April 16, 2002 -- "Mr. Rice's Secret" is a story about a family dealing with their young son's cancer, told in a very non-depressing and positive way.
Bill Switzer of "Eerie, Indiana: The Other Dimension") stars as Owen Walters, suffering from a deadly form of cancer. The weight of the disease hangs over him like a black cloud. He is in denial about his condition, cruelly turning against a fellow young cancer patient, Simon (played by Richard de Klerk). On top of that, his friend, the kindly neighbor Mr. Rice (played by David Bowie of "Basquiat"), has died. Owen tries hard to follow Rice's advice to live without fear of death, but he cannot. The imminent threat of death weighs him down. Then he happens upon a letter to Owen written in code by Mr. Rice. Using a decoder ring, Owen tries to unravel the mystery bequeathed him by his friend.
The screenplay, written by J.H. Wyman ("The Mexican") does an excellent job dealing with the subject of terminally ill young people and their families. The script is intelligent and pulls no punches when it comes to the subject of how cruel some children can be to each other. But the story is more about life than it is about death. Owen's parents, Marylyn and Stan Walters (played by Teryl Rothery of "Stargate SG-1" TV series and Garwin Sanford of "Get Carter") come across as intelligent, sensitive, caring people, not the usual one-dimensional characters one often sees in family dramas. Owen also comes across as multi-dimensional. He's a good kid, but he makes some serious mistakes, too. He has a tough time dealing with his condition.
Owen's friends, Funnel Head (Zack Lipovsky) Veg (Jason Anderson) and Gilbert (Tyler Thompson) are also interesting characters. They are sometimes supportive, sometimes cruel, just like real kids. While the dialogue didn't always ring true, the characters are very believable. Owen's nemesis is "Mr. Death," (Campbell Lane) the local funeral director. Owen has nightmares and visions of Mr. Death coming to take him away. Later in the film, the story veers off into science fiction, but this is actually not a major part of the plot. It is more of a metaphor for Owen's emotional transformation from a dying person to a living person. This joyous transformation is all the more gratifying because of his strenuous emotional journey to get to that point. As wise men have pointed out over the years, the height of our joys cannot exceed the depth of our sorrows. They are two sides of the same coin.
Obviously, this is not a big-budget movie. It was filmed in Canada has a good helping of Canadian talent (it was partially funded by Canadian money). David Bowie fans will be disappointed that his role in the movie is quite limited, his character being dead for most of the story. This is a well-constructed film with real substance. The film is very well-written, well-acted and well-directed by Nicholas Kendall ("Just Deal" TV series director). The musical score, featuring haunting, etheral Celtic-flavored music by Simon Kendall and Al Rodger, is also very effective. This film rates a B.
I saw this film initially on DVD. The disc has few embellishments. There is a Spanish subtitles option. There are biographies of some of the actors, a trailer and scene selections. It does not come with a full-screen option.
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