Can movies make people do stupid things? Maybe. Depends on the movie; depends on the person. I grant you I might not have been the sharpest pin in the cushion in the early '60s when I watched Beaver Cleaver back his father's car out of the driveway into traffic, then turned off the TV, went outside, and did the exact same thing, but most of my friends were smart enough to know better.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that the target audience for "Catch That Kid" -- children between the ages of 6 and 13 -- will in all likelihood not walk out of the movie with the urge to knock over a bank. A shot-for-shot remake of the 2002 Danish film "Catch That Girl," "Kid" is a slick little package that will seem patently ridiculous to anyone past adolescence even as their younger brothers and sisters eat it up. It's a heist movie for kids, though, and if that prompts tut-tutting in certain quarters, know that the postscreening conversation with my own children went something like this:
"Did you like it?"
"Yeah! Four stars!" (Sadly, this is what happens when your father is a film critic.)
"Did it make you want to rob a bank?"
"Of course not! It's a movie."
And there you go -- if we grown-ups can have "The Italian Job," who says our spawn can't have their own cheesy empowerment-fantasy robbery flicks?
"Kid" at least gives its 12-year-old heroine a motivation: a gravely ill father who can't afford a life-saving experimental treatment. Maddy (Kristen Stewart, last seen as Jodie Foster's beleaguered daughter in "Panic Room") is a lithe California tomboy with Avril Lavigne's borrowed scowl and a knack for scaling the local water tower. Her mother -- yes, Jennifer Beals from "Flashdance" is playing mothers now; are you depressed? -- is a workaholic who is installing a high-tech security system in a downtown LA bank; her father (Sam Robards) is an ex-mountaineer who runs a go-cart track until he is struck down by NMLD (Nameless Movie Languishing Disease).
Realizing her father's salvation lies in a bank vault suspended 100 feet above a motion-sensor-equipped shaft, Maddy looks to her two best friends for help: computer whiz Austin (Corbin Bleu) and mechanically inclined Gus (Max Thieriot). Since both boys nurse puppy-love crushes on her, she is forced to fool each into thinking she loves him and him only.
Stewart looks properly disgusted at having to stoop to such Veronica Lodge-isms. And, to tell you the truth, her manipulations are more bothersome than the heist itself, as is the scene in which Gus talks a secretary into giving him a scale model of the bank by pretending to be a battered child -- this is dishonest behavior that can be imitated at home or school. (Cut to reaction shot of the reviewer's children shaking their heads in disagreement.)
Otherwise, all the genre cliches are welded into place. Overriding the security cameras, check. Entering the right code before the vault's timer counts down to zero, check. Hair-raising chase scene between tiny vehicles (here it's go-carts) and soon-to-be-disabled police cars, check. For good measure, "Kid" throws in a cartoonishly fascistic security chief (indie actor James Le Gros, slumming it), a cartoonishly nasty bank manager (Michael Des Barres), and random fart jokes. The one unexpected twist -- and the film's best running gag -- is that Maddy has to tote her toddler brother (played by twins Grant and Shane Scott) along on the heist after mom orders her to baby-sit. I don't recall Tom Cruise having that problem in "Mission Impossible."
Still, it's no "Spy Kids," although director Bart Freundlich (Mr. Julianne Moore to you) gives it the old college try, and Stewart glowers appealingly throughout. "Catch That Kid" flatters its audience by dividing the grown-up world into mean idiots and nice idiots, which might be interestingly subversive if the movie had anything on its mind. Instead, it's just a Hollywood crash course: Heist Films 101.
But I'd still check my wallet before I went to bed if I were you.
("Catch That Kid": **)
Ty Burr can be reached at email@example.com.