“You’re killing me, Smalls!”
That line is why I had to see this 1993 movie I had (deliberately) overlooked back in 1993. Critics were disapproving and even now it has a dismal 58% on Rotten Tomatoes, while the public scores it an impressive 89%.
I’m gonna side with the audience today.
This is a coming-of-age story written and directed by David Mickey Evans and co-written by Robert Gunter, who have not exactly covered themselves with glory since this one came out. (They worked on a poorly received sequel, and in the interim Evans did some of the Beethoven movies.) And this movie is simultaneously too rough and too slick for its own good, but it somehow all works out.
The idea is that nerdy kid moves to new neighborhood where he falls in with a group of eight other boys who have a baseball team. The star of the team takes him under his wing and teaches him to play, and despite their initial reluctance, the boys turn out to be pretty solid pals. The summer leads them through a series of seemingly loosely connected vignettes, including a cute, but highly improbable story of lifeguard-esse seduction. Mostly, however, they play ball in a lot next to a house occupied by a sinister man with the world’s meanest dog. Possibly an immortal dog.
The movie works because it goes all out on the boy’s imaginations. We see the dog only in glimpses (and giant puppet-y paws), magnified by their imagination. The whole show is on that principle: It shows us the world, as literally as it can, through their eyes (as filtered through their pubescent brains). This is undeniable fun, if you can let yourself enjoy it. (More movies should do it, frankly.) It makes certain aspects (like the puppet dog) kind of cheesy, but that also keeps in with the feel of things. (Seriously, today they’d CGI the hound and it would lose all character.
It’s a bit slick in that everything ties together just perfectly. But that’s okay. It’s not trying to be anything other than it is: A fun movie we can all kinda-sorta relate to if we were ever kids.
The acting is surprisingly strong. The boys seem pretty natural, even in absurd situations. The only one I recognized was Patrick Renna, who grew up to be on “The X-Files” and in the first movie of the first After Dark horror fest Dark Ride. There was also Dennis Leary, James Earl Jones and Karen Allen, of course, but adults are practically props in these kinds of movies.
We had fun, which is something to say about a 25-year-old kidflick. Evans has a number of upcoming films that look like they have real potential, so perhaps we’ll see some more good stuff from him.