mon 22/07/2024

Riddle of Fire review - unsubtle but likeable kids' adventure flick | reviews, news & interviews

Riddle of Fire review - unsubtle but likeable kids' adventure flick

Riddle of Fire review - unsubtle but likeable kids' adventure flick

Trio's quest for a blueberry pie spirals into backwoods peril

Dirt bike diehards: Charlie Stover, Phoebe Ferro, and Skyler Peters in "Riddle of Fire"Anaxia Films

Live-action movies for the under-12 set are rare. Rarer still are those that capture the anarchic spirit of middle-grade children gone wild. Writer-director Weston Razooli made a splash at the Cannes and Toronto film festivals last year with Riddle of Fire, an adventure tale that draws inspiration from Disney’s earnest, spirited TV fare of the 1970s.

Set in the mountains of Wyoming, it follows three young friends as they rage around the great outdoors on dirt bikes, armed with paintball guns and plenty of ammo. They begin with a warehouse heist, in which best pals Alice, Jodie, and Hazel steal the newest edition of their favorite video game.

But when they get their prize home, they discover that Mom, who’s sleeping off a summer cold, changed the TV password. When the older ones, Hazel (Charlie Stover) and Alice (Phoebe Ferro), cannot crack the code, or their Mom’s resolve to shoo them outside on a beautiful day, Hazel’s little brother Jodie (Skyler Peters) resorts to begging. Nothing works. Then the beleaguered parent (Danielle Hoetmer) agrees, if the trio fetches her a fresh-baked blueberry pie from a local patisserie. Off they go, spouting fantasy-game language like “yon cabin” and “woodsy bastards.”

This wholesome quest turns dangerous when the children cross paths with a rough-looking backwoods family of poachers led by witchy Anna-Freya (Lio Tipton, pictured right) and cowboy-tough John (Charles Halford), whose idea of home décor is floor-to-ceiling taxidermy and an arsenal of rifles. (That the kids aren’t fazed by either is one sign that Riddle of Fire was made far outside Hollywood.)

The movie’s odd mix of tweeness and peril is certainly unique, but it’s downright disturbing to watch a villain suddenly hold a gun against a small boy’s head.

Deadly bad guys are a staple of children’s entertainment, from Treasure Island to One-Eyed Willy in The Goonies, but Razooli, who frames that moment as near-comedy, hasn’t mastered the art of subtlety. Or of reining himself in: Complications to the pie-quest pile on, culminating in a seemingly endless dance contest – a sequence best appreciated by the parents of everyone involved.

Though Riddle of Fire mostly plays like a nostalgia trip for latchkey kids who burned out their parents’ VCRs on The Goonies and Explorers before nerding out on The Lord of the Rings, the movie’s handmade look (including authentically burned-out 16mm cinematography by Jake Mitchell), and the charming, unschooled performances of the young performers, prove to be irresistible. Whether Riddle of Fire turns out to be a cult film for adults or a tonally off-kilter kid movie scarcely matters: Its appeal turns on its audience’s tolerance for whimsy.

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