Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Saturday 24 December 2022

Burl reviews Toys! (1992)


Ha ha and z-z-z-zinnngggg! it’s Burl, here to give a review to a bomb of whimsical proportions! And I’ll tell you, I went to see this one with my buddy Pellonpaa and we employed a little electric lettuce to become high as kites before the screening! And at some point during it, there was a moment so surprising and funny that both Pellonpaa and I literally fell off our chairs and rolled on the ground! I watched it again the other day, but straight this time of course, and wondered if the hilarity of the moment would repeat!

Anyway, the movie is Toys, and the answer to my wonderment is no, it wasn’t as hilarious a moment this time around! It was still funny though! The picture is a slick and strange big-budget affair featuring Robin Williams from The Best of Times and Club Paradise as an ill-defined manchild called Leslie Zevo! He’s the son of toymaker extraordinaire Ken Zevo, who’s played by none other than Donald O’Connor from Francis in a sweet low-key performance, and who dies very early in the picture!

Because he deems neither Leslie nor Leslie’s dopey-sweer sister Alsatia, played by Joan Cusack from Grandview U.S.A. and The End of the Tour, to be ready to take over the toy factory, Ken asks his warmonger brother Leland, essayed by Michael Gambon from Sleepy Hollow and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, to assume command! Leland’s wingman in this venture is Captain Pat Zevo, his son, played bumptiously by LL Cool J from Deep Blue Sea and Halloween H2O! All of these characters get nearly as much screen time as Williams's Leslie, so it ends up feeling more like an ensemble picture than it was marketed as! But Williams can't help but be a showcase, and he gets to be goofy, eccentric, and weird, and also gets nearly serious in moments when he's realizing what his uncle and cousin are up to!

From here it becomes a battle of wills (though emphatically not of wits) to determine whether the factory will continue with its tradition of making wind-up mechanicals and other sundry geegaws, or transition into violent war toys and indeed drone technology as the General fervently, even dementedly, desires! On Leslie’s pacifistic side he has pretty love interest Gwen, played by Robin Wright from The Princess Bride; Owen Owens, the old toy factory factotum played by Arthur Malet, the graveyard keeper from Halloween; and of course his sister Alsatia, who is revealed later in the picture to be not quite what she appears! (Or maybe it’s that she turns out to be exactly what she appears, ha ha!) And Captain Pat has a change of heart and joins the good guys as well

In the margins of the cast are familiar faces like Jamie Foxx from Django Unchained, Yeardley Smith from Maximum Overdrive, Steve Park from The French Dispatch, and Debbie Mazar from Singles, while the old Zevo grampa is played by Jack Warden from Dirty Work in makeup that makes him look exactly like Lionel Stander! But as committed as all these people are to their roles – and I do really like Williams’s performance here, which to me recalls his mumbling work in Popeye – the people are not the stars of the show! No, it’s the sets and the props, which are spectacular and occasionally clever, like the crossword-puzzle room that reduces even as its occupants are trying to have a serious meeting about fake vomit! And the whole world of the movie is either invented, studio-bound fantasy-adjacent confections, or rolling green fields with a road winding through them! But mostly it's sets, with machines and robots and wind-up mechanicals and lots of extras all labouring in the background!

And it was these sets that most captivated me back when I saw this movie on the big screen, as I recall! The plot seemed a garble, not, it turns out, because I was stoned, but because it actually was, and is, an incoherent mess! The central conflict is simple enough, and so is the message, but the storytelling is about as organized and cohesive as an elevator fart! Ha ha, I’m sorry to make such a crude joke, but it’s much in the spirit of the movie under review! Anyway, it’s an extraordinary movie in many ways, and a very bad one in many others, and unfortunately the bad is a pretty fundamental part of the whole enterprise, and the impression left is of a bad picture! But I liked Williams and the rest of the actors too, and there were a few sharp gags and lots of clever visuals, so it’s hardly a total loss! I’ll give Toys one pea and one carrot!


  1. I too saw in this theater. I was exactly the right age for this to be a slice of wonderment. I couldn't understand why the critics hated it. (I get it now.)

    1. It's pretty terrible, all right! It's the kind of movie that probably gets periodically "reevaluated" by people who want it to be good, but it's just not!

  2. This film could only be made, because the director got a blank check after coming from major success with *Rain man* and *Bugsy". And I bet that the dailies looked great, so no one dared to question his vision. But I seriously doubt that there was a finnished script that made sense to anybody who read it. Or maybe they ran out of money before everything got shot. Anyway the film never overcame the feeling that the set design was more important than the story that seemed simple, but was told in a clumsy way.