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Photograph by Giles Keyte

Small Fry: Lewis McGibbon (left) and Alex Etel dream about their 'Millions.'

Christmas in March

Trainspotter Danny Boyle makes one, you know, for the kids, with sentimental 'Millions'

By Richard von Busack

IT IS the well-intentioned films that really are the hardest to watch. Millions is set in the near future, on the eve of the United Kingdom's conversion to the Euro. The deadline to exchange the soon-to-be-worthless pounds is coming up fast. Meanwhile, in the north of England, a kind and motherless little boy called Damian (Alex Etel) is growing up in a raw new suburb carved out of the countryside, up against the express train lines. For amusement, the freckle-faced Damian holes up in a cardboard box fort near the tracks. There, he converses with his imaginary friends, the saints. One afternoon, a Nike-branded gym bag full of several hundred thousand pound notes falls off the train and crashes like a meteor into the boy's cardboard playhouse.

Damian tells his older brother, Andy (Lewis McGibbon), who in turn tells a few friends. Damian thinks it was God who dropped the money from the sky, so he could give it to the poor. When Dorothy (the irritatingly brisk Daisy Donovan), a charity worker, gets a small bankroll from Damian, she alerts his father. But soon the thief (Christopher Fulford) who stole the money in the first place arrives, threatening trouble if the boy doesn't return the loot.

With 28 Days Later, Shallow Grave and Trainspotting, director Danny Boyle proved himself the most sanguinary moviemaker north of London. In Millions, he seems to have forgotten his energy and the viper wit, except in patches, such as when Pearce Quigley, as a defeatist local constable, tells a crime watch meeting that they might as well get accustomed to the idea that they'll be burgled sometime. The currency-train robbery is re-enacted on the floor of a bathroom with toy cars, crosscut to a digitally charged flashback of the crime itself. A recurring TV commercial, a clever borrowing from a method used in RoboCop, sets the stage for the death of the pound note, while giving the story a little thrust by reminding us the clock's running out as "E-day" approaches. And I like the way that the first tryst of Damian's widowed father is more about getting drunk and falling into bed with someone than about finding a holy new love after the mother of his children died.

Writer Francis Cottrell Boyce wants to induce the spirit of charity in the children of the audience. You can't fault that. Millions isn't poor in spirit, just poor in plot. What you can fault is the conniving way it seems made for export. Americans have a marketable taste for movies featuring Christmas, little boys and humongous bags of money. Boyce and Boyle may have overestimated the taste, considering that Millions didn't widen up after holiday release. The old and the very gentle will find this film cute. But the running joke about saints who turn up to give Damian a little advice is ultimately more distressing than the ceiling baby in Trainspotting. The last straw is at the end. There's no shame in weeping for a dead mother, but it takes a special type of shamelessness to work that particular lever on an audience.

Millions (PG; 97 min.), directed by Danny Boyle, written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, photographed by Anthony Dod Mantle and starring Alexander Nathan Etel and Lewis McGibbon, plays at selected theaters valleywide.

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From the March 23-29, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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