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December Boys

Lisa Tomasetti / Film Finance Corporation Australia Limited, The South Australian Film Corporation , Becker Group Limited T/A Becker Entertainment, Becker Films Ltd

Review in a Hurry:  Four adolescent Aussie orphans (Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe, among them) share a seaside summer holiday in the '60s. They swim, sled on the sand and sneak drags on cigs. One even learns a thing or two about sex—our boy wizard is growing up! An awkward drama about those awkward years, Boys is notable mostly for Radcliffe's first non-Potter film role.

The Bigger Picture:  Don't expect magic here. Director Rod Hardy tries hard to weave a spell of misty nostalgia as he lays on the symbolism, swells the music and swoops his camera around on helicopters and cranes. Sadly, he never conjures any dramatic momentum. His one smart trick is casting Mr. Radcliffe, though the actor performs a more supporting role here.

The story centers instead on Misty (Lee Cormie), who's raised in a Catholic orphanage in the Outback, along with pals Sparks (Christian Byers), Spit (James Fraser) and the eldest, Maps (Radcliffe). With their hopes of finding parents beginning to fade, the four friends—nicknamed December Boys because their birthdays all fall within that month—are treated to a summer vacay at the beach.

There they befriend a childless couple (Sullivan Stapleton, Victoria Hill) who consider adopting one of them. As the younger three compete to win the couple's favor, Maps attempts to win the affections of a sassy blond bombshell, Lucy (Teresa Palmer).

Of the boys, only Maps has much complexity as a character, and Radcliffe scores good chemistry—among other things—in his scenes with Palmer. His mates, however, are relegated to types, and because their relationships remain underdeveloped (and underwhelming), the drawn-out ending—including a present-day reunion of the now-geriatric "boys"—carries little emotional weight and sinks into sentimental mush.

If you didn't know this was adapted from a novel, the annoying narration by adult Misty would be your first clue. Other tip-offs: the unfocused point of view, the emphasis on atmosphere over story, and all the obvious metaphors and "magical realism," including a wild stallion in the water and an old man trying to catch a legendary big fish. And I won't even mention the cartwheeling nuns on the beach...

The 180—a Second Opinion:  Sure to titillate the teen-girl set, Radcliffe shows some skin as he frolics on the beach, smooches with Palmer and even moons a fellow orphan. But if you're bummed (ahem) he doesn't go the full monty, hit up your folks for tickets to Equus on Broadway next year. (And good luck with that, kids.)