Saturday, May 22, 2010


From the Vault: Baby's Day Out

Like a mutant variation of Dave Bowman's transformation in 2001: A Space Odyssey, John Hughes continues his backward evolution in filmmaking, reaching a new career nadir with Baby's Day Out.

Think Home Alone with a baby instead of Macaulay Culkin and you've got the general high concept of this piece of Hughes-written drivel.

This isn't just a filmmaker going to the well once too often, it's Hughes diving into an empty one, cracking his skull on the bottom and repeating the dive because he keeps blacking out and forgetting there's no more water.

The story, such that it is, concerns a young, snooty rich couple (Lara Flynn Boyle, Matthew Glave) who face the abduction of their toddler Bink.

As is the usual Hughes course of action, he paints the family as gross caricatures then, without any developing scenes, expects the audience to care about them as they fret over their missing child.

This raises one of the many good points about what's wrong with this material. Whereas it's one thing in Home Alone to have a grade-school student stuck in a comically perilous situation, is there something really funny about having a child who isn't even a year old wandering around construction sites and across busy intersections while his parents worry about whether he's alive or dead?

Of course, the answer is not really. When baby Bink crawls on a girder hoisted high above the ground, what should the audience feel? Is it suspense about whether he'll fall? If he does, it's tragic and not a comedy. If he doesn't, it's just a pointless special effect in an absurd movie.

Despite its questionable taste, much could be forgiven if Baby's Day Out managed to induce laughs, but nary a giggle is provoked as Hughes resorts to his usual silly musical cues and plentiful hits to the groin. It's not that a funny, cartoonish film about kidnapping a baby can't be made -- it has been and it's called Raising Arizona.

Because the script has little interest in creating characters, the actors, many of whom have been good elsewhere, seem in visible pain. Joe Mantegna suffers as the lead kidnapper as he tries to express what it would be like if an infant set fire to your crotch with a butane lighter and your idiot friend proceeded to stamp it out. I don't think Stanislavsky, Lee Strasberg or Stella Adler could help Mantegna on that one.

Meanwhile, Joe Pantoliano fails to overcome the same problem as Mantegna's cohort and Cynthia Nixon struggles to maintain the English accent they feel a nanny is required to have. Director Patrick Read Johnson desperately tries to keep the pace moving, but most of the gags, such as one involving a gorilla at the zoo, get stretched beyond the point of humor or reason to pad out the film's running time.

Even the solitary, slightly amusing gag involving the baby and a revolving door gets repeated to the point that it loses what little charm it had. With a premise like this, it's as absurd as the movie itself to try to pick on plausibility problems, but even this film overreaches by trying to justify the baby's path through the city as being based on Bink's favorite book.

Admittedly, the kid (actually twins) is cute but, in the end, do you really want to pay to look at someone else's baby's pictures, especially when they are shots of humorless near tragedies?

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