A Little Game is an OK children’s movie that can only be appreciated by kids, who have not yet been callused by the awfulness of both chess metaphors and the old ladies in films who are always spouting gauzy generalities about the magic of life.
Max is a precocious 10-year-old girl whose not-rich parents (Janeane Garofalo and Ralph Macchio) figure out that they can afford to send her to a pricey private academy if they give up sleeping and instead work those hours. When her entrance to the chess club is rebuffed by the school snob, she meets the irascible Norman (F. Murray Abraham), an old man who plays chess in Washington Square Park, and asks him to teach her.
Did we mention the horribleness of chess metaphors? “The board is the city. The city’s your board,” Norman tells her. “Now scram.” He’s so irascible! He teaches her chess with one move per day, relating each to the events and people in Max’s life in thumpingly obvious ways, while extruding little teachable nuggets of cranky old-guy wisdom.
Max’s grandmother (Olympia Dukakis) survives just long enough into the film to spout an obligatory Wise Old Lady generality about life before croaking: “You don’t let life happen to you. You happen to life!” Then Max’s grandma stops happening to life, but comes back as a ghost and says more lame stuff about life: “Make a choice and go on. Life is too short.” Life is far, far too short to cram in all the hazy, empty aphorisms about life. Checkmate, mortality!