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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 Walter Frith
2½ stars out of 4

Director Joe Dante is darned if he does and darned if he doesn't. He was criticized somewhat in 1984 for his fantasy film 'Gremlins' in which a cute and fuzzy little pack of creatures that sort of resemble a cross between puppies and bear cubs, became bizarre little trolls if they were fed after midnight or if they got wet. For those who haven't seen 'Gremlins', 'Small Soldiers' will do nicely because Dante uses the same pace, camera lighting effects and elementary school level action climax that 'Gremlins' had. Dante's film 'Small Soldiers' is receiving criticism for many of the mean spirited antics seen in 'Gremlins' while others are saying that 'Small Soldiers' isn't mean enough to pass as a convincing movie where danger looks certain for its cast of human characters

Perhaps appealing to children more than any other target audience, 'Small Soldiers' will undoubtedly inspire an entire line of merchandise that will pick up where the box office left off. By now, life in the 1990's is one big marketing blitz where subliminal ads are seen in movies and audiences better get used to it because it isn't leaving big screens anytime soon.

In 'Small Soldiers', a toy manufacturing company owned by a corporate honcho with little human emotion (Denis Leary), is obsessed with the idea that a proposed new line of toys, in the form of mighty military men can be built and be so smart that when kids play with them, they can play back.

The chief designers of the new wonder toys (Jay Mohr and David Cross) are intimidated by their boss and are determined to satisfy his desire for these misguided material play things and Mohr orders highly sophisticated military chips to be implanted in the head of the action figures.

500,000 units are shipped consisting of two factions. There are the soldiers whose leader is Chip Hazard (voiced by Tommy Lee Jones) and his elite squad of goofy henchmen some of whom are voiced by such veteran actors as George Kennedy and Ernest Borgnine and there are the Gorgonites whose leader Archer (voiced by Frank Langella) make for the best toys as they are docile and peaceful but are the main target of the military toys for a humourous confrontation later in the film.

The human hero in 'Small Soldiers' is Alan (Gregory Smith), a rather bland and lifeless young man much like his 'Gremlins' colleague Zach Galligan and Alan desires the girl next door named Christy (Kirsten Dunst). Alan convinces a local delivery man to leave a shipment of the toys, meant for a rival toy super store, at his father's toy neighbourhood store so he can sell them and make a little money for the store which has fallen somewhat on hard times. The toys get loose and begin acting up with predictable results.

First of all, 'Small Soldiers' uses some ingeniously clever gags to sell its shortcomings. The soldiers put together gadgets made from ordinary household items such as cheese graters, fishing rods, chain saws and cds and they power up a collection of female dolls to act as their counterparts in mischief and some of the attack scenes are really convincing. It's a fun film which isn't action packed as much as it is introductory in its presentation of multiple play things similar to the many characters seen in 1995's 'Toy Story', although 'Toy Story' is far superior to this film. Another thing that 'Small Soldiers' has going for it is its benign presentation of the film's cartoonish violence which is tastefully presented and appropriate for children comparable to a Coyote and Road Runner cartoon where the violence is so absurd, you know it isn't perceived as reality.

Copyright 1998 Walter Frith

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