Mr. Rice's Secret

1999, Movie, NR, 92 mins

Review

MR. RICE'S SECRET | EXHUMING MR. RICE
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Aimed at youngsters, this odd mix of fantasy and disease-of-the-week conventions doesn't really gel, though its ambitions are laudable. Adolescent Owen Walters (Bill Switzer) has Hodgkin's disease, and his well-meaning parents (Teryl Rothery, Garwin Sanford) don't want him to dwell on thoughts of death. So they forbid him to attend the funeral of the eccentric Mr. Rice (David Bowie), who befriended Owen and knew full well that Owen thinks of death constantly. He has nightmares about coffins and obsesses about the dark blue suit he's convinced his mother bought to bury him in. He's even mean to Simon (Richard de Klerk), a sicker child, because he sees his own future in Simon's ever-worsening condition and can't cope with the fear it inspires. Partly to satisfy his own morbid curiosity and partly to impress friends Veg (Jason Anderson), Funnel Head (Zachary Lipovsky) and Gilbert (Tyler Thompson), Owen sneaks into Mr. Rice's funeral service and secretly tapes it. The boys later break into Mr. Rice's house, intending to creep themselves out by watching the tape there. Instead, they find a puzzling photo — it must be Mr. Rice's father, since he looks exactly like Mr. Rice but is wearing turn-of-the-century garb — and an envelope containing a coded message for Owen. After deciphering it with the ring Mr. Rice gave him, Owen is swept into a search for a mysterious something that will change his life. The movie's message, that what matters is how you live, not how long, is a fine one. But it's somewhat undermined by the titular secret — a magical, life-prolonging elixir — which also seems oddly out of place in such a resolutely unmagical film. That Bowie, who isn't actually in the film much (since the late Mr. Rice appears only in flashbacks), brings some conviction to the airy-fairy platitudes scripted for Mr. Rice is a tribute to his professionalism. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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