Arnold Schwarzenegger conquers the world with “Terminator 2” and the summer hits rock bottom with “Problem Child 2.”
Problem Child 2
Nutshell: Selecting a new suburb to grow as a family, Ben (John Ritter) and Junior (Michael Oliver) are shocked to discover a neighborhood crawling with lustful divorcees. Taking to the newfound attention, Ben engages with the locals, finding himself pursued by love-struck businesswoman LaWanda Dumore (Laraine Newman). Junior, irritated his father has lost parental focus, decides to declare war on anything that steps in his way, including a little stinker named Trixie (Ivyann Schwan), a kid blessed with the same destructive tendencies as the ginger monster. With Ben tied up in wedding plans despite attraction to school nurse Annie (Amy Yasbeck), Junior tears up the neighborhood with a series of pranks and general troublemaking, hoping to disrupt his father’s love life.
1991: You know, I didn’t want to see “Problem Child 2.”
After being slapped in the face by the original film’s incessant ugliness (making it the worst movie of 1990 and beyond), I wasn’t too keen on revisiting the poisonous world of Junior and his cold-blooded monkey business. “Problem Child” being my first real gulp of bitter cinema, the arrival of a sequel made my head hurt. The plan was to avoid it at all costs. Why subject myself to a motion picture that would gladly plumb the depths of crude behavior?
I ended up attending a matinee showing of “Problem Child 2,” the first display of a moviegoing compulsion that was gradually devouring my weekend plans, much like a gambling addict on the hunt for the next big jackpot. I could’ve skipped the move entirely and nobody would’ve cared, yet I decided to take a chance, permitting the producers a fresh shot to win me over. Optimistic? Indeed. With all that hindsight, clearly the filmmakers would ease up on Junior’s booger-smeared wrath, perhaps taking the time to actually script a story that would allow Junior and Ben some passable sincerity to alleviate the expected mischief. And people openly complain that I’m a pessimist.
So, I bought a ticket, sat down inside an empty theater (of course), and allowed “Problem Child 2” to steal 90 minutes of my life. Like a boob.
I suppose it goes without mentioning that “Problem Child 2” was my least favorite film of 1991. No shock there. What was surprising at the time was the sheer laziness of the screenwriting (credited to bio-pic jockeys and “Problem Child” creators Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski), which barely lifts a finger to tell a story. Instead, the follow-up retains the gross-out, hell-raising focal point of the original picture, only here the antics are tarted up with gooey “Home Alone” residue, making Junior less of a devil and more of a mouthbreathing prankster, combating oncoming threat with violence, not just simple winks of emotional disturbance.
The new filmmaking blueprint required a more severe rating, with “Problem Child 2” unable to creep past the MPAA undetected, slapped with a PG-13 rating, thus killing most of its chances at the box office, unable to lure family audiences in as easily. Or, maybe like me, everyone who saw the first movie just felt burned, unwilling to cough up more bucks to see a cruddy child actor (Oliver is simply awful in these pictures) bomb around a most diseased frame.
Oh, but I did cough up the bucks to see this garbage. Shame on me. Unfortunately, I learned nothing from the experience, outside of how unnerving a broad comedy playing to an empty theater can be.
2011: Despite a clear memory of my initial viewing, I was still a little unprepared for how awful a sequel “Problem Child 2” actually is. Imagine the first film stripped completely of logic (or what passes for boundaries in that picture) and plot, and there’s the sequel. It’s shoveling more of the same in many ways, yet tears off on an episodic route that keeps Junior’s antics a top priority, despite the fact that nothing in the picture makes sense.
Yeah, yeah, searching for storytelling clarity in “Problem Child 2” is a lost cause (like using the IMDB to gauge honest audience reaction to a movie), but it’s still a shock to witness the film chasing soul-flattening tangents for 90 minutes, without a care in the world for basic cinematic structure. You’ll notice Alexander and Karaszewski always appear to have trouble getting their scripts produced these days. Karma, dude. Karma.
Without much in the way of an introduction, “Problem Child 2” doesn’t waste any time getting to the nitty gritty, winding up Junior with a few Thorogood riffs and sending him off to the races, where our red-headed hero must thwart the efforts of suitors and neighbors while trying to make sense of Trixie, his cherubic rival and poster girl for abortion. The film offers Junior urinating into a lemonade stand jug (with a glass of the funky yellow liquid heartily consumed by a thirsty customer), displays his gifts with A/V equipment as Junior projects the sexual activity of his babysitter on the side of his house for all to see, and there’s a special family dinner ruined by an army of the boy’s pet cockroaches. Junior also manages to order up disfiguring plastic surgery for LaWanda, and somehow gains the ability to infiltrate medical buildings at will, messing with his future stepmother’s blood sample on the eve of her wedding.
I swear this film plays like a sick joke from the screenwriters, who seem to be throwing anything at director Brian Levant (a longstanding Hollywood hack), expecting to be reprimanded or refused. Instead, the helmer encourages everything, blending the hideous hijinks into a rancid, chunky paste impossible to digest.
However, that’s all kitten play compared to the film’s centerpiece, highlighting Junior’s interference at a local carnival, where he monkeys with the speed dials on a Tilt-a-Whirl-style ride, thus encouraging his spinning enemies to initiate a puke-a-thon where everyone is splattered with vomit. Really?
I enjoy a good barf joke like anyone else, but here, in the middle of such insulting stupidity and uncomfortable mean-spiritedness, the throw-up symphony is pathetic, desperately jabbing the viewer for a response when everything else deadens the senses.
Cripes, this picture is appalling. Just as loathsome as the original. However, at least Levant shows some restraint. I mean, there isn’t a food fight for goodness sake.
Huh? Okay, well at least there isn’t a cake launched into the sky via rockets.
A hypnotized dog with huge stinky, steaming bowel movements?
Dammit. Well, there’s no way Gilbert Gottfried returns as Peabody, at one point yelling at a flatulent Junior from behind a principal’s desk constructed out of pencils.
I give up.
There’s an ending here, where Junior and Trixie team up and visit a “love rock,” hoping to unite their parents using the power of false idol worship. Why Levant and the screenplay decided to attempt a conclusion is beyond me, but I was relieved to find a stop to this crippling madness. At last free of Oliver’s air-horn line readings, Ritter’s abysmal attempts at slapstick, and Levant’s cartoon vision.
Over. Done. Out. No more theatrical “Problem Child” sequels for the rest of my life. Now to take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day
Nutshell: A punk kid with domestic problems, the imminent leader of the resistance, John Connor (Edward Furlong), is facing a dire future, having trouble with his mother, Sarah (Linda Hamilton), now imprisoned inside a mental hospital. When the evil computer overlords at Skynet send the devious T-1000 Terminator (Robert Patrick) back in time to kill John, the old T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) joins the fight, reprogrammed by future John to help protect young John. Springing Sarah out of the loony bin and heading for safety, the gang is confronted with their nuclear future, forced to reassess their plan of attack, turning their attention to Miles Dyson (Joe Morton), a Cyberdyne engineer working on a project that will eventually lead to the creation of Skynet.
1991: There was no bigger film that summer than “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” or as it came to be known in bold letters, “T2.” Nothing came close to topping it in terms of box office supremacy, pop culture appeal, and technical wizardry. It was the sequel that stomped them all.
Not bad for a follow-up to the 21st highest grosser of 1984, standing two notches below “Breakin’” and right above “City Heat.”
The boys at the blockbuster factory Carolco Pictures knew they had to make an event out of “T2.” With star Arnold Schwarzenegger coming off his one-two-three punch of “Twins,” “Total Recall,” and “Kindergarten Cop,” whatever he was committing to next had to be major. It had to be huge. Only a return to the vast ego and imagination of writer/director James Cameron would suffice.
The buzz on “T2” started early, announcing itself with a sublime teaser trailer that not only informed the public that another “Terminator” was coming, but it was arriving with a clenched fist. The Stan Winston-helmed clip is perhaps one of the most famous teasers of all time, making great effort to broadcast to the world that, indeed, Arnold would be back. I recall the trailer placed in front of “The Silence of the Lambs,” cutting through the silent theater with its whirring and sparking mechanical assembly, climaxing with a sleek reveal of the new Arnold. CLANG! BOOM! “T2.”
Oh, how I adore that teaser. Extra points are awarded for its scrappy garage feel and synth score, bridging the gap between the low-budget 1984 achievement and the 1991 extravaganza that was about to be delivered.
Once “T2” did arrive, it steamrolled into theaters, stunning audiences with a bold new vision of blockbuster filmmaking from James Cameron, who again raised the bar for visual effects by merging the crude art of CGI into his smash-em-up practical playground. The combination was seamless 20 years ago, generating a sense of awe to compliment the heart-stopping action and enormity of cinematic vision. As a teenager, “T2” was perfect. It was bold, big, and brawny. It offered sights previously unseen, and every entertainment outlet was there to celebrate the dazzling production achievement. It was beautiful.
Brian, how about a job that pays a livable wage? NO THANKS, MORE “T2.” Want a way to receive your driver’s license early? NO THANKS, MORE “T2.” 10 minutes in a broom closet with Winona Ryder (anything goes)? NO THANKS, MORE “T2.”
I flipped for the film, and really, who didn’t? James Cameron not only successfully sequelized a dandy cult picture, but he turned the follow-up into an overpowering, gotta-see summer moviegoing priority. It was a feature that required multiple viewings to absorb. I personally viewed the thing four times during 1991, an amazing accomplishment for an R-rated movie. Heck, the final date I have written down is around Thanksgiving, back when a movie could play for that long and not star Nia Vardalos.
“T2” was a phenomenon. I’m tickled to have experienced the enormity of its release firsthand.
2011: Heavens, I’m not sure there’s anything left to be written about “T2.”
What’s important to impart is that the film has stood the test of time. Sure, the CGI acrobatics aren’t the lightning strikes they used to be and Arnold is more of a tabloid and political punchline these days than a growly superstar, but the basic elements of “T2” remain shockingly fresh and frightfully entertaining.
I’ve grown over the years to appreciate Cameron’s two “Terminator” pictures, preferring the original feature’s feral stance and low-tech creativity as it fashions an end-of-the-world scenario of survival. It’s a fascinating movie, securely shaped by Cameron in his pre-blowhard days, during a time when the bearded wonder had to prove himself to an industry of doubters.
“T2” returns Cameron to a place of fear, released two years after his masterpiece, “The Abyss,” failed to light up the box office as intensely as onlookers expected. The director retreated to the comfort of his original creation, though he wasn’t content to simply rehash the same cyborg shenanigans. With Big A’s participation and Carolco’s insane spending habits, Cameron seized a monster budget and manufactured the ultimate summer moviegoing ride, teeming with car chases, gunfire, sci-fi elements, comedy, explosions, surgery, philosophy, Spanish lessons, a muscular Linda Hamilton, and topped off with a provocative anti-nuclear statement, envisioned here as a mid-movie nightmare that still provides a profound horror show.
“T2” has everything and it juggles the workload brilliantly. Post “Avatar,” it’s easier to spot Cameron’s hokiness these days, yet the sincerity of the message and the performances erase any lingering ick from the cartoony dialogue, with the film’s steel-blue look and ingenious deployment of violence (the T-800’s turn from villain to hero is a wonderful twist) keeping Cameron’s urges at bay. “T2” is softer than the original picture in terms of characterization and emotional beats, yet ferocious when it comes to demolition.
It’s a triumphant sequel in the sense that it builds on established mythos, yet isn’t afraid to feel around for new elements to explore and destroy, with the T-1000 an inspired creation that generates a plausible villain for Arnold to combat while introducing a wow factor with its liquid metal innards. With all the time-travel and cyborg collision going on, Cameron does a fine job believing in his logic. Even if the math doesn’t always add up, it’s easy to be swept up by this audacious movie.
Besides, any film that makes Danny Cooksey a badass is a treat.
We now live in a world with four “Terminator” pictures (“T3” is satisfying junk food with one hell of an ending), a short-lived television series, and a supa-sweet Universal Studios 4-D movie experience. Yet, everything goes back to “T2,” that original flash of spectacle that turned a wonky franchise into a global box office killer and Arnold into a steel-jawed icon. It was also the last time Cameron touched greatness. As much as I enjoy “True Lies” and “Titanic,” the man hasn’t fired on all cylinders since 1991. He lost his hunger with his colossal sequel and that’s a crying shame. Now over the next decade we’re getting two “Avatar” follow-ups. Barf.
Somebody warm up the time portal and reprogram the T-800. He’s got one last target to terminate.
Coming next week…
Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze take to land, sea, and air to avoid Gary Busey.
John Singleton brings the hood to the multiplex.
And Harrison Ford doesn’t take Kirk Lazarus’s advice.