CHILD’S PLAY (1988)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 27 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

Directed by: Tom Holland

Written by: Don Mancini, John Lafia & Tom Holland

Starring: Alex Vincent, Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon, Brad Dourif, Dinah Manoff & Tommy Swerdlow

Arguably the most well-known killer doll movie out there, CHILD’S PLAY was a big financial success during its original theatrical run. Besides introducing an unforgettable face to the pantheon of slasher killers, this film was equal parts goofy and creepy. When people usually think of CHILD’S PLAY, they’re likely to snicker at how cheesy it is or shudder at how freaked out they are by Chucky. There are legitimately great scenes to be found in this film, alongside lots of silly fun to be had, and you have to give the performers props for playing this ridiculous material with a straight face.

After serial killer Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif) is gunned down in a toy store, it appears that Detective Mike Norris (Chris Sarandon) has done a public service by wiping another scumbag off the Chicago streets. Before he was gunned down, Charles was chanting something strange over a toy doll and lightning struck the building…but I’m sure that’s just a normal occurrence in Chicago. Single mom Karen Barclay (Catherine Hicks) buys her six-year-old son Andy (Alex Vincent) that very same (surprisingly not bloodstained) doll for his birthday. Soon, deaths begin to occur around young Andy and he keeps pointing his finger at the doll. You can see where this is heading, unless you somehow didn’t already know about Chucky or the long-running CHILD’S PLAY series.

CHILD’S PLAY’s first act has a surprising less-is-more approach to the material because director Tom Holland keeps Chucky’s deadly antics to a minimum. Yes, you see people die, but you don’t get a full-on glimpse of the killer doll running around until almost the halfway mark. Before that point, there are a couple of head-turns from the supposedly inanimate object and you spot a quick blur of something running in the background. This filmmaking decision evokes some actual creepiness and real suspense.

It’s worth noting that damn near every scary element flies out the window when we finally see the animatronic doll and occasional little person in a doll costume. Luckily, this effects blending doesn’t reach an unintentionally silly level to become downright bad. However, things do get comical and quite funny in moments. There is a ginger-haired, possessed doll in suspenders running around and offing people after all. At some point, you’ll just be giggling about that sight alone. Still, there are unexpected stakes as doll-bound Charles Lee Ray begins to find new motives about possibly offing Andy and those around him.

For the first entry in a decades-long slasher franchise, CHILD’S PLAY has a surprisingly scarce body count. Chucky’s methods of murder are unique (though not nearly as ludicrous as the kills in the sequels) and no two kills are alike. There is one moment (with a voodoo doll that comes right the hell out of nowhere) that’s cool in its broken bone effects but seems a little far-fetched…even for a movie about a killer doll on the loose. A certain other death feels like it was included as an obligatory kill to stack Chucky’s victim total a little higher, but this scene’s execution (pardon the pun) felt like a lazy afterthought. The best scenes in the whole damn film come from Catherine Hicks’s first violent encounter with the possessed doll in its true form and an altogether great moment that has Chris Sarandon fending off the evil toy whilst driving a car with no brakes.

Hicks and Sarandon play this whole affair with a straight-face and that deserves a round of applause by itself. This material is pretty silly, but they sell their characters’ reactions as believable enough. This especially goes for Hicks’ devastation at her son’s seemingly hopeless situation and Sarandon’s utter disbelief at the idea that a doll is behind the latest string of murders. Brad Dourif is a blast as the voice of Chucky. He sells this killer doll as a fun antagonist to watch, though it’s hard to be scared of him after he cusses out Hicks in an over-the-top manner. Alex Vincent was roughly the same age as Andy in this film and his acting abilities were…lacking, to the say the least. However, he does get a bad-ass one-liner in his final scene with Chucky.

CHILD’S PLAY is every bit as silly as its premise would suggest, but there’s also a remarkable amount of well-executed suspense during the film’s first half (where we don’t see the murderous, red-haired, suspender-wearing Good Guy running around). There’s plenty of fun and entertainment to be had in this goofy 80s horror flick. The franchise that CHILD’S PLAY spawned is one of the most consistent slasher series out there in terms of quality. The CHILD’S PLAY series was never great, but it was always fun. The same can be said about this first installment!

Grade: B

DESPICABLE ME 2 (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Rude Humor and mild Action

Directed by: Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud

Written by: Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio

Starring: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Miranda Cosgrove, Russell Brand, Steve Coogan, Ken Jeong, Elise Fisher, Dana Gaier & Moises Arias

DESPICABLE ME 2 has the benefit of being from the same pair of directors and two screenwriters who made the first DESPICABLE ME. It also serves as an animated sequel that’s superior to its predecessor in every possible way. Because the first film is out of the way and groundwork has already been laid for this franchise, DESPICABLE ME 2 hits the ground running with new material, more imagination, better humor, and memorable new characters. While the first film had a bland plot and just enough charm to barely overcome its faults, DESPICABLE ME 2 is a blast from start to finish.

Having adjusted to family life and newfound parenthood to three adopted daughters, supervillain Gru (Steve Carell) is recruited to The Anti-Villain League and partnered with potential love-interest agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig). Together, Gru and Lucy go undercover at a mall to investigate a possible villain who’s hiding in plain sight. All the while, Gru’s Minions are being mysteriously abducted and eldest daughter Margo (Miranda Cosgrove) finds love in a preteen boyfriend.

DESPICABLE ME 2 has two main plotlines occurring alongside two smaller subplots and hardly receives any time to drag. In careless hands, juggling multiple storylines may have wound up making this family-friendly animated sequel into an overly complicated mess. However, the team of directors and writers seem genuinely interested in furthering their established DESPICABLE universe and wind up with a sequel that’s vastly superior to their previous effort. DESPICABLE ME 2 is smarter, bigger, and funnier than the first film. Some of these qualities can be attributed to all around better storytelling which uses clever twists to produce big laughs and surprising revelations.

While the first DESPICABLE ME suffered from a thin excuse for a villain, this sequel has a much more colorful and entertaining antagonist in play. I won’t go into specifics about this baddie because this sequel slowly reveals their identity for bigger laughs and extra twists, but this person is a far more interesting villain than the last film’s Vector. Another improvement is that Gru’s relationship with his daughters is more believable and focused this time around. He has a unique bond with the cute Agnes, tomboy Edith, and maturing Margo. The interactions between this unusual family result in both heartwarming moments and hilarious bits. It’s especially funny to watch Gru’s escalating distress over Margo’s growing interest in boys.

Gru has a love-interest of his own in Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig, who previously played the strict orphanage owner from the first film) and their chemistry feels natural too. Lucy is quirky and Gru is awkward, but the two characters just seem (literally) made for each other. This romantic plotline is further hammered home by Gru’s bad childhood experiences with crushes and aggravated interactions with an annoying neighbor who keeps trying play unwanted matchmaker. It’s also worth noting that DESPICABLE ME 2’s Minions play a major role in the plot. I thought they were easily a highlight of the first film, but they get even funnier in this sequel and contribute to the main story in a big way.

DESPICABLE ME 2 isn’t a perfect animated film in that a few jokes fall flat and older viewers will be able to correctly guess where certain plotlines are heading from a mile away. However, this second DESPICABLE installment packs a few smart surprises for adults alongside big laughs, a soft heartwarming center, and energetic animation that’s always moving. DESPICABLE ME 2 is a sequel that outdoes the original in every way and (at least for me) currently sits as Illumination’s best film yet!

Grade: B+