Mediocre: Babes in Toyland

Babes in Toyland (1986)
Directed by Clive Donner
Written by Glen MacDonough, Paul Zindel
Produced by Tony Ford, Neil T. Maffeo, Anthony Spinner, Bill Finnegan, Patricia Finnegan, Sheldon Pinchuk
Starring Drew Barrymore, Richard Mulligan, Keanu Reeves, Jill Schoelen, Googy Gress, Pat Morita, Eileen Brennan, Walter Buschhoff, Shari Weiser, Rolf Knie, Gaston Häni, Pipo Sosman, Chad Carlson
Middling production values and design, clever yet unmemorable musical numbers and plenteous daffy havoc distinguish this sweet yet slight televised adaptation of Victor Herbert’s and Glen MacDonough’s fabular operetta from its six predecessors. One inanely implausible automotive accident during a blizzard on Christmas Eve delivers a preteen (Barrymore) to a fantastic municipality resembling a tidy, second-rate theme park populated by bipedally anthropomorphic animals and characters from nursery rhymes to unite a pair of lovers (Reeves, Schoelen), learn a few lessons from a magian artisan (Morita) in Santa’s employ, and thwart the maniacally pleonexic designs of a feathered, usurious scoundrel (Mulligan). For adults, entertainment resides in these principals’ alternately wooden and hammy delivery, and Donner’s perfunctory direction leaves but a bit to the imagination, but this musical’s adequate for families whose wee ones aren’t yet terribly demanding, fans of America’s favorite little addict when she was still only incipiently corrupt, and anyone apt to ogle Reeves and Schoelen for their pulchritude. Brennan’s comic timing exceeds that of her co-stars, but she’s granted regrettably scanty screen time. Don’t expect much of Herbert’s music, which is quoted occasionally in Leslie Bricusse’s score and songs. Two versions were broadcast in the United States and Germany, respectively running 140 and 95 minutes; the condensed shorter of these is commonly available on videocassette and videodisc, though both are streamed by various services.

Recommended for a double feature paired with The Wizard of Oz or Disney’s superior Babes in Toyland.

Execrable: Doppelganger

Doppelganger (1993)
Directed and written by Avi Nesher
Produced by William Christopher Gorog, Donald P. Borchers
Starring Drew Barrymore, George Newbern, Leslie Hope, Dennis Christopher
So few good movies are conceived in a condition of indecision, and Nesher’s uncertainty of whether to produce a god-awful pastiche of either Hitchcockian thrillers or Clive Barker’s gory corporeal horrors provoked this flagrant yet funny jumble of derivation and incoordination. Equipped with genre cliches (an erratic bearing, representative music box and frequent epistaxes), lush and loony Barrymore is quartered by a doltish aspiring screenwriter (Newbern, and pardon my pleonasm) during a killing spree visibly committed by her identical double — recurrences less implausible than the residence of this uninspired simpleton and his collaborative, obnoxiously prattling ex-girlfriend (Hope) in spacious rented lodgings despite their obviously everlasting unemployment. Ungainly romantic interludes interchange with agonizing badinage between the talentless former lovers and messily predictable slaughter, and whoever’s suffered the second might hope for the third. Nesher’s direction is as maladroit as his inhumanly sloppy, stilted, schmaltzy script: dramatic tension is minimized in every shot where it should be essential, and an alarming bathos redounds from the synchrony of these ill-conceived scenes and Jan Kaczmarek’s syrupy score. Fortunately, neither a good cast nor cinematographer were squandered here: Sven Kirsten lensed this dingy production with the eye of a periscope operator, and the Wiseauan acting is roundly, discretely wooden and hammy. At the command of deft directors, Barrymore’s proven herself adequate as a leading lady, but here her only observable assets are physical, though as eye candy she’s certainly more palatable than hideous Hope or hapless Newbern, attired in a rankling, reversed baseball cap in nearly every indoor scene. So often are Barrymore’s foxy figure and physiognomy exploited in lascivious scenes that one wonders if she was selected at all for her better output in what frequently seems a grossly masturbatory exercise. Featuring riotous cameos from a dipping boom mike and Drew’s demonstrably daffy mother Jaid, production design by a staff clearly not of this earth and more inadvertently hysterical moments than most B-movies of its caliber, Nesher’s schizophrenic turkey seems occasionally emulative of both Hellraiser and Mulholland Drive despite its anteriority of the latter by nearly a decade. It’s an admonitory model of how a movie oughtn’t be dressed, cast, played and especially shot, as well as one of the most entertaining unintentional comedies of its genres.