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Rental Unit: "December Boys"

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The December timing of this DVD release may help name recognition, but to appreciate its gentle tale of four orphans in Australia who take a rare vacation to make a better life, you'll have to be in a mood that's very spiritual, holiday-oriented or just plain forgiving.

Daniel Radcliffe of "Harry Potter" plays the eldest orphan, Maps, followed by, cute names all, Misty (Lee Cormie), Sparks (Christian Byers) and Spit (James Fraser). The most adorable orphans since "Annie," Maps and the gang are surprised one day when Mother Superior informs them that they will be the first of the orphanage to go on planned vacations to a beachside resort.

The plot concerns the boys' attempts (except for Maps) to get adopted by a young carnival couple they meet on the trip. And with dutiful predictability, "December Boys" trots out peripheral drama: an unrequited love; a cancer victim; a swimming accident; rivalry. But surprisingly, though you may anticipate a calamity or revelation breaking up the pleasant reverie, it never comes.

"December Boys" is based on a young-adult novel by Michael Noonan, but the movie seems more like a recommendation for the Catholic Church than enticement for young adults, because the boys don't rebel or even come of age. Except for Maps, their development seems more like devolution to pre-adolescence as they try to get adopted.

And yet what to make of good young boys who spy on the woman they want to be their mom as she undresses? I can understand why any boy would want French import Teresa (Victoria Hill) to adopt them, but I don't think the filmmakers do. This is the problem throughout "December Boys." It has moments of perspective from young men, but mostly it's from the vantage of much older adults who want to recast youth through rose-colored glasses. (PG-13)



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