Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"Problem Child" (1990)

Starring John Ritter, Michael Oliver and Michael Richards
Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karazewski
Directed by Dennis Dugan
Rated PG - Language, violence
Running Time: 78 Minutes

Problem Child Tantrum PackYeah.  I watched this.

Junior (Michael Oliver) is a young boy who gleefully terrorizes the nuns at the orphanage where he lives.  Desperate to get rid of him, the nuns demand that an adoption agent, Igor Peabody (Gilbert Gottfried), remove him as quickly as possible.  Peabody manages to con yuppie nice guy Ben Healy (John Ritter) and his greedy wife Flo (Amy Yasbeck) into adopting the kid.

Ben, desperate to be a better, more wholesome dad than his own father, "Big Ben" Healy (Jack Warden), tries to bond with Junior.  But, the boy responds only by causing trouble at every turn.  During a camping trip with Ben's neighbor and his family, Junior sets a bear loose upon the campsite.  At a birthday party for a young girl down the street, Junior pulls every trick in the book, from putting a garden hose in her bedroom to filling the pinata with pickles.  As Junior's outbursts grow more dangerous and destructive, Ben's tolerance and sanity continue to break down.

But the worst is yet to come: Junior's school pen pal is none other than Martin Beck (Michael Richards), the "Bow Tie Killer."  After escaping from prison, Beck is headed for Junior, thinking the boy to be a grown master criminal in need of a partner.  When he discovers the truth, however, Beck kidnaps Junior and Flo, and demand $100,000 from Ben in order to get them back.

There's not much to say about "Problem Child."  One of those movies I liked as a kid turns out to be pretty lame as an adult.  The script has a handful of chuckle-worthy moments, and at less than 90 minutes, it was enough to keep me from being bored but not enough to really like it.  The real highlight of the film is John Ritter, whose cheerful optimism about being a father is pretty charming.  Ritter also displays good comedic timing and the ability to sell the slapstick moments.

"Problem Child" somehow ended up being a franchise, inspiring two sequels and even an animated series.  The premise behind it, simple though it may be, is clever enough but the execution is lacking.  The gags are obvious rather than surprising, though the occasional witty line or well-played moment of slapstick gets through - Jack Warden taking a hurled house cat to the face is pretty hilarious.  Oh well.

See Also
Problem Child 2