I never got around to seeing Simon Birch. I must have always had something better to do that day, like drive nails into my eyeballs. But, for those of you who just can't get enough movies about terminally ill children who teach the rest of us to say yes to life, there's The Mighty, Peter Chelsom's cinematic adaptation of Rodman Philbrick's 1993 young adult novel, Freak the Mighty. Dropping "freak" out of the title may be a PC gesture on Chelsom's part, but he needn't have bothered. Anyone who sees The Mighty will notice that there's something freakishly wonderful about the two young boys who join forces to rid their neighborhood of bullies and dragons. Kevin (Kieran Culkin), who doesn't have long to live, supplies the brains. Maxwell (Elden Henson), who doesn't have much to live for, supplies the brawn. Apart, they're Tiny Tim and Gentle Ben. Together, with Kevin hoisted on Maxwell's shoulders, they're a long-lost Knight of the Round Table, with all of Cincinnati as their Camelot.
Chelsom, who usually makes veddy-British comedies (Hear My Song, Funny Bones), finds a nice tone for The Mighty. He lets Cincinnati's cuts and bruises show, but he also finds the beauty in, say, a stray string of Christmas lights. And he periodically lifts the movie into fantasy when King Arthur sends his best and brightest to assist his youngest recruits. The Mighty doesn't completely avoid a stab at our tear ducts, and there's a whole episode with Maxwell's out-on-parole father (including Gillian Anderson as a big-hearted floozie) that should have been left on the cutting-room floor. But Culkin, unlike his older brother Macaulay, actually knows how to act. And so does Henson, who has a quiet gravity you don't expect out of a child, especially a child actor. The Mighty isn't the best kid's movie I've ever seen, but it's far from the worst.