3 out of 5
reviewer: Charity Bishop
The exploits of Huckleberry Finn have not lessoned with the passing of time. Since his adventure with Tom Sawyer and the Injun Joe's stolen treasure, Huck has moved into different circles. Having been taken in by the wealthy Widow Douglas, he attends school (when he feels like it), befriends whom he pleases, and often returns home to win the younger Ms. Douglas over to his side with some fantastic explanation for why he has a black eye, where his school jacket's gone off to, and why it looks like he's been swimming when he really hasn't been. Huck is in the midst of a fistfight with a fellow school boy with Tom cheering him on from the sidelines when his fist falters.
Staring down past the boy's terrified face to the imprint of a shoe, he backs off in horror. He knows that print with the inlaid cross. It's his Pap's. Sprinting past the crowd of jeering boys, he dashes for the security of his Negro friend Jim, whom he believes can foretell the future. Jim tells him that his magic hairball doesn't reveal everything, but that it would be best to slip away for awhile. Foolishly, Huck tarries too long and is kidnapped by his father, who is determined to have what little money Huck's mother has left to him. The mean old man is as 'drunk as a pig' and attempts to kill the boy but comes to his senses the following morning. He locks Huck up in his cabin and sets off for town and another bottle of whiskey. Huck takes the opportunity to set up his own 'murder,' convinced his Pap will forget all about him in believing that he was broken in on by a gang of thugs.
Taking refuge on a secluded island, Huck is horrified to learn that Jim has taken the opportunity of pandemonium to escape. Only Jim didn't count on the inevitable -- everyone in town believes that he was responsible. Why else would he run away from the Widow Douglas? Huck, against his better judgment, agrees to help set Jim free by going with him down river and from there up into the Free States. Along the way they will encounter a sunken ship full of murderers, a bloodthirsty rivalry between two southern families, and a pair of con artists out to make a fast buck, all the while learning to trust and care for one another. Huck Finn proves as always that the world is a very dangerous place. A dark and sinister world unfit for children is played out in this two-hour drama that attempts to make light of serious situations but fails on both counts. While excellent lessons in honesty, friendship, and the unfairness of slavery are portrayed, the film takes a much darker turn than its rival Tom 'n Huck and stretches the PG rating by a mile. Huck is accustomed to lying to get his way, and tells some devil of whoppers to all who care to listen. Rarely is he punished for this, save by the Widow Douglas, who sends him to bed without his supper one night.
Elijah Woods is at his best as the good-hearted but tough-headed Huck Finn, playing the role with just the right amount of innocence and formidability. His character goes through some good changes as well as the bad and ultimately Huck always does good when his conscience provokes it; but the film's leanings are toward violence. It comes in an abundance, from an abusive father to an implied bloodbath when the southern feud comes to a climax, and an attempted hanging. A corpse is dug up to prove a point. We witness a ship cave in on itself, apparently killing everyone inside. Dead bodies are scattered through various scenes, and Huck nearly kills his Pa by sleeping with a gun.
The costuming on part of the ladies is attractive and appropriate considering the time period, and in actuality very little innuendo or cleavage permeate the film, but the same does not hold true for language. Huck uses phrases like 'hell's bells, Jim!' frequently; there is a spattering of profanities and a few abuses of God's name. An additional note should be that there's a lengthy scene in which Jim is entertaining his family and friends with what looks like a séance. It's all bunk, of course, but he also agrees to tell Huck's future with the aid of a hairball. Although played for laughs, the sinister atmosphere and flickering candles leave a different impression -- it's dangerous to mock witchcraft. Huck Finn is one leap away from a PG13 rating for violence and dark thematic elements. It will prove too terrifying and uncertain for younger children, and older teens -- particularly those seeking out Elijah Wood -- may want to carefully think over the return benefits before pulling this one off the shelf.