Review: 'Small Soldiers' short on entertainment
Web posted on: Thursday, July 09, 1998 4:16:00 PM
From Reviewer Paul Clinton
(CNN) -- The new film "Small Soldiers" is about what happens when interactive toys, built with military computer chips, are turned loose on a quiet suburban neighbor in Ohio. There are two sets of toys. The "Commando Elite," are action figures with an attitude, programmed to hunt down and kill "Gorgainites," another set of funny-looking toys programmed to hide from the Commandos.
The tag line on posters for "Small Soldiers" is "Meet the Commando Elite. To them, everything else is just a toy." On that level -- and that one alone -- the film delivers. Basically, "Small Soldiers" is "Toy Story" and "The Gremlins" crammed into a blender and set on puree.
"Small Soldiers" is a mixture of live action, puppetry, and state-of-the-art computer-generated imagery, directed by Joe Dante who brought us both "Gremlin" films.
Cast a virtual Hollywood who's who
On the live action side, "Small Soldiers" stars 16-year-old Kirsten Dunst ("Interview With The Vampire"), with Phil Hartman and Wendy Schaal as her parental units. Gregory Smith ("Krippendorf's Tribe") is her teenage "love interest" and his parents are played by Kevin Dunn and Ann Magnuson.
The voices of the toys are provided by a whole slew of Hollywood actors, topped by Tommy Lee Jones as the voice of Commando leader Chip Hazard. Also vocalizing are Frank Langella, Ernest Borgnine, Jim Brown, Bruce Dern and Christina Ricci among many others.
Denis Leary plays the greedy owner of a toy company who rushes these interactive toys into production. David Cross and Jay Mohr ("Jerry Maguire") play the two inventors who, under pressure from Leary to "make toys that can play back," grab onto a bunch of very high-tech computer chips being dumped by the military.
The chips give the action figures the amazing capacity to interact with people. But the toys also learn as they go along, and their primary goal just happens to be total destruction as they hunt down the Gorgainites. Our two suburban families are caught in the middle.
Amazing effects, repetitive plot
Now, that basic plot of this movie could be considered a "new concept," but within 10 minutes, I had an eerie feeling that "Small Soldiers" was a film to be filed under the heading of "been there, done that."
There are some funny one-liners thrown in for the grown ups and plenty of booming, hyper-action for the pre-teen target audience. My overall feeling? Here's a quarter. Call somebody who cares. I just didn't connect to this film at all.
The action figures and animatronics were designed by four-time Academy Award winner Stan Winston, and they really are amazing. The people at Winston's studio worked thousands of hours in order to create these puppets and special effects and it shows. But the novelty of the mixture of puppetry, animation and live action wore off very quickly and I found myself wishing they'd all just kill each other so I could go home.
"Small Soldiers" is a movie you can wait to see on video unless you're in this grind-em up, shoot-em out flick's preteen target audience. Even then you should think twice.
The action and the story become very repetitive. The Commandos can build assault weapons with odds and ends from people's kitchens and garages. Egg beaters, lawn mowers, nails, and flaming tennis balls, all become instruments of death in the Commando's little plastic hands.
But this bit occurs over and over again, and the weapons just get bigger, and bigger but who cares? The filmmakers just kept cranking up the audio and the explosions, but there was no point to it any of it after awhile.
Sadly, "Small Soldiers" is the last film Phil Hartman made before his life was tragically cut short last May. He was a very talented comic actor. Too bad his final work is such a loser.
"Small Soldiers" is rated "PG-13" with a running time of 104 minutes.
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