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Small Soldiers

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Small Soldiers

Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Gregory Smith
Director: Joe Dante
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 104 Minutes
Release Date: July 1998
Genres: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Action, Comedy

*Also starring: Jay Mohr, Phil Hartman, Kevin Dunn, Denis Leary

Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

It's war out there as toys fight toys along with any hapless humans who get in their way.

The rag-tag and gawky Gorgonites, programmed to hide and to lose, are led by a sad but heroic figure named Archer, voiced movingly by Frank Langella. In contrast, the invincible Commando Elite, a DIRTY DOZEN version of G. I. Joe-type action figures, have a commander, Chip Hazard, who would make General Patton proud. ("We are the Commando Elite. Everything else is just a toy!") A fast-talking Tommy Lee Jones, the voice of Chip, delivers hilarious speeches that are slice-and-dice amalgamations of famous patriotic and military aphorisms.

The Commando Elite are after the "Gorgonite Scum," and they show no mercy to them or their human helpers. In a movie filled with references to older films, the voices of many of the commandos are done by Ernest Borgnine, Jim Brown, and others from THE DIRTY DOZEN.

Joe Dante, the imaginative director of GREMLINS and INNERSPACE, turns his creative talents to the world of action figures in SMALL SOLDIERS. The resulting dark comedy, while likely to scare the daylights out of the more impressionable younger viewers, will delight most audiences as it pushes the limits of what is expected and acceptable from a live-action movie featuring toys that come to life. The soldiers, designed by JURASSIC PARK's Stan Winston, look like live toys rather than animatronic or computer-generated figures that mimic toys.

It all starts when a take-no-prisoners CEO (Denis Leary) of a sophisticated electronics conglomerate buys a toy company. He wants toys that are as real as those shown in television commercials - ones tough enough to break out of their own boxes with their bare hands. Toy designer Larry Benson (Jay Mohr) accepts this challenge and, with the help of some company military surplus, soon has the toys speeding to stores everywhere. His nerdy sidekick Irwin Wayfair, played by David Cross, is aghast when he realizes what Larry has done. "You put munitions chips into toys!" Irwin exclaims.

When the first batch of Gorgonites and Commando Elite go to the little "Inner Child" toy store owned by the Abernathy family, all hell breaks loose. The Commando Elite start their own war in a big cat-and-mouse game to find the fleeing Gorgonites. Using ever-increasing firepower built from everyday household items and tools, they manage to wreak havoc on everything around them. From metal-pronged corncob holders to nail guns to aerosol flame-throwers, their arsenal is impressive and imaginative.

The Abernathy's teenage son Alan, played by Gregory Smith from HARRIET THE SPY, takes Archer home while the other Gorgonites hide. Alan, an ex-trouble maker, is more interested in girls than toys. He has fallen hard for his fellow classmate and next-door neighbor, Christy Fimple (Kirsten Dunst), but she only dates older guys. (Her father is played by comedian Phil Hartman in his last film before his death.)

The Commando Elite establish an assault base in Christy's bedroom and conscript her dolls into service, giving Alan lots of time to be with his would-be girlfriend as they fight together. In the darkest scene in the story, nude Barbie-like dolls mix trite teen talk with fighting slogans - "If you can't accessorize, pulverize!" - as they attack in droves in a scene reminiscent of THE BIRDS. Sarah Michelle Gellar and Christina Ricci are devilishly good as the lead voices for the vicious dolls.

SMALL SOLDIERS borrows scenes and soundtracks from other movies. >From APOCALYPSE NOW, a commando pilots an attacking helicopter as "The Ride of Valkyries" blasts away.

One of the funniest sequences is an homage to real life. Patterned after the siege in Panama of General Noriega, the commandos commandeer the Fimple's huge stereo speakers to blast their opponents with music certain to drive them mad - The Spice Girls. (For the record, like Mrs. Fimple, I too confess that I like their music.)

SMALL SOLDIERS runs 1:55. It is rated PG-13 for violence and profanity and would be fine for kids nine and up.

My son Jeffrey, age 9, thought the movie was great and gave it ****. He liked everything in it from the songs to the toys - both sides.

Copyright 1998 Steve Rhodes

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