- "I hated this movie. Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it."
- ―Roger Ebert
North is a 1994 American comedy film directed by Rob Reiner and starring an ensemble cast including Elijah Wood, Jon Lovitz, Jason Alexander, Alan Arkin, Dan Aykroyd, Kathy Bates, Faith Ford, Graham Greene, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Reba McEntire, John Ritter, and the late Abe Vigoda, with cameos by Bruce Willis and a then-unknown Scarlett Johansson (in her film debut). It was shot in Hawaii, Alaska, California, South Dakota, New Jersey, and New York.
The story is based on the novel North: The Tale of a 9-Year-Old Boy Who Becomes a Free Agent and Travels the World in Search of the Perfect Parents by Alan Zweibel, who wrote the screenplay and has a minor role in the film. Despite its all-star cast and director Reiner at the helm, North received aggressively negative reviews (particularly from Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, both of whom named it the worst film of 1994) and was a box office flop. As a result, it is regarded as one of the worst films ever made.
A boy named North is listening to his parents argue about their problems at the dinner table. North has a panic attack and begins to lose consciousness. As he does, the narrator explains that North is having difficulties with his parents, putting a damper on what is otherwise a successful life; North is a child prodigy, skilled in academics, sports, and drama, and is admired by many for his good work and obedient attitude, but constantly ignored by his own parents.
One day, while finding solace in a living room display at a mall, he is visited by a man in a pink bunny suit who claims to be the Easter Bunny, to whom North explains his problems. He realizes that his parents are unable to see his talents while all of the other parents in his neighborhood can. The Easter Bunny recommends that North tell his parents how he feels, but North says his parents do not deserve him if they are ignorant of his talents and appreciation for them. North then tells his friend Winchell, who works on the school paper, about his plan to possibly divorce himself from his parents. However, he decides to give his parents one last chance by giving them a phone call. When he is blown off by his father, North officially decides to divorce himself from his parents, hiring lawyer Arthur Belt to do so.
When the announcement of his divorce is made, his parents are shocked to the point where they are rendered comatose. With no opposition from North's parents, Judge Buckle gives North one summer to go out and find his new parents or he'll be put in an orphanage.
North's first stop is Texas, where he tries to spend some time with his first set of new parents. When North notices that they are attempting to fatten him up, they reveal that they want him to be more like their first son, Buck, who died in a stampede. The last straw comes when his new parents stage a musical number about the horrible things they're going to do to him. He is later visited by a cowboy named Gabby, who convinces him to look for his new parents somewhere else. Before leaving, Gabby gives North a good-bye present: a silver dollar that he shoots a hole in with his gun during a trick.
His next stop is Hawaii, where he meets Governor and Mrs. Ho, who also want to adopt him due to Mrs. Ho being infertile. However, Governor Ho soon unveils a new billboard as part of a campaign to increase settlements in Hawaii, which features North in a mortifying pose and are planned to be installed across the mainland U.S.A. Humiliated, North has a conversation with a metal detector-wielding tourist, realizing that parents should not rely on children for their own personal gain, and subsequently moves to Alaska.
There, he settles into an Inuit village with a father and mother, who send their elderly grandfather out to sea on an ice floe so that he may die with dignity. When North decides to leave Alaska, he realizes that his time is short, as the family walked during the six months of daylight and his summer is almost up. Meanwhile, North's real parents, still comatose, are put on display in a museum. Thanks to North's success, all the children in the world are threatening to leave their parents and hiring Arthur Belt as their lawyer, which propels Belt and Winchell into being the richest and most powerful people in the world.
North prepares to move in with a set of Amish parents, but is quickly discouraged by the lack of electricity (along with the large size of his new family) and leaves in a hurry. After going to Africa, China and Paris, he finally settles in with a seemingly nice family, the Nelsons, that treat him as their own. Despite the Nelsons giving North the attention and appreciation, he has craved, he still does not feel happy and leaves. With the summer deadline fast approaching, North gives up searching for new parents and runs away to New York City.
Winchell learns of North's appearance in New York. With the support of Belt, Winchell plans to have North assassinated and passed off as a martyr. North hides from a hitman hired to kill him when he finds out (via a videotape given to him by a friend) that his parents have not only snapped out of their comas, they beg their son to forgive them and return home.
He meets a comedian named Joey Fingers, who convinces North that "a bird in the hand is always greener than the grass under the other guy's bushes". He drives North to an airport so that he can reunite with his parents. However, the children, who realize that North's reunion would neutralize their power over their parents, are unwilling to let North reunite with his parents and chase him down. He is saved by a FedEx truck driver, who sees himself as a guardian angel.
As he rushes home to his parents before the summer is up, North is finally pursued by a hitman as he runs towards his parents' arms. Just as he is about to be shot, North awakens in the mall, now empty, revealing that his adventures had all been a dream. North is taken back home by the Easter Bunny impersonator and is greeted by a warm embrace from his parents. On the way home, North discovers a silver coin with a hole through the middle in his pocket — exactly the same one he received in his dream.
Why it Sucks
- Roger Ebert's criticisms set this movie's reputation in stone. (His review is right here.)
- Overused Bruce Willis's appearances as the Narrator, the Easter Bunny, a cowboy (whose name is Gabby), a tourist, a sleigh driver, a stand-up comedian named Joey Fingers and a FedEx truck driver.
- Alan Arkin's overacting as the Judge.
- Terrible, offensive jokes. Probably the worst involves the infertile Hawaiian mother.
- Many scenes feature insulting racist stereotypes.
- Several scenes make references to pedophilia (eg. after North has a panic attack, his dad says "Quick! Loosen his pants!").
- Poorly made Western music.
- Speaking of which, the song the Texan couple sing is to the tune of the theme song to "Bonanza" (a TV show which was set in Nevada)
- Product placements up the wazoo (American Airlines, Coca-Cola and (of course) FedEx).
- Badly written characters.
- The story makes absolutely no sense.
- North himself is an unlikable protagonist. He is supposed to be seen as a brilliant kid who had the misfortune of having bad parents who don't really care for him. Instead, he comes across as a kid with serious ego issues who abandons his parents just because he feels they don't give him the attention he feels he deserves. The only reason he comes back to them is because he felt that his other parents were either not good for him or didn't worship him enough. The fact that this movie ends in a dream (see below #13) and is filled with racist stereotypes may also suggest North is a racist or doesn't understand other people's cultures.
- The movie ends with the clichéd "All Just a Dream" ending in an attempt to emulate 1939's The Wizard of Oz’s famous ending, but fails miserably.
- How can the protagonist's friend (who is indeed a child) have so much power? That's just puzzling beyond reason and besides, he is too young to have that much power.
- The film nearly killed Rob Reiner's career as a director.
- Wastes the talents Of Elijah Wood, John Ritter, Bruce Willis, etc.
- The parental behavior that North's parents come off as laughable instead of really awful.
- Despite it's status as one of the worst films ever made, Rob Reiner actually defended it claiming that he loved doing it and that some of the best jokes he ever had in it are from that. He also questioned why everyone got mad at him for making it due to all previous films he directed being quite good where he responded that he just wanted to make a "little fable".
- This movie was Scarlett Johanson’s film debut.
- Roger Ebert's scathing review of North inspired him to write and publish a bestselling book called I Hated Hated Hated This Movie! (see Legacy) which listed out the many films he hated for many years, even ones that were never reviewed or shown on Siskel & Ebert (both the early versions and the later versions), Roger Ebert & The Movies and Ebert & Roeper.
- Elijah Wood's performance was decent.
The film was heavily panned by critics and audiences alike, especially from Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert (mentioned earlier) and currently holds a 14% on Rotten Tomatoes with an average of 3.2 out of 10 and a critic consensus that reads, "Laden with schmaltz and largely bereft of evident narrative purpose, North represents an early major disappointment from previously sure-handed director Rob Reiner." On Siskel & Ebert, Roger Ebert described it as "One of the most thoroughly hateful movies in recent years. A movie that makes me cringe even when I'm sitting here thinking about it." Roger added with "I hated this movie as much as any movie we've ever reviewed in the nineteen years we've been doing this show. I hated it because of the premise, which seems shockingly cold-hearted, and because this premise is being suggested to kids as children's entertainment, and because everybody in the movie was vulgar and stupid, and because the jokes weren't funny, and because most of the characters were obnoxious, and because of the phony attempt to add a little pseudo-hip philosophy with the Bruce Willis character. Now, I think Elijah Wood is a fine young actor, and Rob Reiner, the director, has made one terrific movie after another, so I prefer to consider North as just a very unfortunate aberration in these otherwise admirable careers." Gene Siskel added, "I think you gotta hold Rob Reiner's feet to the fire here. I mean, he's the guy in charge, he's saying this is entertainment, it's deplorable. There isn't a gag that works. You couldn't write worse jokes if I told you to write worse jokes. The ethnic stereotyping is appalling, it's embarrassing, you feel unclean as you're sitting there. It's junk. First class junk!" and finished his statement with "Any subject could be done well, this is just trash, Roger."
Kenneth Turan of The Los Angeles Times remarked about the film, "How could director Rob Reiner, whose touch for what pleases a mass audience is usually unfailing, have strayed this far?" and Stephen Hunter of The Baltimore Sun gave North a 1 out of 4 stars and remarked about the film "Unfunny. Boring. Endless."
On The Worst of 1994 show, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert both named North their worst film of that year and Roger Ebert stated "I hated this movie. Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it."
North had a budget of $40 million. However, it bombed at the box office after only making a box office return of only $7.1 million.
Awards and nominations
North was nominated for eight Golden Raspberry Awards including Worst Picture, but lost the award to Color of Night which also starred Willis.
In April 2000, Roger Ebert published a book titled I Hated Hated Hated This Movie! named after his review of North. The book contains his written reviews (which can be seen on his website as well) of many films that he truly despised for many years aside from this one. In the book, Roger also mentioned other notable atrocities like Exit to Eden (released the same year this film was), The Postman, Baby Geniuses, I Spit On Your Grave (1978), The Story of Us, The Awakening, Kazaam, Jaws: The Revenge, Alien: Resurrection, Message in a Bottle, Psycho, Armageddon, Patch Adams and Godzilla. The book also listed out films he didn't review with Gene Siskel, the guest critics who co-hosted his show after Gene died and Richard Roeper. Roger dedicated the book to the memory of his original critic friend, Gene Siskel who died a year earlier in 1999. Richard Roeper, who replaced Gene Siskel stated about watching it on the list of the 40 worst films "Of all the films on this list, North may be the most difficult from start to finish. I've tried twice and failed. Do yourself a favor and don't even bother. Life is too short."