Film Review: The Lost Medallion: The Adventures of Billy Stone

Should have stayed lost.

A faith-based family film that would have seemed corny 40 years ago, this debut movie by inspirational author Bill Muir may well have an audience of very young children and very undiscerning parents, though the slogging plot, the stilted dialogue and the sight of poor James Hong making faces and blowing raspberries make it a tough go for anyone else. And I'll probably go to Hell for saying that, since Muir himself seems a salt-of-the-earth saint who got the idea for the foster-home framing sequence, he's said, by being a foster parent himself—one whose kids included a newborn with a partial brain who was expected to survive a week and instead lived for eight months of being loved and hugged and cared for tremendously. Yet since Muir has also spoken of how cognizant he was to make messages subtextual and not overt—to relay them through the actions of the story and the behavior of his characters rather than through blunt speechifying—his results have to be judged from the standpoint of a self-aware writer-director and not that of a well-meaning do-gooder.

That said, there's much promising craft at work here: Muir isn't clumsy with a camera, and he demonstrates a decent hand at chase sequences, night and water shooting, working with green-screen effects, using stunt doubles and many other filmic challenges that can best the most ambitious first-time filmmaker. Shooting in Thailand added an otherworldly look and inexpensive production value, and he fills the screen with kids diving off waterfalls, zip-lining through a jungle, canoeing between ocean islands and infiltrating the lair of an evil warlord. Yet for all its heartfelt effort, The Lost Medallion feels hollow and schematic.

In a framing sequence, Daniel (Georgia pastor and successful faith-based filmmaker Alex Kendrick, founder of Sherwood Pictures, here uncredited) drops off donations at the foster home run by kindly, white-haired Sally ("Charmed" recurring player Jennifer Rhodes, also uncredited) and gets roped into telling the kids a story. Seeing that new kids Billy, Allie and Huko are variously troubled, his tale "The Lost Medallion" stars three kids named Billy (Billy Unger), Allie (Sammi Hanratty) and Huko (Jansen Panettiere, brother of actress Hayden). The title object was buried in the jungle countless years ago by a king fleeing the warlord Cobra ("The Iron Chef"'s Mark Dacascos), who coveted its mystical power—not that "mystical" or "magical" gets uttered; the medallion and its shiny blue gem are "special." How "special" differs from "magical" in any practical sense eludes me, leaving a whiff of Christian hypocrisy there that gives a bad taste.

Billy's widowed dad (Ken Streutker) is an archaeologist searching for the medallion today, and Cobra's business-mogul descendant, Mr. Cobb (Dacascos again), sends his comic-relief thugs (Hal Rudnick and Sid S. Liufau) after Billy and Allie when the two children find it first. The medallion whisks the kids to the kingdom of the past, where the late king's son Huko is the ruler and Cobra still seeks the mystic medallion. Soon the three kids and chubby Anui (an uncredited William Corkery) are dodging arrows, escaping bamboo cages and learning from wise old Faleaka (Hong).

Children's films by their nature generally involve lessons and baptisms of fire, and all that's here, amid reminders of God's love, in so many words. But the dialogue is wince-inducing: "What I'm looking for can't be found in a book," Billy tells Allie. "Someday the entire world will be changed when I find the medallion." One of the thugs speaks in bad-guy clichés so hackneyed—"Seize them!"—that I still wonder if he was supposed to be hipster-ironic. And after viewing the grand-plan sequence twice, I'm still unsure how the exploding pineapples and other tricks Faleaka has the kids come up with fit into anything that happens subsequently.

I also found myself laughing out loud—and hating myself for it, just so we're clear—when Sally tells Daniel, "That's Billy over there under the tree"…and we smash-cut to the most forlorn little boy in the history of the world staring off into some unknown destiny.

I understand Muir's impetus—he's talked of "seeing a woman looking for a family-friendly movie, not finding one, and then walking away," though it's unclear if this was at a video store or a multiplex. Regardless, last year alone in family films we had the gray-whale story Big Miracle, the Jules Verne-inspired Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Disney's The Odd Life Of Timothy Green, scores of direct-to-video flicks like A Talking Cat!?! and Derby Dogs, and a wealth of animated features. So it's a bit disingenuous to suggest there aren't plenty of family movies—most of them superior to the treacly The Lost Medallion.