Friday, May 20, 2011

"Problem Child 2" (1991)

Starring John Ritter, Michael Oliver and Amy Yasbeck
Written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski
Directed by Brian Levant
Rated PG-13 - Language, violence, lots of vomit
Running Time: 90 Minutes

Problem Child Tantrum PackSequels don't often fare better than the original.  While not much better than the first, "Problem Child 2" does somehow manage to be an improvement, even with its own set of issues that it can't quite overcome.

After the events of the first film, Ben Healy (John Ritter), now divorced, and his adopted son Junior (Michael Oliver) have picked up and moved cross country to the town of Mortville, Oregon.  As they settle into their new home and begin their new lives as father and son, Ben catches the eye of pretty much every woman in town.  It seems that Mortville is the divorcee capital of the world, with a 50-to-1 ratio of single women to men, and Ben starts going on a lot of dates. 

This aggravates Junior, who feels that Ben is abandoning him, and lashes out with his usual painful mischief.  Meanwhile, Junior has problems fitting in at school where he finds that his old adoption agent Igor Peabody (Gilbert Gottfried) has taken a job as principal, and encounters bullies like sixth-grader Murph (Eric Edwards) and young girl Trixie (Ivyann Schwann) who is just as much a menace as Junior.  To make things worse, grampa Big Ben Healy (Jack Warden), now broke after his disastrous failed mayoral campaign in the first film, has showed up on their doorstep and moved in. 

While Ben finds himself attracted to school nurse Annie (Amy Yasbeck), he's also pursued by the rich, powerful, and awful LaWanda Dumore (Laraine Newman) who aims to make Ben her seventh husband.  When Ben begins to get closer to LaWanda instead of Annie, Junior realizes he has to do whatever he can to ruin this relationship, for the sake of the family.

"Problem Child 2," make no bones about it, is a messy film.  It's totally jammed with subplots; it was actually somewhat difficult writing that description above because this movie has about 80 things going on at once.  Part of the problem is that it needlessly jams in the entire cast of the original, save for Michael Richards, plus a whole slew of new characters.  There's really no reason for Gilbert Gottfried or Jack Warden to be here; their characters serve little purpose other than to facilitate a few gags.  Really, the movie would have been better served forgetting about these two and focusing more on Junior's rivalry with Trixie, which seems far too minor when all is said and done.  Amy Yasbeck, who played Ben's obnoxious wife Flo in the first movie now plays a completely different character, the kind-hearted school nurse Annie.

So what does "Problem Child 2" do right?  Bumping the rating up to PG-13 helps some.  Though still pretty tame by today's standards, the gags are grosser, the language a bit more adult.  This allows Junior's inner demon to pull a few nastier tricks that are the highlights of the movie.  A centerpiece scene at a carnival where he increases the speed of a ride to its maximum, causing the riders and the audience to start vomiting, is probably the best gag in the whole 90 minutes.  The amount of vomit spewing out of everyone's mouths, and the fact that the vomiting then spreads to the rest of the crowd, literally covering people in gallons of nasty thick fluid, is absolutely absurd.  The movie revels in how completely unbelievable this is, and all the better for it.

In terms of the cast, John Ritter is again charming and proves quite adept at physical humor.  His endless supply of optimism regarding Junior is a welcome not of positivity in a movie filled with cynical characters.  Michael Oliver shows improvement as Junior, as well - he's got that evil glare nailed in this one.  There's a good sense that these two characters actually care about each other, and if that relationship didn't work, then the movie would just fail entirely. 

As it is, there are some solid gags, but an overstuffed script really brings it down.  The bigger budget and better direction help a lot, meaning "Problem Child 2" is somewhat better than its predecessor, but it can't overcome that script, or its slavish devotion to trotting out old characters who serve no purpose.

See Also
Problem Child