As Hollywood continues with its obsession of making all of its once popular movies again, the latest 21st century makeover belongs to Child’s Play, the slasher flick that terrorized audiences in 1988. That film from writer Don Mancini and director Tom Holland spawned a franchise that got increasingly odd and violent, but never seemed to lose its cult popularity. The 2019 version, however, is destined for the recycle bin.
The basic plot of both versions centers around a single mother who buys her son a popular doll for his birthday. The doll she brings home, however, is not like the others. This one has a murderous streak. Where the 1988 film saw the soul of a serial killer trapped inside Chucky, the 2019 version has eliminated all talk of voodoo and the supernatural and has instead given a disgruntled factory worker in Vietnam the power to turn off the safety protocols, thus allowing the doll to learn how to kill.
The new film, written by Tyler Burton Smith and directed by Lars Klevberg, attempts to modernize the story. Buddi is the brand name of the doll (the original was based on the popular real-life toy My Buddy). Buddi is a product of Kaslan Industries, a tech company that producers a wide range of household products and can be controlled with an Alexa-like device. The Buddi doll can connect to all Kaslan products as a way to fully integrate the toy and all household systems. It’s everything the movies have warned us about for decades, and reminds us again and again that we are giving gadgets unlimited access to our lives.
Aubrey Plaza stars as Karen, a cashier at Zed Mart who recently transplanted herself and her 13-year-old son, Andy (Gabriel Bateman), to an apartment supposedly in a dodgy part of town. It’s the kind of building with an ambiguous design and a creepy super named Gabe (Trent Redekop). Their new neighbor is a kind old lady (Carlease Burke) whose son, Detective Mike Norris (Brian Tyree Henry) is a frequent visitor.
Andy has trouble settling into the new place and spends a lot of time playing video games in the hallway to avoid his mom’s terrible boyfriend, Shane (David Lewis). Eventually Andy also meets other kids in the building, generic teens that never seem to go to school. Characters come and go with little fanfare and usually no introduction. There is only one girl and in what seems like an effort to placate modern audiences, they make her the smartest and toughest but without providing any context or background. It is the latest example of how male directors and writers think they’re writing awesome female characters, but clearly demonstrate that they don’t really know what that means.
Once we meet the doll who will essentially name himself Chucky (voiced by Mark Hamill), we are already wondering why a 13-year-old kid would actually want this. The doll is creepy and parents and children look adoringly at them as if they are precious prizes. But we are asked to believe they want this because the dialogue says so. There’s no attempt to actually show why people love these toys so much.
The main problem with Child’s Play is that it counts too much on nostalgia and asks the audience not to notice all the plot holes, logical inconsistencies, and total lack of story and character development. There are almost as many references to ET: The Extra-Terrestrial as there are to the original Child’s Play. This is essentially a story about what might have happened to Elliott if ET had turned out to be an Evil Alien.
What’s more, there is no sense of time. It is unclear when this actually takes place, or how long anything takes. Is this over the course of three days or three months? It seems to be set immediately after Christmas, but why would a toy company release a highly anticipated new doll to the market a week after New Years?
There is a lot of humor. Some of it is intentional, most of it is not. But one thing Child’s Play does well is fully embrace the over-the-top quality of the 80s slasher genre with ultra brutal murders and lots of blood. Child’s Play isn’t the worst movie of 2019. But it will be long forgotten before the year is over.
Rating: 2 out of 5