Rated PG-13 - Running time: 1:48 - Released 7/10/98

For the life of me, I do not understand the point of making a movie that is obviously intended for children and yet is so violent that it requires a PG-13 rating. This film is about toys, for Pete's sake. It's designed to introduce a new line of action figures that will surely appear in stores soon. But the purpose of the toys in this story, written by Ted Elliott, Zak Penn, Adam Rifkin, Terry Rossio, and Gavin Scott, and directed by Joe Dante, is not remotely wholesome or creatively instructive. It is all about killing.

Alan Abernathy (Gregory Smith) works at his dad's toy store. The place gets next to no business (Alan's father insists on stocking only non-violent merchandise), it looks like an antique shop or a toy museum, and Alan hardly has anything to do when he's there. But one day, while his dad's away, he orders some soldiers from a new line being promoted by the Globotech company.

The company is owned by business cutthroat Gil Mars (Denis Leary), and his plan is to offer toys that actually do something. He and his two top staffmen, Larry Benson (Jay Mohr) and Irwin Wayfair (David Cross), come up with a new set of action figures that contain munitions computer chips obtained illegally from the U.S. defense department. There are two factions: the Gorgonites, a group of non-violent, Tolkein-esque misfits from the planet Gorgon; and their mortal enemies, the Commando Elite force, who are obviously patterned after U.S. Marines or special forces soldiers. Though the Gorgonites, headed by Archer (voice of Frank Langella) are harmless and only want to be left alone, the commandos, whose Patton-like leader is Major Chip Hazard (voice of Tommy Lee Jones), insist on wiping them out, apparently only because they are different.

As the war between the toys escalates, Alan and his girlfriend Christy (Kirsten Dunst) get involved, and what follows is a full-throttle romp through the world of pointless violence. While the "smart" toys ruthlessly battle against anyone who stands in their way, employing homemade guns, bombs and flamethrowers, the humans are no less vicious, running over the small plastic soldiers with lawn mowers and setting them on fire, while the little victims scream and groan realistically as in a real war. And we are supposed to cheer. Even the Gorgonites, who claim to be non-violent, only succeed in the end by adopting a warlike stance, finally joining in the combat with considerable zeal.

Stan Winston's special effects are admittedly impressive in this film. And there are quite a few humorous references to old war movies like Patton (1970) and Apocalype Now (1979). Also clever is director Dante's choice to employ actors from the original Dirty Dozen to play the commando characters, including Ernest Borgnine, Jim Brown, Clint Walker, and George Kennedy.

But I was surprised at how boring it is, considering the potential of such an interesting idea. What lessons do we learn here? That what American military forces do best is destroy peace-loving cultures? That violence is the only way to deal with adversity? Or that the best way to succeed in the toy industry is to abandon taste and morality? You decide; I'm not ever going to watch this film again. **½

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

See Current Reviews

See FilmQuips Archive