There was a time in the not-so-distant past when kid-friendly adventure films abounded -- and they were good. The early 1980s gave us "E.T.," "The Goonies," "Labyrinth" and "Cloak and Dagger" to name a small sampling that delighted little ones and their larger companions. Not to get too wistful, but "The Lost Medallion" brings to mind that time, even as it fails to live up to those films. It certainly suffices as squeaky-clean entertainment with a well-intentioned message about self-worth, but the overly sentimental approach makes this fantastical adventure feel like a collaboration between Nickelodeon and the Hallmark Channel, and a late-in-the-game religious message plays like a bait-and-switch.
The movie begins in a foster home where a visitor is unexpectedly tasked with taking over storytime. Luckily he has impressive improv skills and finds a way to weave a tale on the fly to buoy the spirits of a trio of youngsters -- a loner, a depressed existentialist and a bully. The convoluted adventure follows Billy Stone (Billy Unger) and his brainy, orphaned best friend Allie (Sammi Hanratty). The pair of kids are on the hunt for an ancient, magical pendant, buried somewhere in the idyllic island they call home. They aren't alone in this search. Billy's archeologist father and an evil man, who appears to own much of the town, also are on the hunt. But discovering the medallion turns out to be more than Billy and Allie bargained for; while wearing the pendant, an ill-timed phrase lands the pair back in time 200 years.
The story meanders a bit, but there is action and suspense, plus some comic relief in the form of a Mr. Miyagi type named Faleaka (James Hong), who speaks in riddles and teaches abstruse lessons using pineapples.
But one stock character can't compensate for a few elements that tend to take the viewer out of the movie experience. The first is an inescapable soundtrack. Music has the power to summon emotions, but a little goes a long way; here we get music to accompany each and every heartfelt moment and every chase sequence -- even a moment when the kids emerge onto the beach overlooking the ocean to the shimmering sounds of chimes. The acting also calls attention to itself with melodramatic delivery that often sounds as if it's being read from a script rather than embodied.
It comes across as forced, as do the final few moments of the film when the storyteller returns with a suddenly religious moral about God's love. It's as if the audience just spent an afternoon at an arcade only to realize the game emporium was an elaborate cover; we were at church the whole time. And if this feels out of left field to an adult viewer, one worries that the movie won't fly with the ultimate authenticity detectors -- kids.
PG. Contains adventure-violence and action. 98 minutes.