Problem Child (1990) — First pet abuse, then serial killing

“Oh, so you wanna play rough, huh?”

Rich’s rating: Problem Child? More like problem review!

Rich’s review: For the fourth month running, I find myself honouring my New Year’s Resolution Pledge to review one movie chosen by our great forums inhabitants each month, with April’s edition coming to you courtesy of forum member Genetic Mishap, who’s skill for guessing numbers meant that she got to expose me to the film of her choice -– and with little delay, I was sentenced to watch Problem Child, for reasons which will continue to baffle scientists for years to come.

As a choice, I’ll admit that I wasn’t wild about it. I was fully prepared for 90 minutes of pure awful; and when I rented the film, it actually sat on top of my computer for two days before I could summon the will-force to watch it. However, in a shock and awe moment, watching it was in no way as bad as I had imagined.

I mean, lets not kid ourselves here, this isn’t a great film, and to be honest this kind of film isn’t really my cup of tea; but I can’t honestly hold my hand up and say “This film sucked,” which presented me with my first problem, because I’d already spent the two days working myself up to watching it trying to think of new metaphors for bad films, none of which I’ll get to use now.

The other problem is that, while I can appreciate that other people might like this kind of film, I really don’t like (a) films with kids as main characters (you can thank Pay It Forward for that), and (b) Goofy Prank/Destruction comedies. Since Problem Child is essentially the hybrid nuclear monster fusion of those two genres, I was left with the problem that while it didn’t have any outstanding flaws for me to jump all over and get angry about, I wasn’t really entertained in any way by watching it.

This has lead me to write, re-write, scrap, delete, and re-write this review over and over and over again over the past week in a vain attempt to find some way to make it entertaining. But even I have limits to my endurance, and I have passed them. So, you’ll all just have to forgive me, and if this review doesn’t meet my normal standards, you know who to blame (Genetic Mishap).

So, Problem Child then. The problem child in question is orphan Junior. Junior, as you might have guessed, is not the most well-behaved of children. In fact, it’s pretty much a given that where he is, there will be a large number of adults getting angry, and a shortage of any kind of domesticated animals that can be put inside things, wrapped up in things, or generally mistreated in ways that the people from PETA would probably disapprove of. Junior even manages to make nuns lose their cool; and that takes some perseverance, let me tell you.

Since no-one on the face of the planet wants to take responsibility for Junior, a lucky twist of fate brings in Ben (John Ritter) and Flo Healey. Ben desperately wants a son with whom he can do all the Father/Son things like going to sporting events, looking at cars and nodding appreciatively, and gossiping about their mother behind her back. When slimy adoption agent sees a desperate sucker like Ben, he foists Junior off on them with the subtlety and forethought of Matrix Revolutions, and like the Wachowskis, runs cackling with glee into the night before the customers realise what they’ve let themselves in for.

So, as expected, Junior + Family = what all the TV guides refer to as “Hilarious Circumstances” and I call “Same old Juvenile Prankster Comedy Routines”. The little tearaway cuts a swathe through the populace while his parents despair of him. Honestly, the main reason you can tell this was made in 1990 was that if this were modern day, Junior would have been diagnosed with ADD and put on meds within the first five minutes of this film; possibly leading to a crossover with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I think I might have enjoyed that more.

Anyway, Ben decides that instead of getting angry at the fact that their adoptive son is close to ensuring they are exiled from every state except Alaska, he decides to win him round with the power of pure lurrrve… oh, and a special surprise visit from Junior’s serial killer pen pal (seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up) guarantees a nice schmaltzy ending that will have you rolling your eyes so far back in your head you’ll be able to see your brain.

So that’s it; a not terrible film from a genre I don’t like; but if you’re into visual humour, the kid who plays Junior is actually pretty engaging and not very irritating, and there are a few laugh out loud moments that mean you won’t feel you’ve entirely wasted your viewing time. Oh, and Kramer from Seinfeld is the serial killer, and it’s worth seeing just for the weird factor of that alone.

Didja notice?

  • Junior’s grudge against anything small and domesticated.
  • Martin Beck’s great reaction when he meets Junior.
  • Flo Healey; most self-centred person ever? You decide.

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