By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
The basic idea of “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” involves a kid who runs around New York City looking for a lock that might possibly fit the mysterious key his father has left behind.
It sounds like the premise for an interesting kids’ book.
Add the fact that the father died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, and that the kid is a sort of borderline autistic-savant who fears public transportation and must carry around a tambourine to calm his nerves, and you can see how the movie begins to veer off in its own direction.
The source is a novel, though not a kids’ book, by Jonathan Safran Foer.
Possibly the idea worked well enough on the page, but it has a few plausibility issues in director Stephen (“Billy Elliot”) Daldry’s film.
The boy is Oskar, played by newcomer Thomas Horn. The terrorist attack of Sept. 11 happens fairly early in the movie, but we continue to see Oskar’s father (Tom Hanks) in flashbacks for the rest of the picture; Sandra Bullock plays the patient but not-very-present mother.
The key is in an envelope marked “black,” which leads Oskar to find every person named Black in the surrounding area. The movie would’ve been much briefer if the name had only been Kleinfelter or Zog or something.
So we tag along with Oskar trundling around the boroughs of NYC, as he goes to the homes of strangers, rings their doorbells, and invites himself in.
Yes, I know — this made me anxious, too. This kid is lucky not to end up on the side of a milk carton.
One of his contacts is the boarder (Max von Sydow) at his grandmother’s house, a man who chooses not to speak, which makes him a good match for the hyperactive Oskar.
Other folks passing through the tale are played by Viola Davis (late of “The Help”), Jeffrey Wright and John Goodman.
As for the leading man, Thomas Horn is very credible in his first film role. He’s best known as a winner on the kid version of “Jeopardy!” and his brainy qualities are part of the character here.
For a while, the movie is effective, and the close but challenging dynamic between father and son is nicely turned. Tom Hanks doesn’t have much screen time here, but it’s worth noting that he’s remarkably fine and honest in the scenes he has.
I just couldn’t buy Oskar’s city-trekking, nor the strong-arm way we are eventually made to feel about all this. But mostly it’s the contrived premise itself that makes the movie falter, a sense that everything here is forced, and not quite existing in a known universe — even a movie universe — that rings true.
“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” 2 stars
When a boy loses his father (Tom Hanks) on Sept. 11, 2001, he occupies his mind by searching for the answer to a mystery left behind. This movie is well acted by Hanks and newcomer Thomas Horn, but its premise is so contrived it stops making much impact after a while. With Sandra Bullock.
Rating: PG-13, for subject matter.
Opening: Alderwood Mall, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marsyville, Stanwood, Meridian, Metro, Woodinville, Cascade Mall.