Although at times trying far to hard to be emotionally compelling, "The Tic Code" is an enjoyable homage to people suffering from Tourette's syndrome and to the beauty and richness of jazz music as a form of expression.
"The Tic Code" tells the story of a young boy named Miles who suffers from Tourette's syndrome. His Tics cause him to be ostracized at school and picked on by the school bully, played by a younger Robert Iler, who plays Anthony Jr. on "The Sopranos." Miles lives with his divorced mother, and his tics may or may not have been the thing which drove his Jazz Pianist father to leave his family. Miles is also, it turns out, an incredible Jazz piano player and he spends his afternoons in a jazz club bar playing piano before the customers come in. Soon Tyrone Staxx, a gifted jazz sax player to whom Miles and his friend look up, comes to play in the club and takes an opportunity to jam with Miles and get to know him, though he is at first taken aback by Miles' tics. Tyrone soon obtains a bigger role in the lives of both Miles and his mother, played by "Thirtysomething" vet Polly Draper.
One of the film's strengths is its attempts to show the more human side of Tourette's syndrome. Chris Marquette gives a truly impressive performance as Miles, in a role that was no doubt a challenge due to the many different "tics" that afflict Miles. Marquette's convincing performance is a credit both to his acting ability and the director's desire to really show Tourette's in all its manifestations. In addition to constant verbal "tics" and similar head movements, Miles finds himself arranging items so they all face a similar direction and becoming obsessed with methodically touching things. While odd-angle slow-motion black and white montages, demonstrating visions of horror which occasionally plague Miles are a bit disturbing and out of place with respect to the rest of the film the filmmakers should be applauded for their efforts to bring a realistic Tourette's suffering character to the screen.
It is without question that the filmmakers try to lay on the sentimentality in a thick fashion, with many scenes that seem to lack any emotional subtlety whatsoever. Particularly in the scenes in between Tyrone, played by Gregory Hines and Laura, played by Polly Draper, the movie seems to take a few plot twists and turns that seem a bit forced and out of place. Nevertheless, on par the film is an entertaining one. The filmmaker's love of jazz music appears to be a strong influence throughout the film, and is evident by the film's inclusion of a number of jazz performances. Further, jazz is really portrayed in the film as a form of communication, as much as it is a style of music.
Another enjoyable aspect of "The Tic Code" is the great number of cameos in the film. Making appearances in the film are Camryn Manheim, Fisher Stevens, Buster Poindexter, and Carol Kane as Miles' school music teacher who insists that Miles play the piano with curled fingers rather than the flat fingers with which Miles, Mile's father and the great Thelonious Monk liked to play. Fans of "The Arsenio Hall Show" also be quite pleased that the members of Arsenio's posse, including Michael Wolff and John B. Williams make appearances in the film and provide much of the music that is played on-screen, including Miles' piano scenes.
Despite the fact that "The Tic Code" is put out by Universal DVD and is even preceded by the Universal DVD advertisement showing the best that they have to offer, the production values on this DVD are surprisingly low. The film is presented in full screen and, to a noticeable degree, lack the clarity and sharpness that widescreen presentation will add to a film. There are a few instances in which the lack of sharpness is particularly apparentm but there are no other major flaws which greatly impede a viewer's enjoyment of the movie.
Like the full-screen transfer, the low production values ascribed to this DVD are even more apparent with respect to the sound presentation of the DVD. The film is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0, but either as a function of Polly Draper's voice or the sound transfer, the film required constant adjustments in volume, as the sound was often too low during scenes involving a lengthy conversation, and then too high with respect to some of the jazz scenes in the film. While the jazz music does sound good, the sound presentation on this DVD was quite a disappointment.
An even greater disappointment is in store in the category of bonus materials. The DVD contains only a trailer in addition to the film. Particularly because of the boldness with which the filmmakers try to examine Tourette's syndrome onscreen within the context of Miles, a commentary track would have been quite enjoyable, as viewers would likely be quite interested to learn about how the story came about, how the director inspired such a great performance from Marquette, how the director obtained all the actors who offered cameo appearances and more. Nevertheless, there is really nothing which augments one's enjoyment of the film beyond the film itself.
While at times a bit overly-sentimental, "The Tic Code" is a film that is easy to appreciate. Coming through the entire film is an evident love of jazz and appreciation for the effects of Tourette's syndrome, particularly on children. Like Jonathan Lethem's book "Motherless Brooklyn" this film attempts to portray someone suffering from Tourette's syndrome just as they are, without the stereotypical blurting out swearwords which is unfortunately a symptom of Tourette's which some but not all Tourette's children seem to suffer. Like "Billy Elliot" it is unfortunate that this film is rated "R" for language, because it does serve a very important purpose in educating people about the syndrome, and it seems wrong that the audience for the film's message should be limited to people over the age of 17, particularly because many of Miles' problems in the film seem to stem from an ignorance on the part of others about Tourette's. While the story does have some weak spots, it is generally an enjoyable film and worth watching.