By Richard Winters
My Rating: 1 out of 10
4-Word Review: Inept kidnappers bungle crime.
Jimmy (Gary Coleman) is the son of a singing duo (Cleavon Little, Fay Hauser) who feels neglected while his parents are out on the road singing in concerts. Kelp (Walter Olkewicz) is an inept would-be crook who’s finding it a struggle to successfully commit any crime. He then reads a book about kidnapping and convinces his reluctant brother John (Paul Le Mat), John’s girlfriend May (Dee Wallace) and even his own mother Bernice (Ruth Gordon) to get in on it. Their plan is to kidnap Jimmy and hide him out in a secluded cabin in the woods while extorting money from his rich parents for ransom. The problem is that Jimmy is quite intelligent for his age and outsmarts the crooks at every turn, but also forms a bond with them and they to him, so when his father and the private investigator (Don Adams) comes looking for him in order to ‘rescue him’ he resists their attempts.
The film is based on a Donald E. Westlake novel and while many of his books that were turned into movies were quite entertaining this one isn’t. The same story was filmed before in 1976 as Come Ti Rapisco Pupo and although that was no classic either at least was better than this version, which tries too hard to attract the family audience by being about as benign as you can get. Even a kiddie flick, at least the good ones, need some genuine tension and excitement, to keep the interest going. Classic kid’s films like Benji had some stressful moments where it seem like the kids, who had also been kidnapped, where in danger and you worried for their safety, which got the viewer emotionally caught up in it and intrigued enough to keep watching. This film though makes it quite clear from the start that the bad guys are too stupid to pull-it-off and the kid is never in any kind of real trouble, so the interest level is virtually nil. The crooks are also too dumb to be believable making their clueless remarks and pratfalls more eye-rolling than funny.
The supporting cast is filled with ‘zany characters’ that are equally pathetic. I’ll give some credit to Cleavon who goes out on stage with his wife wearing a get-up that looks like he’s apart of a soul duo, but instead sings a country-tinged song that wasn’t half-bad, Pat Morita as the legally blind limo driver though is ridiculous. I think his part was put-in to give the thing some action by showing all sorts of car pile-ups that he causes as he drives, but no sane person would ever get into a car with him and his ability to hold onto a job as a driver and not be arrested for endangering others, would-be non-existent.
Coleman is especially boring and never says or does anything that’s especially funny. Having him be this super smart kid gets played-up too much and is neither fun, nor amusing. He also shows no character arc other than supposedly ‘learning to be a kid’ though we don’t really see this, which in a good movie would be, but instead verbally explained by Coleman. The movie should’ve had a moment where the crooks, despite their dumbness, knew something that the kid, despite his smartness, didn’t because of the fact that they’d been around longer and a little more worldy-wise, which could’ve lent some insightful irony, but the stupid script wasn’t savvy enough to even go there.
The only two good things about the film are Don Adams and Ruth Gordon. For Adams he plays basically just an extension of his more famous Maxwell Smart persona even having him wear the same type of trench coat. While his pratfalls inside the home of Jimmy’s parents where he inadvertently tears-up the place borders on inane, the scenes where he dresses in drag are actually kind of funny. For Gordon you get to see her, at the age of 85, climb-up a telephone pole. While I’d presume they didn’t really make her do it and just filmed it in a way that made it appear like she did, it still ends-up looking authentic and she says some amusing things as she does, but outside of these two brief moments the movie clunks.
My Rating: 1 out of 10
Released: November 12, 1982
Runtime: 1 Hour 25 Minutes
Director: Gary Nelson
Studio: New World Pictures