Years ago, wrote this for Joe McKay's preReview site, where we reviewed movies without seeing them:
Man on Fire
Denzel Washington, who doesn't have a mean bone in his body, once again tries to play an angry tough guy in this movie about a bodyguard who f-s up and lets a megacute kid get kidnapped on his watch. After he recovers from the bullet the baddies put in him, nothing will stop him as he tracks down every one of the sick scum who took that beautiful little girl. Or boy. (It's hard to tell.) Of course, it's going to turn out that the kid is in cahoots with the kidnappers, and is actually a small adult masquerading as an ambiguously gendered child. And it's going to turn out that Denzel is actually the mastermind behind the scheme, only he doesn't know it because he has multiple personalities and it was one of the bad "alters" who ordered the child-snatching. At the climax, the small adult, who is also a therapist, will cure Denzel and the two will run away together.
prereviewer - Tom Moody, 11/19/03
Never saw Man on Fire but the later Dakota Fanning vehicle Hide and Seek (2005) is almost as nutty as the above prereview. Nevertheless, it kind of works.
[Spoiler:] Throughout most of the film psychologist Robert de Niro is caring for his daughter after the suicide of his wife (her mom). The girl acts spooky and hostile and talks about her imaginary friend Charlie. De Niro courts pretty neighbor Elizabeth Shue but the daughter misbehaves to drive her away. We don't know if the girl has the Sixth Sense or a weird relationship with another neighbor, a creepy older man who might be Charlie.
The twist is de Niro suffers from a split personality. He killed his wife and unknown to himself, talks to his daughter in the guise of his "alter," Charlie, who uses her to drive his sane self crazy. At one point a therapist friend of de Niro's asks the girl: "what game did Charlie ask you to play?" (Girl gets evil look.) "Upsetting Daddy."
So, as we piece it together post-twist, at a given moment the daughter has had to determine which Dad she is talking to and play the appropriate role to survive--grief shattered child or willing accomplice. Sane herself (of course), she fakes madness in a (failed) attempt to make Dad less attractive as a mate for Shue before "Charlie" kills Shue. Picture Hitchcock's Psycho with a daughter of Anthony Perkins having to navigate between nice older brother and...Mom.
Before the twist, in subtext you think it's a movie about a father coping with a his daughter's autism (she often acts as if others are not in the room); after it you realize it's about a daughter coping with a father's alcoholism ("Charlie" is Dad on a bender). Thus are two intractable social problems mapped onto each other in some impossible, inverse Kleinian pairing. Whether they're actually related is irrelevant: they're linked in the screenwriters' exploitative topology, in order to wring two hot button movies out of one.