Saturday, March 12, 2005

Don't nobody leave this place without watching Adventures in Babysitting

A question spurred by last night's channel-surfing:

Is Adventures in Babysitting the only Chris Columbus film I've ever enjoyed?



Columbus is one of those filmmakers who, when I see his name attached to a film a director, I immediately give up hope that the project will interest me. He's not a bad director, and the success of his films proves that he at least has a talent that many people appreciate, but his movies do nothing for me. I can appreciate the first two Harry Potter films as brilliant technical achievements, but I have no burning desire to see either one again.

Adventures in Babysitting, Columbus's directorial debut, is a whole other story.

Why that film? For me, most of the appeal lies with the actors. Elisabeth Shue has that wonderful likability television executives call "Q factor" -- just seeing her onscreen makes you smile. In fact, I'm not sure why some savvy programming exec hasn't offered Shue a bucket of bucks to star in a lighthearted dramedy for the small screen -- something along the lines of Gilmore Girls, say. She'd probably become a bigger star in that venue than she's ever been in films, along the lines of the similarly talented Lea Thompson. (This sort of role would also help mask the fact that, as appealing as she is, Shue is basically a one-note actress. The well-deserved plaudits she received for Leaving Las Vegas aside, she usually looks a little lost in a serious or demanding role. But there's absolutely nothing wrong with just being fresh-faced and likeable. Ask Mary Tyler Moore. Or Patty Duke. Or Sally Field. Need I go on?)

Shue's supporting cast is led by three young actors who avoid the usual pitfalls of kids in movies. They seem less like "kid actors" and more like real kids than most other collections of kids in similar films. Keith Coogan, as Shue's oldest charge, and Anthony Rapp as his best friend, speak and behave like real teenaged boys, unlike the kids in most teen comedies who don't act or talk like any teenagers I ever knew, but rather appear to be aliens from another planet imitating human adolescents after using the Porky's trilogy as training media. And Maia Brewton's imp in a Mighty Thor helmet seems a lot like kids that age really are -- the script makes her precocious, but not unrealistically so, and she embodies that awkward blend of innocent boldness and childlike fear that real kids often have.

Adventures in Babysitting is also one of those old movies (can you believe this was 18 years ago?) that frequently surprises you with the number of now-familiar faces who've gone on to bigger (if not always better) projects. Penelope Ann Miller (ironically, the contemporary actress most similar to Elizabeth Shue in terms of appeal and range) is Shue's trouble-plagued best friend. George Newbern, one of those actors who pops up frequently in guest roles on television but whose name you can never remember (he's also been the voice of Superman on the animated series Justice League and Static Shock), is the kindly stranger who tries to help Shue (though not entirely without ulterior motive). Vincent D'Onofrio (Law & Order: Criminal Intent) is the imposing garage mechanic who just may, in fact, be the God of Thunder. Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) is Shue's insufferable boyfriend. Lolita Davidovich (another one of those talented actresses who isn't as big a star as she ought to be) and Clark Johnson (formerly a costar on Homicide: Life on the Street, now an acclaimed television director) turn up in small roles.

And, as hokey as it is, I always get a kick out of the scene where the four WASPy kids from the 'burbs wind up on stage with the legendary Albert "The Icepick" Collins in a Chicago blues club. Just hearing the Master of the Telecaster snarl, "Don't nobody leave this place without singing the blues," is worth the price of admission all by itself. I had the privilege on a couple of occasions of seeing Collins perform live (both in the early '80s, before this film was made), and I know I didn't dare leave without singing the blues.

Can I be forgiven for hoping that Shue's character would hook up with Calvin Levels's car thief with a heart of gold at the end of the picture? Now that would be an adventure.

(This article is cross-posted to my film/television blog at DVD Verdict.)

0 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Post a Comment

<< Home