February 07, 2005 12:00 PM

Robert De Niro, Dakota Fanning, Famke Janssen, Elisabeth Shue


Psychologist David Callaway (De Niro) probably doesn’t have any World’s Greatest Dad mugs gathering dust in his cabinet. After his wife (Amy Irving) slits her wrists in their bathtub, he ill-advisedly moves their 9-year-old daughter Emily—who’s nearly catatonic from the trauma—from Manhattan to an insular home in the country. Because this tired thriller couldn’t have things any other way, the home is of course requisitely spooky. It’s little wonder that Emily (Fanning) soon takes up with an imaginary friend named Charlie and begins mutilating dolls and dressing up in her dead mom’s clothes. Meanwhile, all sorts of horrible things begin popping up in their tub, including a freshly slain family cat. Emily blames it all on Charlie. As Emily’s psychologist (Janssen, whose fleeting appearances barely register) notes, “Trauma causes pain.”

Especially for viewers of this lifeless movie with rote direction by John Poison (Swimfan) from a been-there-seen-that script by first-time screenwriter Ari Schlossberg. Cocooned in an array of comfy sweaters, De Niro can barely feign interest from scene to scene, while Fanning, doing her best Wednesday Addams impression (blank, wide-eyed glaze topped by a brown wig), matches his indifference. Neither shows signs of life until the excruciatingly protracted, nonsensical climax, but Hide and Seek loses its way long before then. In the thankless role of a local who romances De Niro, Shue adds a much-needed but all too brief spark of energy. (R)

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