"Disappearances" is an utterly earnest, likable enough family-focused action-adventure set in Prohibition-era Vermont and Canada. It opens today at the Brattle and stars an unflappable Kris Kristofferson as "Quebec" Bill Bonhomme , a farmer who heads from Vermont to Quebec to steal whiskey from a booze pirate, Carcajou (Lothaire Bluteau ), after a fire nearly burns his farm down, leaving him strapped for cash. Bill's partners in crime are his teen son "Wild" Bill (Charlie McDermott ) and sensible brother-in-law Henry (Gary Farmer ).
Carcajou has white hair and a black beard; he looks like Prince playing Halle Berry's character from the "X-Men" movies. In any case, he wants his hooch back and villainously hunts Quebec Bill and company all over woodland Canada to retrieve it. The chase requires the Bonhommes to don monk disguises and jump from moving trains. Handsomely photographed and decently told, this is entertainment that any Boys' Life subscriber would love.
But the movie's writer and director, Jay Craven , adapting from Howard Frank Mosher's 1977 novel, insists on trying to elevate the material from its Saturday-matinee trappings. There is mysticism and symbolism, nearly all of which is deployed by Geneviève Bujold , who plays Quebec Bill's mysterious schoolteacher sister. She gets to explain that "Paradise Lost" is about "how the Eden we once had has disappeared." And while the boys run from Carcajou, Bujold keeps showing up -- metaphysically, one presumes -- to tell Wild Bill about his future ("Your wife will be from Quebec") and that he should come home and do his chores. (Chores? Maybe there are two villains here.)
In the home stretch, "Disappearances" takes a forced turn toward the somber. Until then though, incredibly, it's the dad who's the dreamer and sonny-boy who's the realist. Wild Bill pooh-poohs his father's larks: "What are you doing, Dad ? You can't hijack a train!" But the elder Bill believes in pure fun, which should make a few kids in the audience expect as much from their old men.