By Richard Winters
My Rating: 4 out of 10
4-Word Review: Orphans on the loose.
Piper (Greg Olden) is the new kid inside a rough orphanage who befriends Mouse (Michael Hentz) who looks up to Piper as a sort of tough guy hero. When Mouse gets adopted by a snotty rich couple (Martin Mull, Karen Black) Piper convinces the orphans to break out of the orphanage and rescue him.
If there is one thing that can be said for this film, which is so obscure it is not even listed in Leonard Maltin’s Video Guide, is that it is lively. Director Robert Houston uses a lot of quick edits, interesting camera work and spinning tracking shots to keep things at a fast, irreverent pace. Piper’s sessions with his psychiatrist, which is played by Stephen Stucker is the funniest. Stucker is best known for playing the hyper air traffic controller in Airplane, but I felt he was more engaging and amusing here. The scene where Mouse swallows a small dinner bell and sends everyone into a panic is also a riot.
Unfortunately the film is unable to hold the balance between quirky humor and action and eventually devolves into a cartoonish, silly mess that becomes pretty much just an R-rated kiddie flick. I also didn’t care for the synthesized music score, which had a generic sound similar to ones used in 80’s porn flicks and only further cemented this as an uninspired B-movie.
The children characters are excessively crude and in some ways I prefer it a little more like this because I think it is realistic to how teens and pre-teens behave instead of as the wide-eyed sweet innocents that some other movies portray them as, but parents most likely will cringe and won’t want their own kids to watch it. A mean-spiritedness permeates throughout and although I am not sure if this was intentional or not but the two male leads and the one female are quite androgynous.
The one thing that keeps it fun is the adult performers who seem more than up to the campiness. Murphy Dunne is delightfully hammy as the orphanage warden and Anne De Salvo is quite cute despite playing an oppressive nun. Mull’s glib one-liners are a perfect balance to the zaniness. Black is also great and practically steals the film at the very end when she goes on a spastic shooting spree. This also marks the final film appearance of Richard Deacon best known for playing Mel Cooley on ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’ who appears here in a brief bit as a ticket agent.
My Rating: 4 out of 10
Alternate Title: Growing Pains
Released: November 4, 1984
Runtime: 1Hour 22Minutes
Director: Robert Houston
Studio: New World Pictures
Available: VHS, YouTube