A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that in this slapstick comedy, a 7-year-old boy causes chaos from start to finish. He's bad for the sake of being bad and delights in setting fires, causing accidents, hurting people, pickpocketing, and driving recklessly, all without remorse. His misbehavior is exaggerated and unrealistic. Despite characters being pummeled, hit with a baseball bat, squished and squashed, and even sailing through the air locked in a suitcase, no one is injured. There's lots of potty humor (including the boy's penchant for peeing on people and farting for effect). Mild swearing is frequent ("crap," "ass," "hell," "goddamn"), and there are several slurs ("Japs," "retarded"). Stereotypically heartless nuns and a priest are used as comic foils and objects of disdain, including shots of hefty nuns undressing and a priest sitting on the toilet. The movie also presents a very negative take on adoption.
- Parents say
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What's the story?
Junior, a destructively mischievous child, is passed from various homes to an orphanage and finally into the arms of Ben (John Ritter), a clueless but well-meaning adoptive father, and his social-climbing wife. The new household, as well as their entire neighborhood, is upended by Junior's behavior. Meanwhile, not too far away, Martin Beck (Michael Richards), a dangerous criminal, breaks out of prison, hoping to find Junior, who has become his ardent fan and penpal. Mayhem meets frenzy as the two forces of nature collide and Ben tries to bring some stability to the little boy's life.
Is it any good?
PROBLEM CHILD is a live-action cartoon with pratfalls, slapstick action, one-dimensional characters, and very little heart. Director Dennis Dugan, hoping perhaps to emulate Wile E. Coyote vs. the Road Runner or Tom and Jerry, has come up with "devil-child against the world," with the same pacing and exaggerated violence of the animated shorts. And like those shorts, there's no real resolution, no change in behavior: Nice guys remain nice guys, buffoons are always buffoons, and the little guy's emotional arc barely moves from A to B.
The performances are uniformly loud and over-the-top, with some highly offensive comic portrayals of nuns and priests and a whiny, abrasive narration throughout from Junior himself. Ritter's usual nice-guy appeal can't save anyone, and Richards, Jack Warden, and Amy Yasbeck (who plays Junior's adoptive mother) are more obnoxious than comic. All of this might be somewhat excusable if the movie was funny or clever. But unless watching people crash and burn is your cup of tea, it's simply not.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the differences between cartoon violence and real violence. In a live action movie like this one, how do the filmmakers indicate that nothing is for real?
Punishment doesn't seem to make a difference in Junior's behavior. Are there consequences for your actions? Do you ever talk with your family about how they determine those consequences?
Ben was victimized by his father, his wife, and even his friends before he even met Junior. Did his relationship with his new son help him make any changes? How realistic is his character?
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