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Friday, July 30, 2010

Small Soldiers

Title: Small Soldiers

Year of Release: 1998

Date Viewed: July 23rd, 2010

MPAA Rating: PG-13

In the opening scene of this film, the evil CEO of GloboTech Industries (Denis Leary) asks a fascinating question.

"I'm sick of watching toys do things in commercials that they can't really do. What if they could talk? What if they could walk? What if these things can really kick butt?"

Chances are a movie screenwriter asked himself this same question. And thus Small Soldiers was born.

Teenager Alan Abernathy (Gregory Smith) intercepts a shipment of not yet released on the market high-technology toy sets: The Commando Elite and the Gorgonites. The two sets are voice activated and are programmed to respond intelligently to the environment around them. And they each have a background story. The Gorgonites are a motley crew of strange looking alien creatures that have crash landed on Earth and want to find a way back to their home planet of Gorgon. The Commando Elite are a merciless group of rogue soldiers who have made it their mission to search and destroy the Gorgonites, just because they have nothing better to do. The toys' programming is so advanced that they all have minds of their own and also seem to suffer from Buzz Lightyear syndrome. They do not recognize their purpose as toys. As far as they are concerned, they are really soldiers and aliens.

Alan hopes to sell the Commando Elite and Gorgonites as a way to earn some money for his father's struggling toy store and win back some of his trust lost from his troublemaking past.

But soon trouble finds him. The Commandos and Gorgonites break out of their boxes and cause all sorts of havoc around town. Alan later learns that the reason his toys act so intelligent is that all of them were installed with advanced military weapon technology by a pair of crooked toy designers (David Cross and Jay Mohr) now working for GloboTech industries.

Alan befriends the Gorgonite leader Archer (voice of Frank Langella) who warns him that he is now in danger and all allies will be targeted.

Things get personal after Alan's girlfriend Christy (Kirsten Dunst) is kidnapped by the Commandos. Their leader Major Chip Hazard (voice of Tommy Lee Jones) submits an ultimatum to Alan. Surrender all of the Gorgonites or Christy will not live to see tomorrow.

Determined to rescue Christy and desperate to prove to his parents that he is not crazy, Alan recruits his Gorgonite friends in preparation for an epic showdown with the Commandos, using the whole suburb as a battlefield. Then the war begins.

This movie follows the Gremlins formula where watching the non-human creatures wreak havoc is the main attraction. Convenient enough, it is directed by the man that brought us Gremlins: Joe Dante. Main characters are second thought behind the fight scenes and humorous dialogue. The toys actually receive better character development than the humans.

The plot is clearly tongue-in-cheek the whole ride through. Watching this movie took me back to the days of using imagination to play with action figures. Everything you have ever dreamed of watching your toys perform is done here. Building machines, leaping from high name it. Chip Hazard fits Tommy Lee Jones' typecasted role as a man obsessed with accomplishing a mission. Don't be surprised if you find yourself quoting and imitating his speech pattern the next day. Hazard's soldier squad sometimes appear to be spoofing the G.I. Joe action figure series.

As fun as this movie is, it never really reaches the level of charm that Gremlins had going for itself. Maybe I just miss Gizmo too much?

At some points, the movie tries to accomplish more than what's needed and introduces some secondary characters that are either not necessary or are not given enough screentime. The GloboTech CEO for instance had the potential to be a fascinating character but he only appears in two scenes. When these sidetracking moments occur, both the pace and the fun factor is slowed down.

So even though Small Soldiers is far from a perfect film, I am still recommending it for anyone in the mood to give their brain a rest, maybe have a few drinks and enjoy an old-fashioned heroes and villains story in miniature size.

Note: If you enjoy this film, I also recommend the first installment of the Nightmares & Dreamscapes TV mini-series titled "Toy Soldiers."

Rating: 7

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