I never understood the appeal of this movie. Well no, that’s not true, the idea appealed to me, but the execution was so monumentally awful that I’m left dumbstruck by the love people have for it. I wanted to see kids go on an adventure looking for pirate treasure and thwarting bad guys, and sure, I guess that’s technically what I got. But the elements put together to bring this to a theater near me, were absolute drek.
C’mon Uncle Curmy, are you really gonna hate on The Goonies? It’s the most beloved kids’ movie next to The Sandlot.
Keep your mouth shut! This is my rant, and if wanna trash childhood memories, no one’s gonna stop me.
Now, we all had high hopes after Gremlins, that Chris Columbus was something special. I think it’s safe to say after nearly 25 years of his subsequent work, that it’s the kind of special that requires a helmet. Now I’m not gonna put all the blame on you Chris, cuz I know the overlord Spielberg pulled all the strings and dictated what needed to be in the script. It probably went down something like this:
Chris: Yes Stev…uh…Mr. Spielberg?
Spielberg: I got this idea for a new flick I want you to run with.
Spielberg: Hey, I Haven’t told you the idea yet, but you’re right, it is awesome. Ya see, I just worked with Ke Huy Quan on Temple of Doom, and I got to thinkin’: How ’bout an Indiana Jones-type movie, but with kids? And instead of some religious artifact, they’re lookin’ for pirate booty. Instead of Nazis, we’ll have Italians.
Chris: Ok, Italians, uh huh.
Spielberg: And um, let’s have a monster.
Chris: Scary monster?
Chris: That’s awesome!
Chris: Is he our lead?
Spielberg: He’s Asian.
Chris: Oh, duh (hits head). Sorry.
Spielberg: Ok, Asian kids are super smart and like gadgets, so he’ll be our little inventor. Think James Bond stuff, but stupider. Just remember that when it’s really important and we think one of his gadgets is really gonna work, it’s gotta fail.
Chris: Ah ha, I see, we’re gonna trick the audience. Clever.
Chris: Does he have any self esteem issues? Do we want some pathos to go along with this kid?
Spielberg: Self esteem isn’t funny. I want funny. I want that kid’s shirt off, and I wanna see that jelly roll.
Spielberg: Let’s get Feldman. He gave good face in Gremlins and he’s recognizable.
Chris: Is he our lead?
Spielberg: Naw, he’s gonna be our little smart ass. I want a string of annoying shit coming out of his mouth. Hmm, “mouth.” I want that to be his nickname. Like Ralph Mouth.
Chris: I think that was Ralph Malph.
Spielberg: I don’t think so. It was Mouth.
Chris: Yeah, that’s gotta be right. I’m stupid.
Spielberg: That’s right skippy. Now where was I?
Chris: The lead?
Chris: So no leukemia?
Spielberg:………………….hmmm…………..Can you survive leukemia?
Chris: Sure, depending on which one you have.
Spielberg: Hmmm……..Naw, then we’d have to shave his head and that can be scary to little kids, and we’ve already got a monster in this one. What’s some pussy disease with the potential for seriousness?
Spielberg: Naw, people would expect the fat kid to have that. We can’t have two fatties. But save it, diabetes can be good for somethin’ else.
Spielberg: Bendy bones? Naw.
Spielberg: Aaaaasthma. Hmmm. Marty’s got asthma, and he’s still alive. Though after that last flick with Bobby and Jerry Lewis, jeeeez, I bet he wishes asthma had killed him. Hahahaha.
Spielberg: He’s fucked. He’ll be lucky to scrape together the money to shoot some independent in his back yard.
Chris: Ha ha.
Spielberg: Alright alright alright. Ok, so asthma. Good. Ooh ooh. Near the end, when he thinks he’s gonna need his inhaler, he tosses it cuz he doesn’t need it anymore. That’ll be his arc.
Chris: Ok, so should I have him sucking on the inhaler throughout the movie then?
Spielberg: Like his prize binky, baby!
Chris: We’re not worried that will inspire real asthma sufferers to throw away their medicine?
Spielberg: (glares at Chris)
Chris: Right, right. Sorry. That was a stupid question. Anyone else?
Spielberg: Yeah, since we got the weak little asthma boy, give him some meathead big brother. And throw in some chicks. A bookworm and cheerleader.
Spielberg: Yeah, have her kinda sweet on the meathead brother.
Spielberg: But have her kiss asthma boy at some point. That’ll give the 13 year olds a chubby, and make ’em think they could have a shot at a cheerleader someday. Ha.
Spielberg: Make her a redhead. Think Deborah Kerr or Rita Hayworth. Redheads make my pants tighter (arches eyebrows a couple times).
Chris: Redhead. Check.
Spielberg: Alright, we got the hard stuff outta the way. Now just throw a bunch of goofy adventure shit in there to get us from point A to point B.
Chris: What’s the impetus of their adventure?
Spielberg: (pause) What’s with the big word, Encyclopedia Brown?
Spielberg: Jesus, I dunno. It’s kids and pirates and Italians, what the fuck? You think of something college boy.
Chris: Um, well, uh, there’s the pirate treasure. So, uh, maybe they need the money for something?
Spielberg: Like band uniforms?
Chris: Um, um, no wait, um, so pirates, ocean, kids live near the ocean. Ok, so it’s a coastal town…
Spielberg: Uh huh?
Chris: Ok, so a lot of coastal towns are kinda run down, so maybe they need the money before a big developer comes in to tear down their homes?
Spielberg: Big developer, yeah yeah, like Poltergeist. I like the symmetry.
Chris: Ok, cool…
Chris: (blinks nervously)
Spielberg: Alright skippy, I think we got the bones of this thing. Just throw some fat in there, and we’ll be golden.
Spielberg: Oh yeah, just remember, the kids’ parents have to be useless.
Spielberg: Right. I have two kinds of parents in my movies. Useless, divorced, or dead.
Chris: That’s thre…right, right. Um, what about Poltergeist?
Spielberg: They were stoned. They don’t call it “dope” for nothin’.
Spielberg: (glares at Chris)
Chris: Right, right. Useless, divorced, or dead. With so many kids, we could probably fit all three types in there.
Spielberg: Now you’re cookin’ with gas.
Spielberg: Hmmm. The Adventure Kids? The Swashbuckling Adventure? Booty Finders?
Chris: What’s the name of their town?
Spielberg: Fuck if I know, make one up.
Chris: Well, their town is gonna get torn up.
Chris: Usually the crappy parts of town where people are thrown out of their homes are out in the boonies.
Spielberg: Boonies? Ok, ok
Chris: Golly. Um, all our kids are basically a bunch of dorks, right?
Chris: Dorkies? Well maybe, I was thinkin’…
Spielberg: You were thinkin’ Dorkies kicks ass?!
Chris: Uh, yeah. Absolutely.
Spielberg: Fuckin’ A right, skippy!
Or something to that effect.
This movie looks and feels as much like a Richard Donner movie as Poltergeist seems like a Tobe Hooper movie (for the record, I enjoy Poltergeist. Great Jerry Goldsmith score). It felt over-choreographed, like they were following storyboards so closely it left no room for spontaneity . Like someone was off-camera going “1-2-3, 1-2-3,” and everyone had to hit a certain mark, or say something at a specific time. Sure, this is how stuff gets made most of the time, but it felt stiff; like watching elementary kids square dance. It was mechanical and didn’t flow for me. And I did not like the characters in this movie at all. They were all over-the-top stereotypes, who just seemed to be dicks to each other. Why are they yelling at everyone all the time? I don’t see these characters as having any affection for each other except what is artificially inserted by the script.
And what is Spielberg’s fascination with annoying fat kids? To be fair, it ain’t just Spielberg. The “annoying fat kid” is a Hollywood staple that rarely treats these kids with any dignity or respect. They’re either jerks, objects of ridicule, or comedy relief. They may get a scene where someone is nice to them and then sent on their way with some feelgood dialogue, like “beautiful on the inside.”
And this is specific to American movies, because America is image obsessed (ok, I’m sure there are examples in world cinema of some fatty being picked on, but this is almost always a given in US movies). If you watch European films, you will see all shapes and sizes thrown together without them ever pointing out how silly it is for a skinny woman to be with a fat guy. In America, its a joke to have the hot wife and fat oaf. She’s the straight man to his buffon. In Europe, they’re just married. Which is how it is in the real world. And if you did try to play it straight in an American film, the filmmakers have to make a point of it and have the “beautiful on the inside,” moment.
Jesus Uncle Curmy, it’s just a kids’ movie. What’s the deal? Are we getting a little too close to home?
What?! Fuck you! I was never fat! When I was a kid, no one ever picked on me. I was skinny and could run fast. I was a good athlete and the cheerleaders loved me! I was popular GODDAMMIT!!
To be fair, I thought the photography by D.P. Nick McLean was pretty good. Oregon looked really nice, and scenes weren’t flooded with a lot of fill light like most 80’s movies were (the 80’s has some of the worst looking movies ever (and worst scored, while we’re at it). I’ll also admit there was one line of dialogue that felt real and spontaneous. Maybe it was scripted and it’s a testament to Martha Plimpton for executing it well (she’s a decent actor). Or perhaps it was an adlib, and props still go to Martha and Dick Donner for keeping it.
Ok, enough praise.
If I heard Mikey say “rich stuff,” one more time, I was gonna kick the projectionist (ok, I did kick him, but the case was thrown out on account of bribes). What kid is going to keep referring to treasure as “rich stuff?” None. That was a line forced in by someone (my guess is Spielberg, but if Columbus wants to take the blame, go ahead. Then again, Dick Donner is such a nice guy, he’d probably take the hit).
And how funny is it that Mikey keeps screwing up words and has to say “that’s what I said”? Not that funny (maybe a couple times is cute, but not as many as in here (and then they have Data say it later)). And what about that asthma cliche? Yes, Hollywood still loves giving kids an ailment that needs to pop up at an inopportune time (I’m looking at you Panic Room and the predictable diabetes moment (you too, Signs)). Hollywood believes it has to follow “the formula.” Either the screenwriter took a Syd Field seminar, or some exec’s girlfriend is taking an “intro to playwriting” class at the local learning annex, so the cliches still keep popping up.
Just because Chekov said “if there’s beans on the table in act 1, someone has to fart in act 2,” doesn’t mean you have to keep inserting the same tired plot points into your script. Remember screenwriters, if the note comes from an exec – do the opposite. Because 10 times out of 9, they will be off the mark. Studio execs are notorious for knowing jack shit. That’s why there’s so many of them, so they can take all of the credit and none of the blame.
Lemme wrap up here and boil everything I just said into a few more sentences. I like pretty much everyone that was assembled to put this flick together. I don’t think Richard Donner is the greatest director of all time, but I like some of his work and he seems like a nice guy. I enjoy his DVD commentaries, and actors genuinely love him. Can I really fault the kid actors for wanting to punch most of them in the face every time they spoke (except for Kerri Green, yowza!)? But the sheer quantity of asinine dialogue and character cliches, made worse by their poor execution, angered me when I first saw it. And I was the target audience. But I’m in the minority (as usual), which is too bad. I wanted to like it.
p.s. And now I can’t get that dadburn Cyndi Lauper song outta my head!