellion and a lot of bad choices. Kids mouth off, sneak off, run away, gamble, etc. The adults aren’t off the candy-cane hook, here, either. They clamber after the delinquents with as much reckless abandon as the kids and are the reason that the children are “on their own” in the first place.
The filmmakers do at least try to tie a pretty bow on this bundle of nonsense. By the end of the chase scenes and chaos, Dad ends up being a good guy (a little goofy, but a good father nonetheless). The Scrooge-like Mr. Porter softens and actually smiles. And the “spirit” of loving your neighbor on Christmas wins the day.
Those points of redemption won’t help Unaccompanied Minors avoid sledding headfirst into a snow pile of Things-You’ll-Forget-Next-Week, though. Neither will they land the film on anybody’s Christmas-favorites shelf next to the copy of It’s a Wonderful Life or White Christmas.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.