Small Soldiers (Joe Danté, 1998)


Gregory Smith (Alan Abernathy), Kirsten Dunst (Christy Fimple), Frank Langella (Archer) [voice], Tommy Lee Jones (Chip Hazard) [voice]. Screenplay by Gavin Scott, Adam Rifkin, Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio. Directed by Joe Danté. Rating: 12. Running time: 108 minutes.

Not sure why I’ve adhered to my tradition and titled this review with the director’s name in brackets afterwards, like Joe Danté is some kind of auteur and incredible creative force behind this film or something. Maybe he did conjure up some of the crazy ideas in Small Soldiers, but if he did then he’s a bit crap. But I did decide it was time that I watched some bad movies so I could remember where they go wrong, and I thought this would be a safe bet. (I was right).

The idea is that, under instructions from his new boss, a toy designer decides to finally make an action hero that actually fights. Solution? Order some microprocessors from the US Department of Defence used in nuclear warfare, a little bit like those things Frank Costello tries to smuggle across to the Chinese in The Departed… plant them in the heads of action toys, and all of a sudden they will have ridiculously violent minds and the ability to put their plans into action. Their enemies are some shit, pacifist, gormless rival toys called the ‘Gorgonites,’ lead by Archer, voiced by Frank Langella in his best role before Nixon (ha).

This provides a pretty good excuse of a plot for some mindless fighting, and evil those toys indeed become under the direction of their leader Chip Hazard, who conducts the interception of phone calls, kidnaps children and holds them hostage, stabs people in the hands, spikes adults’ drinks, gets his own Clockwork Orange style experiments going on Barbie dolls and even launches fireballs through soon to be smashed windows.

Don’t worry, nobody in the film’s too scared about it. The adults are a little angry when their shop is trashed by the toys, but they can put up with them bombing their house. And the teens are chilled because they fancy the socks off each other (despite the guy’s haircut; oh dear) and this is an excuse to bond. The police aren’t called in on the action once and the characters seem to have fun playing tennis with the aforementioned fireballs. They even enjoy smacking the action figures with crowbars and mowing them down once out on the grass. Alright, I admit it, I laughed. But only at how ridiculously violent and vulgar and shit scary this would be for kids still in love with their imitation Buzz Lightyears. I couldn’t quite believe how the film went about its business seemingly with a straight face.

I finish with a prayer and a question: please tell me ‘Joe Danté’ is a sick kid, because if an adult genuinely wanted to make this film, I’m going to lose the will to live pretty prompto. Oh, and the question: what the hell was Frank Langella thinking?

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