Sunday, March 1, 2020

Random Movie: Child's Play (2019)

Photo: Orion Pictures

2019's Child’s Play is an odd duck in the remake world. We are all used to the blatant money-grab approach from studios to leverage existing properties for more money (see most of the Platinum Dunes remakes). Occasionally, you’ll even have a long dormant franchise that gets new legs from a big name promising a new take (like the upcoming Candyman or Spiral: From the Book of Saw).

But the O.G. Chucky series is peculiar in that series creator Don Mancini is still involved, has continued to make sequels every few years (the latest coming from our friends at 1440 Entertainment), and even has a newly announced TV series coming with the principal cast of the last few movies involved. Remaking a series that still shows signs of life seems counterproductive until you look into the business side of things. MGM owns the rights to the original Child’s Play from 1988 but none of the sequels which have been distributed by Universal Pictures for thirty years. I guess MGM big wigs were desperate to get some of that Chucky money and didn’t mind stepping on toes to get it.

So even while the new Child’s Play is just movie finance 101, seemingly not born from any great respect or reverence of the original series, it’s largely okay and at least is not a beat for beat remake of the first with enough changes to separate itself from its predecessor. Gone is the killer doll possessed by a serial killer through voodoo or some nonsense with this film’s Chucky being a sentient artificial intelligence that in uninhibited by rules or protocols and essentially acts out because he doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong. So, that’s new.

Taking place in an only slightly exaggerated reality from ours, technology powerhouse Kaslan Corporation that has released internet connected TVs, thermostats, lights, and cars is branching out into interactive dolls, specifically the Buddi. Buddi is an ugly red-headed doll that is supposed to serve as a hub for all the internet things in your house and be a companion to your attention starved child. It can walk around on its own, bring you that science book you are about to forget (can I tell it to grab me a beer?), and otherwise be a docile servant for today’s hectic life. Unfortunately, not all Buddi dolls are alike as one is programmed by a disgruntled employee without any safeguards to prevent it from cursing, killing, maiming, or being even creepier than it already is. I think the main lesson from this film is that quality control is very important.

After young mother Karen (the always great Aubrey Plaza) is harangued at her customer service desk about a defective Buddi doll, she finagles it out of the store and gifts it to her son Andy in hopes to cheer him up from another move and another dirt-bag boyfriend she has. 13-year-old Andy (Gabriel Bateman) isn’t too interested in an odd-looking ginger doll for kids until he learns about his lack of inhibitions. The Buddi doll, who names himself Chucky (for reasons?), quickly imprints on Andy and declares him his best friend. Of course, when Andy gets irritated with his “dick-hole” cat and the mother’s scumbag boyfriend, Chucky takes it as an affront to his bestie and starts acting out violently.

Part of the necessary (but still questionable) suspension of disbelief regarding Chucky prime is that at the end of the day, it’s a three-and-a-half foot doll that happens to be psychotic. He can get the jump on you when you aren’t expecting but beyond that, the threat should be pretty nonexistent when you can just punt him across the room as he slowly stalks you. This film though makes Chucky more dangerous as he can tap into all those internet connected things to do his deranged bidding like drones with lawsuit-pending razor blades as propellers or driver-less cars that can disconnect seatbelts and crash. This especially makes the final showdown more interesting as Chucky taps into other Buddi dolls, including the somehow more creepy Buddi bear, and unleashes them on unsuspecting consumers in a mad dash for more Kaslan products. This sequence has a very Gremlins-esque vibe to it which I rather enjoyed.

Like many of the other preceding films, Andy is blamed for the death and destruction, especially by Detective Mike (Brian Tyree Henry) whose mother happens to live in Andy’s building as well as being the lead on all the murders. This is a plot point I could have done without (especially since it treads on such similar grounds as before) as it doesn’t last very long before Chucky is found out by the adults to be the real aggressor. Andy’s friends are on board believing the killer doll story without much evidence to back it up so there isn’t a real threat of all the murders being pinned on Andy even before there is physical evidence of the doll acting alone, because of course there’s an app for that.

Mark Hamill takes the reigns for voicing Chucky and does a good job oscillating between sweet and murderous as the situation warrants. Direction by Lars Klevberg is competent with a few decent jump scares throughout and the rising threat in the final act as the jettisoned Chucky merely seeks to make Andy happy, albeit in a largely violent fashion. And if nothing else, I appreciate that the film is quick and lean, coming in under 90 minutes, even if I’m sure that led to some of the subplots introduced being abandoned.

Overall, Child’s Play ‘19 is a fine film and certainly worth the 99 cents I paid to rent it. I’m not the biggest fan of the original which plays a killer pint-sized doll largely straight, but this does a serviceable job in giving a modern twist to the hazards of childhood.

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