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Unaccompanied Minors
Unaccompanied Minors
Hollywood does the holiday right. Unaccompanied Minors (3 stars)
Director: Paul Feig
Cast: Dyllan Christopher, Tyler James Williams, Gina Mantegna, Quinn Shephard and
Lewis Black
Rating: PG; kid chaos, some rude humor
Finally. A Christmas movie that doesn't give you the impression it was made by people who hate Christmas.

After this year's dismal "Deck the Halls," last year's pitch-black killer thriller "The Ice Harvest" and 2004's execrable "Christmas with the Kranks," I was beginning to wonder whether Hollywood would ever view the holiday as anything other than a festival of greed and bad behavior.

But now, with "Unaccompanied Minors," Tinseltown has finally hit the sweet spot in its treatment of the holly jolly season.

On first glance, "Unaccompanied Minors" seems like your usual by-the-numbers high-concept holiday comedy. Its heroes, as its title tells us, are a handful of teens and tweens traveling without parents, trapped in a big-city airport on Christmas Eve. They're bored, they're bullied by a grouchy airport official (Lewis Black) and they want to bust out of the pen where they are being held in conditions that bear no small resemblance to Guantanamo.

They get loose, they turn the airport into their own jungle gym, they give Black's grouch heartburn. "Home Alone" meets "The Terminal," in other words.

At first the kids seem like stereotypes: stuck-up rich girl (Gina Mantegna), picked-on fat boy (Brett Kelly), pugnacious tomboy (Quinn Shephard), earnest nerd boy (Dyllan Christopher), gadget-loving geek (Tyler James Williams). But along the way, as they join forces to thwart the clueless adults, something unusual happens. Under the direction of an obviously empathetic Paul Feig, who brought a goodhearted touch to the short-lived sitcom "Freaks and Geeks," they all turn out to be likable young people rather than merely the sum total of snarky attitudes, which is how most movie-comedy kids come off these days.

The high point, though, where the spirit of Christmas is sweetly honored in a way that revives spirits of all those stranded at the airport, kids and adults alike, is a heartfelt scene that turns what has been up to that point a very enjoyable comedy into something very close to a holiday classic.

Copyright 2006, The News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.