"I hated this movie! Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated this movie! Hated it! Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it! Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it! Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it!"— Roger Ebert
North is a 1994 American comedy-drama adventure film directed by Rob Reiner based on the novel North: The Tale of a 9-Year-Old Boy Who Becomes a Free Agent and Travels the World in Search of the Perfect Parents by former Saturday Night Live writer Alan Zweibel and produced by Castle Rock Entertainment and New Line Cinema and distributed by Columbia Pictures. It was released on July 22, 1994. Despite featuring an all-star cast and director Rob Reiner at the helm, North received aggressively negative reviews (particularly from Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, both of whom named it the worst film of 1994). It was also a box office flop making it a critical and commercial failure. As a result, many regard it as one of the worst films ever made.
North is a talented and bright kid, but his parents are utterly preoccupied with other things in their lives, leaving him ignored. Advised by a mysterious man who pops up on occasion, North decides to legally separate himself from his parents and goes on a search across the globe for the ideal mother and father. Unfortunately for the young boy, most of the people that he meets have minimal potential.
Why It Went South (And in a Bad Way)
- The titular character himself is an incredibly unlikable protagonist. He is supposed to be a brilliant kid who had the misfortune of having bad parents who don't care for him. Instead, he comes across as a kid with serious ego issues who abandons his parents just because he feels they don't give him the attention he feels he deserves. The only reason he comes back to them is that he felt that his other parents were either not good for him or didn't worship him enough. The fact that this movie ends with a dream sequence and racist stereotypes flood it might suggest that North is either a racist or doesn't understand other people's cultures.
- The story makes no sense and every scene feels rushed and incomplete.
- Its message is confusing and problematic.
- Most of the humor and jokes are mostly very offensive, insulting, and forced:
- The pants factory joke is painfully unfunny and makes no sense.
- There are a lot of racist jokes and stereotypes:
- The hitman Al, who helps North's birth parents after they are no longer comatose, delivers the VHS tape to the Nelsons which is an urgent message for North from his birth parents and even tries to kill North, is stereotypical.
- Every time North is auditioning for new parents, all of them feature startling stupidity and offensive caricature. Some examples include:
- In Africa, the mother in the grass hut is topless (shown from behind and neckline-up). Also, the people in the scene look offensive.
- Seeing Governor Ho make cracks about his wife being "barren" while she's standing right next to him is so offensive. The dirty look she gives him afterward is shocking too.
- Most of the Hawaiian residents in the film are topless, the way they dress up is highly offensive and they all look downright stereotypical.
- The moment when North's Eskimo parents send his new grandfather off to die on the ice floes along with the other elderly members of the tribe as a "dignified" way to die after they've outlived their value to society is symbolic of the film's reputed insensitivity.
- Ma and Pa Tex joke about the death of their first son, which is ridiculous, disrespectful, and makes no sense at all since it's actually depressing for people to talk about someone associated with them such as a relative or a friend who died. They also look extremely stereotypical.
- In France, they have berets, wine, cigarettes, and Jerry Lewis on all the channels all the time, which is completely appalling.
- The joke where the airplane touches the window instead of crashing through it like in Airplane! is not funny at all, as it could have crashed through it and killed a lot of people.
- The sex jokes and various expletives are too inappropriate for a movie targeted towards children:
- Bruce Willis' line "Your balls (most likely referring to the testicles) stick to your leg like Krazy Glue!" is way too inappropriate for kids.
- In particular, the film contains references to pedophilia which are way too inappropriate; for example, when North has a panic attack (which looks more like a heart attack than a real panic attack), his dad says "Quick! Loosen his pants!" and there is a billboard in Hawaii that shows an octopus pulling North's swim-shorts up and down. Perhaps the worst example of this is the supposed relationship between Winchell and Judge Buckle.
- After North's birth parents are no longer unconscious, they start to spoon.
- When Ma Tex bends over, you can see plenty of cleavages.
- Arthur Belt orders a drink called "Sex on the Beach".
- Overuse of shameless product placements everywhere, including American Airlines, arcade games, the board game Clue, Crush soda, Coca-Cola, a mention of Nintendo and FedEx.
- Badly-written and insensitive characters who are migraine-inducing to watch.
- The movie ends with the clichéd "all just a dream" ending in an attempt to emulate 1939's The Wizard of Oz's famous ending, but fails miserably. Besides, Reiner had already emulated the film seven years earlier with The Princess Bride, thus making it something of a rehash, and it ends up making the entire film a waste of time for anyone.
- Bruce Willis' appearance as a FedEx truck driver comes only two minutes after he plays a comedian named Joey Fingers, which is not even ample time to change costumes.
- Pointless cameos from Bruce Willis, Alexander Godunov, and Kelly McGillis.
- Jason Alexander and Julia Louis-Dreyfus look completely ridiculous as North's parents. It may be because the two co-starred together in Seinfeld, one of the best-known sitcoms of all time when this movie was released. It also means it's a little hard not to imagine them as George Costanza and Elaine Benes, especially on Seinfeld. George and Elaine never date whatsoever, and they're just friends.
- The idea of a kid with inattentive parents who decides to go into court, free himself of them, and go on a worldwide search for nicer parents is not very interesting and deeply flawed, as Roger Ebert put it. First of all, it is horrible for a movie targeted at children. Second, children don't lightly separate from their parents - and certainly not where the great parental sin is not paying attention to their kid at the dinner table. It's supposed to be where the parents put the child up for adoption.
- Many moments, elements, ideas, and plot points are very illogical, nonsensical, and unrealistic:
- North owning the Houston Astros MLB team makes no sense, given that he is a child. Children are not allowed to own a sports team or anything in terms of business since they are too young.
- The line "As of next Monday, no parent will be permitted to see an R-rated movie, unless accompanied by a kid." makes no sense, since it should be the other way around.
- North's secret spot in the mall is no secret at all since it is in the middle of a display room that everyone can see.
- How can Winchell, who is a literal child, have so much power? That's just puzzling beyond reason. Besides, he is too young to be rich and powerful. It's even too creepy seeing him kiss North on the forehead.
- You'd never see a minor independently on an airplane since they're always supposed to be accompanied by an adult while on one.
- The only musical number in the film, the melody of the theme from the TV show Bonanza, makes no sense in context. Bonanza actually took place in Nevada, not Texas. Additionally, Nevada doesn't border Texas and isn't close to a state that is so close to Texas.
- Arthur Belt first helps out North, but then later turns against him and wants to get him killed, which would result in the police arresting him for that.
- All the children around the world threatening to leave their parents and hire Arthur Belt as their lawyer while even blaming North for all their frustrations makes no sense.
- North accepts a car ride from the narrator at the end of the film despite having only just met him. In reality, it's important to never take car rides with strangers which is one of the first things that children learn.
- There is no way North could have gotten first-class tickets to every city in the world. Plus, first-class tickets are costly.
- It would make a lot more sense if North's parents waited for him to show up at his home after they were no longer comatose.
- Winchell, at first, appears to be North's buddy from school. But he later turns into some evil kid overlord who wants to kill North. In reality, that would get him arrested because he wished death on someone.
- Children constantly holding their parents at emotional gunpoint makes no sense since they would get into a lot of trouble for doing so.
- The airport scene, in which an airport clerk wouldn't let North board the flight because the newspaper she shows to him mentions that he is dead and then he is chased by a group of kids but is saved by a FedEx driver, makes no sense.
- There is no way at the end of the film North could've had a silver coin with a hole in his possession which happens to be the same one he had in his dream.
- The Eskimos are the most reviled due to the use of blackface makeup and their backward tradition of leaving their old ones out to die at sea.
- The narration becomes distracting to let the audience make up their mind and interpretation of what goes on.
- Poor dialogue, particularly North's "You seem like nice people, but I don't think I'll be able to get a lot of homework done" line, as well as the defense attorney's "Your honor, the defense rests" line and "Hawaii, is a lush and fertile land. There's only one barren area on all of our islands. Unfortunately, it's Mrs. Ho." Roger Ebert even used that as an example of amazingly tasteless dialogue for the Siskel & Ebert review of this film.
- There is nothing unique about the film's technical work in Adam Greenberg's cinematography or Robert Leighton's editing that should be worth noting since there is nothing unique.
- It is never explained as to why North would leave the Nelsons.
- Kathy Bates and Abe Vigoda look completely ridiculous with blackface makeup when they are Eskimos. Kathy Bates even looks worse with a minstrel wig.
- Mediocre acting. In particular, Jussie Smollett's performance as Adam is rather awkward and Elijah Wood's performance (before playing Frodo from The Lord of the Rings, and Mumble from Happy Feet) as North is really clichéd, bland and uninteresting.
- The parental behavior that North's parents exhibit comes off as laughable instead of awful.
- The sets for the film look abysmal, particularly in the Alaskan neighborhood.
- Horrible editing. For example, the movie begins with a shot of North's room where he is asleep and features shots of various toys, souvenirs, and gizmos that foreshadow his adventures that serves as the opening credits. Most of them look creepy with the close-up of the big doll looking way too scary before it suddenly cuts to the infamous dinner scene. Shouldn't it have continued with him getting up and going through the day up until that point?
- It tries too hard to be sophisticated such as a montage of North's record throughout his year at school that showcases his talents, success, and popularity by showing text in the style of how a typewriter does it in an American Typewriter font of his averages. In the case of acting in school plays, a review from his drama teacher comes across as pretentious and assumptive.
- The film was rated PG by the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) for a few words, but it feels more like a PG-13 or an R-rated movie instead. For example, the assassination plot in the third act is dark for a light fantasy, the tomato soup on both North’s cap and a box look more like blood, and Ma and Pa Tex mention that a stampede killed their son Buck.
- The soundtrack by Marc Shaiman is very generic, high-pitched, and sounds more like stock music.
- Very unfaithful to the source material of the book it is based on.
- Inappropriate language for a kids film (eg. "You little asshole!".)
The Only Redeeming Quality
- The scene with North at the Amish settlement is admittedly quite funny.
North was near-universally panned by critics and audiences alike with wide criticism for its plot, its all-star cast of insensitive characters, lack of humor, and portrayal of numerous ethnic stereotypes. On review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, North received a rating of 14% based on 35 reviews, with an average rating of 3.18/10. The site's critics' consensus reads, "Laden with schmaltz and largely bereft of evident narrative purpose, North represents an early major disappointment from previously sure-handed director Rob Reiner.". Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade "B-" on scale of A to F. On Siskel & Ebert, Roger Ebert described North as "one of the most thoroughly hateful movies in recent movie history. A movie that makes me cringe even when I'm sitting here thinking about it." He later pointed out the many offensive jokes in the film and added "I hated this movie as much as any movie we have ever reviewed in the 19 years we've been doing this show. I hated it because of the premise, which seems shockingly cold-hearted, and because this premise is being suggested to kids as children's entertainment and because everybody in the movie was vulgar and stupid, and because the jokes weren't funny and because most of the characters were obnoxious and because of the phony attempt to add a little pseudo-hip philosophy with a Bruce Willis character." He later stated that Rob Reiner had made one terrific movie after another and stated that Elijah Wood is "a fine young actor". Gene Siskel stated to Ebert "I think you gotta hold Rob Reiner's feet to the fire here. I mean, he's the guy in charge, he's saying this is entertainment. It's deplorable. There isn't a gag that works. You couldn't write worse jokes if I told you to write worse jokes. Ethnic stereotyping is appalling. It's embarrassing, you feel unclean as you're sitting there. It's junk, first-class junk." and ended the statement with "Any subject could be done well. This is just trash, Roger."
On Siskel and Ebert's Worst of 1994 program, Gene and Roger both deemed North as their worst film of 1994 and Roger even quoted his own review of the movie.
Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times stated in his review "The problem overall is not so much that the humor, especially in the parent tryout situations, is forced, but that it simply is not there at all. So little is going on in this mildest of fantasies that it is hard to even guess what kinds of emotional effects were aimed at in the first place." Turan also asked "How could director Rob Reiner, whose touch for what pleases a mass audience is usually unfailing, have strayed this far?". Leonard Klady of Variety described the film as a "noble misfire" and "that unique breed of misconceived entertainment that only a filmmaker of talent is capable of making." Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle said in his review that "North is director Rob Reiner's first flat-out failure, a sincerely wrought, energetically made picture that all the same crashes on takeoff. It's strange and oddly distasteful, at its best managing to be bad in some original and unexpected ways."
Despite its status as one of the worst films ever made, Rob Reiner defended it, claiming that he loved doing it and that some of the best jokes he ever had in a movie are from this movie. Still, in reality, they're all horrible, unfunny, offensive, and racist (as mentioned before). Thus, the best jokes he ever had in a movie are actually from other movies he directed. He also questioned why everyone got mad at him for making it due to all previous films he directed being quite good. Reiner also came up with the excuse that he just wanted to make a "little fable", which goes to show that Reiner can't take even the slightest bit of criticism.
North opened up at #8 on its opening weekend in 1,481 theatres with a domestic gross of $3,036,050. The film later made a total domestic gross of $7,182,747 against its $40 million budget making it a box office bomb, and it quickly vanished from theatres just three weeks after its release. It got dwarfed by The Lion King, Forrest Gump and Jim Carrey's comedy The Mask (all of which are better movies) among others. The film was released theatrically in a few countries (including the UK, France, and Greece), but no foreign box office information is available.
Awards and nominations
North was nominated for six Golden Raspberry Awards including Worst Picture, but lost to Color of Night, which also starred Bruce Willis. It did, however, win two Stinkers Bad Movie Awards.
- This movie was Scarlett Johansson's film debut.
- This film marked the only film role for Brynn Hartman, the wife and eventual murderer of actor Phil Hartman, though she did appear in two episodes of the NBC TV series 3rd Rock from the Sun.
- Roger Ebert's scathing review of North inspired him to write and publish a best-selling book titled I Hated, Hated, Hated, This Movie! which listed out many films he hated which were released between 1967 and 1999 (eg. Jaws: The Revenge, Baby Geniuses, Highlander II: The Quickening, Spice World, Psycho (1998), Exit to Eden (which was released the same year as this and also featured Dan Aykroyd), Kazaam, An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn, Heaven's Gate, The Postman, Godzilla (1998) and Armageddon) even ones that were never reviewed or shown on Siskel & Ebert (both the early versions and the later versions), Roger Ebert & The Movies and Ebert & Roeper. The book was published in April of 2000 and Roger dedicated it to his original co-critic Gene Siskel, who had died a year earlier during surgery on a brain tumor.
- Richard Roeper (who replaced Gene Siskel) stated in his book 10 Sure Signs a Movie Character is Doomed: And Other Surprising Movie Lists that out of the 40 worst films on the list that he had watched, North would likely be the most difficult to watch from start to finish since he tried twice to do so, but failed. He added that "Do yourself a favor and don't bother. Life is too short." Other movies he included on the list include Speed 2: Cruise Control, Battlefield Earth, Bio-Dome, Godzilla (1998), Tomcats, Problem Child, The Babe Ruth Story, Leonard Part 6, Glitter, Freddy Got Fingered, The Postman and Exit to Eden. He also named North as one of the worst movies that featured Seinfeld cast members.
- Alan Zweibel keeps a clipping of Roger Ebert's review of North in his wallet, which he has read to people in public appearances.
- Elijah Wood and Bruce Willis would later star together in the better-received film Sin City in 2005.
- When Rob Reiner was roasted at the New York Friar's Club, Richard Belzer asked him to read Roger Ebert's review of North, Reiner did so, and then joked "if you read between the lines, [the review] isn't really that bad."