A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Ace Wonder is part plodding mystery, part weak father-son estrangement story, and part comic book. The title character is a 10-year-old would-be detective with the requisite trench coat, hat, and "hard-boiled" repartee. However, with the exception of a few action sequences, Ace Wonder, aka Gator Moore, is rarely a key part of the story. He's on-screen briefly, usually for comic relief, searching for clues or recording his observations. Most of the film tells the story of a teen struggling with the death of his grandfather and ongoing friction with his own dad as they investigate the elderly man's secretive actions before his death. Two action-packed sequences with kids in danger include gunfire, a fight with fists and a tire iron, and a car overturning with a boy at the wheel. No serious injuries or deaths. When the mystery is the focus of the story, the music and lighting are eerie and dark. The Ace Wonder comic book sections are, by far, the most successful elements of what otherwise is a slow, confusing, and unoriginal venture.
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What's the story?
On a trip with his family in ACE WONDER, Gator Moore (aka Ace Moore) finds himself in the midst of his first real detective assignment. When their motor home breaks down on the road near a small town, the Moores meet and take refuge with the Morton family, who have come to the town to bury the Morton grandfather and dispose of his property. Dereck Morton, a teen, is angry at his father's estrangement from the older man and desperate to find out more about the bizarre notes, coded messages, and objects his grandfather left behind. Gator persuades Dereck to let him help -- he is just the "man" for the job. But Jim Morton, Dereck's dad, is much harder to convince. It's only when Dereck, with some help from Gator and friends, decodes the messages, unearths several crucial missing clues, and begins to suspect that Grandpa Morton was the victim of a conspiracy that Jim reconciles with Dereck and they all begin to investigate in earnest.
Is it any good?
This movie is slow, with too many clues to unravel and an overabundance of relationships to sort through. Shifting tones (from comic mystery to overwrought family-dynamic drama and back again and again), glaringly awful writing and plot construction, and direction and acting that are consistently substandard make this a tough one to watch. The only slightly saving grace to this well-intentioned but wholly amateurish effort are the scenes that show the comic book version of the otherwise poorly executed story. Particularly appalling is the accumulation of scenes in which about a dozen assorted family members follow the principal kids from location to location and simply stand around wordlessly to watch them do their investigating. Definitely not recommended.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about movie genres. Find out what elements are essential to the mystery or detective genre. Which of these elements does Ace Wonder include?
Both Gator Moore and Dereck Morton behave recklessly at some points in the movie (for example, driving off in the jeep and breaking into the library). What were their alternatives? To whom might they have turned for help?
Dereck's grandfather's mystery is based on theft of scientific invention. Do you think the filmmakers made the science understandable? How might they have used Ace Wonder's comic book to help explain the mystery? Try to design a short comic book that illustrates a scientific theory.
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