Rod Hardy’s December Boys is also untethered to reality, though a dose of Dedication’s bile might have made it more palatable. Strenuously feel-good and unforgivably dull, the film is notable for starring Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe, although he hasn’t exactly taken a huge leap in his first cinematic turn since he joined the franchise—he’s gone from playing a British orphan to an Australian one.
Radcliffe plays Maps, the eldest of four friends who all live in an outback orphanage in the ’60s. They share December birthdays, and when the orphanage gets an unexpected donation, the staff decides to send the children on a holiday to “a special place on the sea.” They’ll be heading off to Lady Star Cove, an idyllic spot whose beaches are blindingly white and laced with rock formations, which are way more interesting than the movie itself. The boys are naturally excited, even though it turns out that the couple they’re staying with, Bandy and his wife, “the Skipper” (Jack Thompson and Kris McQuade), are as religious and strict as the orphanage’s nuns.
Despite all the ballyhoo over the role, Radcliffe’s character isn’t terribly significant—and considering that the actor can’t seem to shake the stiffness that is adequately masked by all the bells and whistles of the Potter films, it’s a blessing in disguise. The other three boys are unknowns and just as bland, their characters having nicknames instead of personalities. There’s Sparks (Christian Byers) and Spit (James Fraser), who hardly register at all. The cliché-ridden narration, though, tells us that we’re supposed to focus on Misty (Lee Cormie), a freckled kid with glasses who’s known for crying and really, really wants to be adopted. “They say the best place to start is at the beginning,” Max Cullen, who later appears as the adult Misty, intones at the beginning. The trip “was like destiny,” he continues.
A lot of similarly trite pronouncements follow, but you never quite get a firm grasp of what’s going to happen or whose life is allegedly going to change during that break. And then the reason becomes clear: There’s just not much of a story in this script, based on a Michael Noonan novel and written by Marc Rosenberg (whose previous film is a succubus-themed thriller from 1995 called Serpent’s Lair). Instead, it’s a series of loosely connected moments of forced wonder and adolescent eye-opening. Look, a wild horse, keeping a hot Frenchwoman company as she swims topless! A crazy old fisherman who’s after a mythically large fish! A cool young couple who can’t have kids—maybe, just maybe, they’ll adopt Misty!
Of course, no lessons would be learned if all this good stuff weren’t balanced out with some bad, and the boys get tastes of death and disappointment as well. But in the same way its tries at whimsy fall flat, the film’s serious developments are too contrived to be affecting. Especially unfortunate is Radcliffe’s big call to emote, which has him yelling “Stop lying!” under rather stupid circumstances. As eager as Radcliffe probably is to get out of Harry’s shadow, it wasn’t a great career move to pick a project that completely lacks magic.