Judge Erich Asperschlager can't wait for Roxy Hunting season to open.
"Listen, ma. I know I did a bad thing—OK, a lot of bad things. I want you to know, I did them for the right reason."
Tween detective Roxy Hunter (Aria Wallace, Roxy Hunter and the Mystery of the Moody Ghost) is back for another Nickelodeon made-for-TV movie in Roxy Hunter and the Secret of the Shaman. This time around, it's summer and Roxy's adopted hometown of Serenity Falls is preparing for a big sesquicentennial celebration. But when a mysterious old man Roxy meets in the forest is arrested for stealing the crown jewel of the town's new statue, it's up to her to prove he's innocent.
At least, that's how Secret of the Shaman should go. In reality, Roxy lies to her mother, harasses an admired author, sneaks out at night to visit a wacko who's collecting shiny objects, and aids and abets a fugitive. The mystery is actually solved by Max (Demetrius Joyette, The Pacifier), Roxy's geeky-inasmuch-as-he-wears-glasses best friend—which is fine because it's not much of a mystery.
The biggest problem with Roxy Hunter is that it falls into the category of kid's entertainment obsessed with "empowering" young viewers. I'm all for self-confidence and blah blah blah, but these movies always preach their message through extremes. In Serenity Falls, the adults are bumbling idiots—especially the authority figures. The acting mayor has a near nervous breakdown over having to give a speech. The rotund deputy sheriff can't stop eating sweets. The hard-nosed librarian doesn't notice the children openly mocking her. The only level heads in town seem to belong to Roxy and Max.
I hate it when kids act like adults. It's weird and creepy. Even worse is when kid's movies mistake "acting like an adult" with "acting like a spoiled brat." Roxy is one of the worst child role models I've seen in recent years. No matter how much the filmmakers want her to be seen as "precocious" or "plucky," she's actually deceitful, dishonest, selfish, and mean. Not to sound like a cranky old man or Fox News hand-wringer, but it bothers me that a child who has zero trouble lying to her mother and emotionally manipulating her best friend is the heroine in a movie aimed at kids!
Slightly more tolerable than Roxy is Max, who—although he seems like a nice enough kid—is treated by adults like he's a 40-something therapist. Both Roxy's mom, Susan (Robin Brûlé, Billable Hours), and her boyfriend Jon (Yannick Bisson, The Dresden Files) ask him for relationship advice. Since when is a 12-year-old qualified to give advice about getting over a deceased spouse? It's disturbing. I'm sure writers Robin Dunne and James Kee want their film to deal with "serious issues," but why drag the kids into it? Oh, yeah. I forgot—because the adults are too neutered to do anything for themselves. If Max wants to solve a real mystery, he should probably figure out why Roxy's mom and her boyfriend appear to be sharing the same eyeliner.
Bad influences and too-mature children aside, The Secret of the Shaman's story is a snoozer that goes nowhere fast. The theft isn't shocking (though the twenty or so townspeople's outrage over something they didn't know existed being taken is). The story opens with the promise of Native American mythology, but abandons the premise about midway through. And the too-real adult relationship drama just muddles up what should be a lighthearted mystery. By the time the movie limps to its "big reveal," what little tension has been built up is deflated when the police chief excuses the thief's actions for the dumbest of reasons. I don't want to give away the ending, but mostly because it isn't worth spoiling.
The most enjoyable aspect of the film is that it was obviously filmed in Canada—using Canadian actors—yet goes out of its way to hammer home how "American" everything is. Flags are everywhere—on buildings, as decorations, in offices. Roxy's mom and her boyfriend have an argument about red white and blue confetti. Serenity Falls might be celebrating its 150th anniversary and all, but methinks the filmmakers doth protest un peu trop.
The DVD presentation is fine, though the whole movie has a weird yellow tint, and the 5.1 surround mix is serviceable. The movie probably looks and sounds the same as it did on TV.
The extras are a mixed bag, starting with two Aria Wallace music videos for songs I'm pretty sure never appear in the film. I feel kinda bad for the kid. Someone's trying way too hard to turn her into the next Disney Channel-style tween sensation. Other features include a ten-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, highlights of a day in Wallace's life on the set of the next Roxy Hunter movie, a blooper reel, and a DVD-menu Easter egg hunt.
At their best, kid's movies can be magical. Usually, they're harmless. Roxy Hunter is neither. She's an annoying spoiled brat and a lousy detective who embodies the film's central message: "The end justifies the means." Heck, Roxy says as much to her mother at the end of the movie. Even if the story were the least bit interesting, my recommendation would be the same. Parents, don't let your children grow up to be Roxys.
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