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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 David Wilcock
1½ stars out of 4

Dreamworks, after Mouse Hunt, again try to break into children's films with this comedy. While better than Mouse Hunt, and having Joe 'Gremlins' Dante on board to direct, it still dosen't exactly set the silver screen alight. The 'story' is that a toy company has released toys (Commando's and Gorgonites, strange alien beings) which have a chip stored inside them so advanced they are able to think and act for themselves. Alan Abernathy (Smith) manages to get hold of both types, and they soon escape from their boxes and go on the rampage. It's up to Alan and love interest Christy Fimple (Dunst) to stop the Commando's who are know hell bent on destroying the Gorgonites, and anyone who tries to help them (including Alan and Christy!)

Although Small Soldiers has an interesting premise for a children's film, it is sadly underused, and is reduced to a generic, 'Home Alone' style film by the end. This movie could of been the new Toy Story, thanks to impressive CGI effects, a story that appeals to children (their toys could be alive) and Joe Dante has shown before he can add a dark comic underside to a seemingly normal film (e.g. Gremlins.) But, the writers, Ted Elliot and Zack Penn, have added little inventiveness to the script. There's enough in here to keep kids amused, but the premise is hopelessly underused. Their are a few interesting set pieces, including a terrifying attack from 'Barbie' type dolls, but there's nothing here that is startlingly new. To add insult to injury, Dante insists on directing the film in a rather dull story. The movie is also incredibly slow paced, with a huge amount of padding to help fill out the running time.

The players try to offset this with some good performances. The two child leads are likeable, and there's some chemistry between them. They both have some goofy charm to them, and act how kids would act. Although what they say is sometimes cliched. The adult actors are two bad here. There's no major stars in the film, so everyone is given the chance to deliver a good performance. Kevin Dunn (Hot Shots!) is fine as Alan's dad, playing the father figure quite well, even if he does look too much like Al from Home Improvement. The late Phil Hartman also pops up as Christy's dad, and is luckily quite funny in what turned out to be his last on-screen appearance. Dante regular Dick Miller pops up as Joe the lorry driver, and he gives the film some bounce at the start. Finally, Jay Mohr and David Cross are kooky enough as the scientists who create the toys.

The voices of the soldiers themselves are perfect. The producers got the cast of 'The Dirty Dozen' to voice the commando's, with Tommy Lee Jones playing the leader. Each one fits perfectly with their character. For the Gorgonites, the cast of Spinal Tap (Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer etc.) were used, and again they suit their characters perfectly. Finally, the soldiers themselves are beautifully created by Stan Winston, who bought us the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.

But despite the good performances, the film suffers from weak directing, a poor script, and dull set pieces. Although the ending does have some life to it, and the film is not totally dull, Small Soldiers is slightly dull. For kids, it's fine, if somewhat violent, but sadly there isn't enough here that appeals to adult. A missed opportunity.

Copyright 1998 David Wilcock

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