If "Toy Story" had been made by Sid, the mean neighborhood boy who delighted in destroying action figures in that movie, the end result might have been "Small Soldiers."
That's both a good and bad thing, because while this comedy-thriller benefits from an anarchic sense of humor, the script seems to have been written by a small boy as well.So aside from some funny puns (most of which have already been spoiled by the TV spots) and some pop-culture references that no child and most adults won't understand, "Small Soldiers" just isn't funny enough.
Also, it's pretty mean-spirited, with some overly violent content (the filmmakers were obviously going for the more marketable PG-13), which includes acts against small children and against women.
Of course, that's not to say that "Small Soldiers" doesn't have its moments. Anyone who destroyed their action figures as a child will derive some glee from the messy but still thrilling finale.
In the movie, toy designer Larry Benson (Jay Mohr, from "Paulie") is so desperate to impress his new boss (Denis Leary) that he orders top-secret microchips for a new line of action figures, the Commando Elite. Unbeknownst to Larry, the chips contain a form of artificial intelligence, which brings the toys to life.
And within minutes of being activated, Maj. Chip Hazard (the voice of Tommy Lee Jones) and his men have declared war on their sworn enemies, the Gorgonites (another line of action figures).
Unfortunately for young Alan Abernathy (Gregory Smith, from "Krippendorf's Tribe"), the teen who unwittingly sets them free, their battleground is his father's toy shop.
But the battle gets even more personal when the Commando Elite invade Alan's home and kidnap his girlfriend, Christy Fimple (Kirsten Dunst), leading him to stage a desperate counterattack, with help from the Gorgonite leader, Archer (the voice of Frank Lan-gella).
There are some inspired gags, including the bad guys "drafting" Christy's female dolls (voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar and Christina Ricci) and turning them into fighting machines but nothing nearly as clever as the basic premise.
And as mentioned, the film is overly violent and downright vicious at times. In that, it recalls nothing so much as the two "Gremlins" movies, which were also directed by Joe Dante. (Are we sensing a pattern here?)
However, the performances are fine, especially from the two appealing young leads and a score of talented actors who lend their voices to the toy characters (including Ernest Borgnine, Bruce Dern, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer).
"Small Soldiers" is rated PG-13 for action figure violence and mayhem, profanity and some brief flatulence humor.