I'm an adult male without any kids. I'm probably not supposed to be in the target audience of a film about three teens who spend their time solving mysteries. And yet, that is exactly where I find myself thanks to my ability to get in touch with my inner child (don't worry, he doesn't mind). You see, my inner child is a nerdy little Indian kid who spent many formative years reading books featuring the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and, of course, the Three Investigators.
Based on a quick online search I can surmise that the Three Investigators were never as popular in the States as the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. I'm not surprised by this fact. Let's face it; the Hardy Boys were dashing and athletic while Nancy Drew was smart and savvy. In contrast, the Three Investigators were chunky (Jupiter Jones), lanky (Pete Crenshaw) and bookish (Bob Andrews). I've gotta say though, they seemed awfully appealing to a chunky bookish kid (my lanky years were still ahead of me). They had rough edges, distinct personalities and a propensity for sorting out supernatural or just-plain-strange mysteries. As a child, I would have jumped at the chance to watch a cinematic version of one of their cases. Many years later, I finally have that opportunity with The Three Investigators in the Secret of Skeleton Island.
After a Bond-style opening finds the boys (Chancellor Miller as Jupiter, Nick Price as Pete and Cameron Monaghan as Bob) defying certain death to unmask the misdeeds of an art thief, we are dropped into our central mystery. Pete's dad (Nigel Whitmey) has to travel to South Africa for work and he's letting the guys accompany him so they can have a small vacation (solving three cases in a row is hard work). When they get there, they encounter a hostile environment thanks to Gamba (Akin Omotoso), one of the locals. He doesn't want Pete's dad and his employer, Miss Wilbur (Fiona Ramsey), to go forward with their plans of erecting new buildings on Skeleton Island. Helping Gamba's case is the rumor that the island is cursed with many people pointing to attacks by a strange, clawed creature as evidence. When Miss Wilbur is wounded in one of these attacks, Gamba is promptly arrested. Fortunately, his teenage daughter Chris (Naima Sebe) just met three guys who might be able to help clear his name. No medals for guessing who I'm talking about.
It's fair to say that I approached this movie with some baggage that most of its intended audience (younger boys and girls) will not have. Having read the books, I had a certain sense of what the characters should look like and how they should interact. Although the film doesn't really match what I saw in my mind's eye, I don't want to whine about it. Okay, maybe I'll whine a little. One of my favorite things about the books was that the three guys had distinct strengths and weaknesses. Although Jupiter was the undisputed leader, you got the sense that all of them were an integral part of solving the mystery at hand. The film definitely gives the boys fun personalities (quirks and all) but sort of steps on Pete and Bob in order to play up Jupiter's role in the group. Pete's no longer the go-to action guy since Jupiter seems pretty fearless himself (until the climax that is). Bob, who usually comes through with obscure bits of knowledge (he is in charge of 'Research and Records' after all) is often reduced to comic relief in the film.
Of course, none of that matters to kids who just want to see our three leads get into all sorts of scrapes before escaping them with a dash of smarts and a dollop of junior Indiana Jones derring-do. Those kids (and their parents) can rest easy. While fans of the source material may pick a few nits (sorry about that), there is no denying the fact that the film absolutely works as a fun adventure that a family can watch without anyone worrying about their intelligence being insulted. Kids will love the can-do attitude of our young leads and will be charmed by their silly gadgets (a laser-sighted blowgun that shoots itching powder...seriously?). Parents will appreciate the fact that although the film is fast-paced and thrilling, it isn't just an empty exercise in lowest common denominator entertainment. The boys' most powerful weapon is their intelligence which they wield often and with considerable impact. This is just good, clean fun and even grouchy old me can't have a problem with that.