Review: ‘Chasing the Present,’ starring James Sebastino Jr., Sri Prem Baba, Gary Weber, James Sebastino Sr., Zelda Hall, Russell Brand and Graham Hancock

November 10, 2020

by Carla Hay

James Sebastino Jr. (far left) and Sri Prem Baba (far right) in “Chasing the Present” (Photo courtesy of 1091 Pictures)

“Chasing the Present

Directed by Mark Waters

Some language in Portuguese and Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, India and Peru, the documentary “Chasing the Present” interviews several people (mostly upper-middle class/wealthy and predominantly white males, with some people of color) who advocate for reaching a higher consciousness through meditation and therapy.

Culture Clash: The documentary’s subject is a successful but anxiety-plagued entrepreneur named James Sebastino Jr., who says he’s a “drug free” recovering drug addict, yet he takes the psychedelic drug ayahuasca as part of his “higher consciousness” therapy.

Culture Audience: “Chasing the Present” will appeal primarily to people who like New Age documentaries where privileged people act very self-indulgent and hypocritical while preaching about reaching outside oneself to find a “higher consciousnesses.”

James Sebastino Jr. in “Chasing the Present” (Photo courtesy of 1091 Pictures)

We’ve seen this tone-deaf hypocrisy before: A privileged person, who has the time and resources to frequently go on month-long meditation trips to exotic countries, comes back from those trips with a self-righteous and smug attitude that they’ve figured out the meaning of life because they know how to tap into their higher consciousness. Their “altered” outlook on life usually depends on how many psychedelic drugs they took during those retreats. They usually babble on about reaching outside of themselves for a deeper meaning beyond material things and finding a purpose in life beyond their own self-absorbed problems.

The irony is that they spend so much time talking about themselves and doing activities centered on themselves that they usually don’t do much to make the world a better place beyond their own self-absorbed bubbles. And they sure aren’t giving up their money and material comforts for the “greater good of humanity.” If they gave most of their money to charity and lived a humbler life, as preached by the overrated and often-questionable gurus they consult with, how else would these privileged people be able to fund their frequent over-priced therapy retreats that they love to brag about later to people who don’t go to these retreats?

This type of tiresome hypocrisy is the epitome of the documentary “Chasing the Present,” which is essentially a dull slog of a vanity project that shows a 34-year-old self-pitying, New York City-based entrepreneur going through various therapies because he says he’s not really happy with himself and all the comforts and material success that he’s achieved in his life. James Sebastino Jr. is the pretentious whiner who’s the subject of this documentary, which is basically just a film of him talking about himself in different locations around the world, with a few of his therapy sessions and some New Age talking heads included in the movie. Sebastino is one of the producers of this documentary. In other words, he’s one of the people who paid to get this movie made.

When it comes to people who preach about how to live your best life, there’s nothing worse than someone who tells everyone how altruistic and high-minded they are, but they don’t actually do anything substantial to back up those claims except talk about themselves some more. That’s exactly the awful repeat loop that “Chasing the Present” (directed by Mark Waters) is on for the entire movie. Sebastino is shown in sessions with people whom he’s no doubt over-paid to tell him self-help advice that anyone can find for free on the Internet.

At least Sebastino acknowledges in the documentary that almost all the teachings and meditations touted in the film have existed for centuries and originally came from continents such as Asia, Africa or South America, even though these enlightenment beliefs have often been co-opted and repackaged by “gurus” of white European descent. The filmmakers seem to want to fulfil their “ethnic credibility” quota but having a smattering of footage of Indian gurus and Buddhist temple monks, without actually interviewing any of them except for one: Sri Prem Baba, who is described in the documentary as a “spiritual master.”

Likewise, there’s the predictable footage of indigenous South American people preparing the psychedelics that are ingested by the entitled tourists who go on these psychedelic retreats, but only one “token” person from the indigenous South American community is interviewed in the film: Peruvian “ayahuasca healer” Jose Lopez Sanchez. The rest of the talking heads in the movie are Americans and Europeans, almost all of them men, who wouldn’t be caught dead giving up their incomes and comfortable lifestyles to lead a financially disadvantaged existence in a so-called “underprivileged” country that they use as a prop for their “higher consciousness” preaching.

Sebastino says in the beginning of the documentary that he spent much of his teens and 20s abusing drugs, including LSD, alcohol and cocaine. He says he became so addicted to drugs that he would spend hours holed up in his home, doing cocaine and having paranoid and suicidal thoughts. Sebastino also mentions several times throughout the movie that he’s had lifelong problems with anxiety. It’s not mentioned if he ever went to rehab for his drug addiction, or how many times he might have been in rehab, but Sebastino says the turning point in his life was when he became a vegetarian.

“I felt like it was the first time in my life where I started to be more aware of what I put in my body,” Sebastino says of becoming a vegetarian. “It didn’t make sense to do a juice cleanse and then the next day go to the bar and get hammered.” Sebastino turned his life around and opened up vegetarian/vegan restaurants and a vegan hotel, which thankfully aren’t promoted in this movie, because “Chasing the Present” is already just one big self-promotion for Sebastino. He says in the documentary that he’s been “drug-free” for years, and yet he takes the psychedelic drug ayahuasca as part of his “therapy” that’s documented in this movie. More on that self-deluded hypocrisy in a moment.

One of the most ridiculous “therapy” sessions that Sebastino has in “Chasing the Present” is with Gary Weber, who is described in the documentary as a “non-duality author and speaker.” Most of these so-called “experts,” who make money off of vulnerable people who are looking for life’s answers, don’t actually have any legitimate psychotherapy credentials or university training as psychotherapists. In “Chasing the Present,” Weber rambles to Sebastino by insisting that Sebastino isn’t one person but are actually different people who exist in the world.

“Which [James] do you believe is real?” Weber asks Sebastino with an intense crazy-eyed stare. “You can look at your brain. James is just an ad hoc entity created as waves of energy sweep across the cortex. Scientifically, we can show there is no James there. You are only now. There is no past.”

So which is it? There’s no James, several Jameses, or only one James who lives in the present? Any sane adult would catch on right away that some of these platitude-spouting “gurus” contradict themselves in their preachings. Sebastino doesn’t ask questions about these contradictions, because he sits in these therapy sessions like a gullible kid who believes everything that he’s told, even if they sound like lies that make no sense.

Although Weber says in the documentary he’s never taken psychedelics in his life, you have to wonder what else is going on in his mind or what other drug experiences he might have had to sit there and preach these things with a straight face, because it all sounds like a bad parody of real meditative philosophy. You almost expect Weber to tell Sebastino that the mothership from outer space is coming soon and they better get ready because their Earthly bodies don’t really exist as they know it, or some other such nonsense.

Another “guru” that Sebastino meets with is Baba, an Indian Brazilian “guru” who counsels Sebastino in India. Baba’s schtick is to basically tell people that they shouldn’t worry about their problems. Problems are a state of mind, says Baba. “So, suffering isn’t real?” asks Sebastino like a child who’s been told that there’s no Santa Claus.

Baba says yes and replies, “Darkness doesn’t have a real existence. It’s just the absence of light.” According to what Baba preaches to Sebastino, suffering isn’t real and you’re weak-minded if you worry about your problems. Tell that to people who are homeless, starving or dying from a terminal illness. Oh, the privileged entitlement of it all.

Other pundits who regurgitate second-rate and unoriginal “life advice” in the movie are comedian/actor Russell Brand, meditation teacher/author Joseph Goldstein, non-duality teacher Robert Spira, author Graham Hancock and artist Alex Grey. It’s not exactly a diverse group preaching about “world views” in this documentary. Avant-garde performance artist Marina Abramović was announced in this documentary’s press materials as being part of “Chasing the Present,” but the footage that she filmed didn’t make the final cut of this documentary. She’s better off not being part of this pretentious bore of a movie.

British comedian/actor Brand (also known as the ex-husband of pop singer Katy Perry) is a recovering drug addict who’s trying to reinvent himself as a spiritual/meditation expert, now that his career isn’t as hot as it used to be. He has this to say in the documentary: “There’s an aspect of spirit that’s being neglected. If you ignore it, then fear will happen.” Again, it’s very easy for people in comfortable, privileged lifestyles to be this self-righteous when they have luxuries that most other people in the world do not have.

Sebastino is also seen getting counseling from Zelda Hall, who’s described in the movie as a “psychologist and integrative therapist,” but she acts more like a hack psychic reader. She asks Sebastino a lot of leading questions about what he’s thinking, so she can figure out what trite advice she can give, based on his responses. And she spouts vague “touchy feely” comments such as, “It’s okay to feel your heart.” She eventually makes Sebastino do some primal scream therapy. Viewers watching this dreck might feel like screaming themselves because almost everything in this documentary looks staged.

The last third of “Chasing the Present” is essentially an infomercial to take ayahuasca, with the predictable ritual-type footage of Sebastino taking ayahuasca in a remote part of Peru. The people who are in the business of selling ayahuasca as a “therapy drug” don’t even like to use the word “drug” to describe ayahuasca. They call it “medicine.” But whether a psychedelic drug is plant-based or a manufactured chemical, it’s still a psychedelic drug with all the risks from side effects that come with it.

These damaging side effects are never mentioned in “Chasing the Present,” which fails miserably when it comes to presenting any medical/scientific evidence and medical/scientific points of view about taking this potentially dangerous drug. You don’t have to be a doctor to know that one of the worst side effects of taking any psychedelic drug (plant-based or chemical) is that it causes anxiety and paranoia, sometimes in “flashbacks,” long after the drug was ingested. Unlike alcohol, which can leave a body through urine within 24 hours, psychedelic drugs can stay in a body for days after being ingested. And yet, none of these medical facts are mentioned in “Chasing the Present,” which has anxiety-plagued Sebastino taking a psychedelic drug that causes more anxiety, with no medical supervision from any medical professionals.

In one part of the documentary, Sebastino says that the first night he took ayahuasca, he was disappointed because it didn’t really have an effect on him. (In other words, he felt like he didn’t get high enough from the drug.) And so, the next time he took even more ayahuasca than he did the night before. Sebastino says that he felt like he had a “breakthrough” on the second night, because he upped his dosage.

These “testimonials” need to be taken with a huge grain of salt because they’re not coming from medical professionals, but from people who usually have an agenda to sell or endorse these psychedelic “treatments” with no real medical supervision. The documentary interviews two such people with this agenda: Peruvian “ayahuasca healer” Sanchez and Temple of the Way of Light founder Matthew Watherston.

The documentary’s one refreshing dose of a common-sense reality check from all the self-indulgent psycho-babbling is when it shows Sebastino talking with his father James Sebastino Sr. while they have a meal together at a diner. Sebastino Sr. clearly loves his son, but the no-nonsense elder Sebastino does everything but roll his eyes when his son continues to steer the conversation back to himself and his “enlightenment.”

It’s not that Sebastino Sr. doesn’t believe that his son should pursue happiness wherever he can find it. The father just doesn’t tolerate the guilt trip that his son tries to put on him for raising him to have high standards and a work ethic in a non-abusive environment. Sebastino Jr. tries to make it sound like his father caused him “trauma” and made his anxiety worse, just because his father encouraged him to be the best person he could be and not become a lazy bum who contributes nothing worthwhile to society.

Sebastino Jr. also makes it sound like he turned to drugs to cope with all the pressure to achieve certain goals in his life. Cue the violin “sob story” music. It’s all very annoying whining from someone who probably grew up not fully understanding his privilege and advantages he had in life. Now that he’s an adult, all of his “therapy” clearly isn’t helping him if he still wants to blame his misery on his father.

Sebastino Sr. has some great offhand snide remarks to make it clear that he thinks his son sounds like a brat, but Sebastino Jr. doesn’t take the hints. For example, when Sebastino Jr. tells his father about his ayahuasca “therapy” during his trip to Peru and how he lost control of his sense of self, Sebastino Sr. quips, “You’re lucky you didn’t piss yourself in front of all those people.”

In another part of the conversation, while Sebastino Jr. talks about all the soul-searching he’s been doing in his travels around the world, Sebastino Sr. comments, “Millions of miles later…,” as if to say, “I get it. You love to brag about how many long-distance trips you’ve taken for all of this self-indulgent therapy.”

The main takeaway from “Chasing the Present” is that people like Sebastino Jr. will never truly be happy with themselves because they keep turning to drugs and questionable gurus to give them some sense of inner peace. They waste time being self-absorbed, humorless bores who don’t practice what they preach. And sometimes they make documentaries about themselves to film all of their pretentious unhappiness and show that they don’t live in their heads as much as they live in their rear ends.

1091 Pictures released “Chasing the Present” on digital on September 29, 2020, and on VOD on October 6, 2020.

Review: ‘Four Kids and It,’ starring Paula Patton, Matthew Goode, Russell Brand and Michael Caine

July 12, 2020

by Carla Hay

Teddie Malleson-Allen and Ashley Aufderheide in “Four Kids and It” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Four Kids and It”

Directed by Andy DeEmmony

Culture Representation: Taking place in England, the comedy/drama/fantasy film “Four Kids and It” features a predominantly white cast (with some black people) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A British man and his American girlfriend go on a blended family vacation together for the first time with their respective children, who secretly discover an ancient talking creature that can make wishes come true.

Culture Audience: “Four Kids and It” is a family film that children under the age of 10 might enjoy, but older kids and adults might be bored with the often-dull, awkward and predictable storyline.

Teddie Malleson-Allen, Ashley Aufderheide, Ellie-Mae Siame, Matthew Goode, Paula Patton and Billy Jenkins in “Four Kids and It” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

In case you think the world still doesn’t have enough family films that are about non-human talking creatures, here comes another one that unfortunately will be relegated to the “forgettable” pile. “Four Kids and It” (directed by Andy DeEmmony) is an utterly predictable and frequently boring mush of mediocrity that won’t be the type of “addictive” viewing that can be described for so many beloved family-friendly films.

The screenplay for “Four Kids and It” (clumsily written by Simon Lewis) is adapted from Jacqueline Wilson’s 2012 children’s novel “Four Children and It,” which was inspired by E. Nesbit’s 1902 children’s novel “Five Children and It.” The movie version is a far inferior version of the book, since it adds an irritating new character that mucks up the story and actually makes it more confusing to the people unfamiliar with the novels.

“Four Kids and It” begins by showing two different divorced parents with their respective kids. David (played by Matthew Goode) is a British father of 13-year-old book enthusiast Rosalind, nicknamed Ros (played by Teddie Malleson-Allen) and adventurous 9-year-old Robbie (played by Billy Jenkins). Alice (played by Paula Patton) is an American mother of 13-year-old rebellious brat Samantha, nicknamed Smash (played by Ashley Aufderheide), and sweet-natured 5-year-old Maudie (played by Ellie-Mae Siame).

What do they all have in common? They’re all about to go on holiday together at an English countryside beach, where they’ll be staying at David’s vacation home. It’s at this beach that the kids will meet the aforementioned talking creature, which doesn’t show itself when the parents are around. And what the children also don’t know yet is the true intention for David and Alice to arrange this trip.

Alice and David have been secretly dating each other. The vacation will be the first time that this couple will tell their kids about the relationship and introduce the kids to each other. Can you say “awkward”? It’s a big departure from the “Four Children and It” book, where David and Alice are both British and already married to each other, after divorces from their first spouses, and Maudie is their biological child together. In the book, David is Smash’s stepfather, while Alice is Ros and Robbie’s stepmother.

Because the movie adds this new plot element of David’s and Alice’s kids not knowing each other before this fateful vacation, there’s quite a bit of screen time spent on all the conflicts that ensue because of this uncomfortable situation—so much so, that all of this manufactured drama for the movie unfolds long before the kids even see the talking creature that’s supposed to be the catalyst for the adventure part of the story. The opening scenes of the film make it clear that two of the kids are definitely going to clash with each other.

Ros is a studious, obedient bookworm who aspires to be a famous novelist. She’s shown at a library, where a librarian asks Ros if she’s started on her novel yet. Ros replies that whatever she’s written has ended up as crumpled paper in a trash bin—an indication that she’s a perfectionist who’s very hard on herself. And what book does Ros check out of the library?  “Five Children and It,” of course.

Meanwhile, Smash is hanging out with a group of boys outside a seedy-looking area. This group looks like it might be a bad influence on her. Alice arrives in her car to retrieve Smash, who reluctantly leaves with her mother, but not before mouthing off some choice words to Alice in a rude and insolent manner.

Smash is a very angry girl. Why? Smash’s father left the family to live with a woman who’s much younger than Alice. Smash blames Alice for the family breaking up, because she thinks that Alice drove Smash’s father away by being a nagging shrew. Of course, it’s shown later in the movie that Smash has  a very lofty and misguided opinion of her father (who’s only heard on the phone, but not seen in the story), because in reality he’s an irresponsible jerk who constantly breaks his promises to see Smash.

Smash also hates living in England. She complains about British food and calls the United Kingdom a “sucky little country.” Smash is the very epitome of the type of “ugly American” who disrespects other cultures. And she’s a nightmare to be around, since she likes to instigate fights and cause problems with other people.

The only person Smash doesn’t really get angry with in the story is her little sister Maudie. Everyone else at some point becomes a target of Smash’s rage. Alice is part of the problem, since she enables a lot of this brat’s awful behavior.

David and Alice arrive separately at the beach home with their respective kids. And then, the couple drops the big news to the four children. All of the kids (except for Maudie, who’s too young to know everything) react with shock and disappointment over finding out that their parents have moved on from their ex-spouses and found love with someone new.

It’s a lot for the kids to absorb, because Alice has never met David’s kids before, David has never met Alice’s kids before, and vice versa. And then the kids have now just found out that Alice and David have been secretly dating each other for a while. (The movie doesn’t say how long David and Alice have been in a romantic relationship with each other.) And now, they’re all supposed to be on this vacation like one big happy family. You don’t have to be in a poorly written family film to know this is a recipe for disaster.

Not surprisingly, Smash has the angriest reaction to the news, so there’s a lot of yelling and screaming from her. Smash and Ros despise each other from the beginning, because Smash has declared that one of the house’s bedrooms is hers, even though Ros has always stayed in that bedroom before. The two girls have a knock-down, drag-out fight, while David tries to break it up, and Alice barely does anything to stop Smash from being the terror that she is.

In fact, Alice is a horribly permissive parent who doesn’t discipline Smash when Smash (who’s obviously a loathsome bully) yells at her disrespectfully and says and does mean-spirited things to Ros and Robbie. More than once, Smash yells at Alice, “You’ve ruined my life!” when, by all indications, Smash is leading a pretty comfortable and spoiled life.

“Four Kids and It” screenwriter Lewis seems dead-set on making Smash the teenager from hell, because there’s a lot of emphasis on the fact that Smash is an unruly, uncouth American, while Ros and Robbie are polite British kids. If Ros or Robbie get angry in this story, it’s usually because Smash provoked them. In one scene in the movie, Smash utters another insult about British people by saying that they have flat rear ends, while Ros snaps back that American people’s rear ends are too big. This is what’s supposed to be “funny” in “Four Kids and It.”

When Smash sees that Ros has brought some books on this trip, Smash sneers at Ros, “Who brings books on a holiday?” Ros replies, “People who can read.” Smash snaps back, “People with no lives!”

The movie is updated from the book to show that Smash is someone whose idea of reading is whatever she reads on her phone. Smash is obsessed with her phone. She’s written as a negative cliché of a teenager who cares more about what strangers online think of her and increasing her social-media following rather than caring about treating people in her real life with respect. And even though Maudie is a kind-hearted little kid, being only 5 years old, she’s obviously portrayed as too young/too ignorant to know any better about what goes on with some of the more adult-themed situations in this story.

Alice and her family are African American, so there are some some racial undertones in how they’re portrayed as the least intelligent characters in the movie. It just fuels negative stereotypes that an African American family that’s headed by a single mother is somehow problematic. The movie makes it clear later on that Smash’s father is a deadbeat dad who’s abandoned the family, which is yet another negative cliché of African American men.

David’s ex-wife (Ros and Robbie’s mother) has also also left her family, is emotionally unavailable, and is unseen in the movie but heard in a phone call. (Ros has a delusional hope that her parents will get back together someday.) But David’s ex-wife is given a “noble” excuse for why she doesn’t visit her children as much as they’d like her to visit: She’s away at a university to “find herself” and get a better education. There’s no real excuse given for why Smash’s father is an absentee parent, because he’s simply portrayed as being selfish.

Alice is portrayed as a single mother who’s not very smart, not very competent, and more concerned about making out with David than paying attention to her kids. She’s also a terrible cook—and that doesn’t make her a bad person—but Alice’s lack of cooking skills is a running joke in the movie, which has this sexist idea that because Alice is the only woman in the house, she’s the only one who’s supposed to do the cooking.

“Four Kids and It” is so badly written that it doesn’t even mention what Alice and David do for a living, or why Alice has moved to England with her kids. There’s no context for how David and Alice met and why they’re together. And since the movie never mentions how long Alice and David have been dating each other, there’s no way to know why they chose to have such an abrupt and uncomfortable introduction to each other’s children. It’s poor judgment, regardless of how long Alice and David have been in a relationship with each other.

The movie has also added a new character that’s not in the book: Tristan Trent (played by Russell Brand), a rich recluse who lives in a nearby mansion. Tristan has stocked his cluttered mansion with enough taxidermy animals and ancient artifacts to make his home look like a museum. It’s a sign that he’s an obsessive collector who might stop at nothing to get his hands on priceless treasure. Cue the villain music.

Tristan introduces himself to David, Alice and the kids. He appears to be pleasant and is an obvious eccentric. Tristan invites them to his mansion. In yet another “polite Brit/rude American” contrast that this movie keeps making, David comments to Trent about Trent’s home: “It’s charming.” But Alice blurts out to Trent that his home décor is “old” and “kind of worn-looking. It must be a British thing.”

When the four kids encounter the creature on the beach for the first time, their parents are far away at another part of the beach. Smash has grabbed Robbie’s game device and cruelly thrown it on some dangerous cliff rocks that Robbie has to climb in order to get the device. The creature, which calls itself Psammead (pronounced “Sammy-add” and voiced by Michael Caine), has lived deep in the beach sand for millions of years. In the movie, the creature moves through the sand as if it’s a Jaws-like shark in the ocean.

The kids notice this unusual movement and manage to pull Psammead out of the sand by one of its legs. In the book, Psammead is supposed to be a sand fairy. In the movie, Psammead looks more like E.T.’s great-grandfather. The visual effects in this movie aren’t bad, but they’re not that great either.

It isn’t long before Psammead reveals to the children that he has magical powers to make wishes come true. The catch is that each person can get only one wish, and that wish expires by sunset on the day that the wish comes true. And as with a lot of movies that are aimed at kids, there’s a fart joke, because Psammead inflates himself and passes gas before he grants a wish.

The first wish that Psammead grants for the kids is Robbie’s wish to be able to be an expert climber. The next thing you know, Robbie is scaling the cliff rocks like he’s Spider-Man, and he retrieves his game device. The kids keep Psammead a secret from their parents and make other wishes over the next few days.

Smash’s wish is to become a world-famous pop star, so there’s an elaborate scene of Ros, Robbie and Maudie being whisked away to London in a hot-pink, custom helicopter that has Smash’s face painted on the side of the aircraft. In London, they’re VIP guests at Smash’s sold-out concert at the O2 Arena. Backstage before the show, Smash is catered to like a superstar. (Real-life British pop star Cheryl has a cameo in this scene as a pop singer named Coco Rayne.)

And then, Smash does a big song-and-dance routine for her concert before an ecstatic audience of thousands of people. It’s a performance that looks like something out of a TV talent show. And this scene has obvious CGI effects, since this movie obviously didn’t have the budget to rent out the O2 Arena and have thousands of extras to film this scene.

The kids lose track of time and encounter a major problem because Smash’s wish ends at sunset, thereby abruptly ending the concert. The helicopter and chauffeured transportation are gone, and the children have to scramble to find their way back to the beach house. Not surprisingly, their parents notice that the kids are missing, the police get involved, and the expected chaos and confusion ensue.

Maudie’s wish is pretty simple: the ability for all four of the kids to fly. And Ros’ wish involves going back in time and meeting the five children who were in the “Five Children and It” book: Cyril (played by Seán Treacy), Robert (played by Ely Sloan), Anthea (played by Emily Highams), Jane (played by Laura Kate Whyms) and baby boy Lamb (played by Leo and Jack Mulrooney-O’Brien).

There’s a subplot involving Tristan and a conflict that he has with the four kids. This part of the story makes the movie more of a convoluted mess, so this subplot won’t be described here, but it does lead to a very predictable conclusion.

Did the venerable, Oscar-winning actor Caine know when he signed on to this movie that it would turn out to be such a lackluster dud? Probably not. Fans of this actor will probably be a little disturbed that he ended up being the voice for such an odd-looking creature with a personality that isn’t very appealing. Psammead’s attitude with the children ranges from condescending to impatient to resigned, as in “Okay, I’ll do what you want. Just stop pestering me.”

British actor/comedian Brand is an acquired taste for a lot of people, so many viewers will either find him annoying or ineffective in his role as Tristan. Brand used to be known as an edgy and fairly controversial comedian who wouldn’t be caught dead in a children’s movie. Times have definitely changed.

As for the other actors in the cast, Malleson-Allen as Ros is best at making her character the most believable and relatable. As Ros’ nemesis Smash, Aufderheide is saddled with portraying an awful character—and unfortunately, Aufderheide over-acts in some scenes, which make Smash even more annoying to watch. The rest of the cast members do a serviceable but mostly unremarkable job with their roles.

“Four Children and It” author Wilson has a brief cameo during the film’s end credits, which might be overlooked if people experiencing this slow train-wreck of a movie don’t have the stomach to finish watching it. If you really won’t feel complete in life unless you see a movie with a decrepit E.T.-like creature voiced by a cranky-sounding Sir Michael Caine, as this creature makes wishes come true for quarreling children, then by all means watch “Four Kids and It.”

Lionsgate released “Four Kids and It” on DVD, Blu-ray, digital and VOD on June 30, 2020.