Review: Child’s Play

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PLOT: A lonely boy (Gabriel Bateman) is given a high-tech “Buddi” doll for his birthday by his busy single mother (Aubrey Plaza). However, the doll, named Chucky (voiced by Mark Hamill) soon proves to be defective in more ways than one.

REVIEW: It’s always tricky when beloved movies from your childhood get remade. When I was growing up, the CHILD’S PLAY films were kinda sacred. They were scary movies we all used to watch at sleep-overs. They were naughty and dangerous (“don’t f**k with the Chuck”), our parents forbid us from watching them, but hey, video stores and sympathetic teen clerks were a thing back then so what could you do?

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While the common wisdom is that the original is always better (a point driven home by vastly inferior remakes like A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, THE HITCHER, and POLTERGEIST), CHILD’S PLAY is a slicker, more creative reboot than most of the ones we’ve seen in the last few years. By smartly re-imagining the scenario in a way that totally differentiates it from the still-going Don Mancini series, this CHILD’S PLAY has a good shot at scaring a whole new generation of kids, and it’s far better than any of us expected –or heck – maybe even wanted it to be.

Instead of a serial killer possessing a doll, here, the Buddi doll, which is wired into all your smart devices by its monolithic manufacturer, is deliberately programmed to be evil by a pissed-off sweatshop worker. It’s arguably an even sillier premise than a killer using magic to transfer his mind into a doll, but it more or less works.

Tonally, the director Lars Klevberg seems to be trying to strike a balance that’s halfway between the harsh original film and the campier sequels (for me – BRIDE OF CHUCKY is the best of both worlds), and it works fairly well. While it’s a little slow-going at first despite only running eighty-eight minutes, once the carnage kicks in you have to admire it for how balls-to-the-wall R-rated it gets. You see heads get run over by lawnmowers, body parts removed by table saws and more. At one point they even show a clip of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 on TV, with that being the kind of Grand Guignol vibe they’re going for.

When the movie sticks to gore it’s just great. However, it suffers when they get into the non-horror stuff. While Gabriel Bateman’s Andy is given some personality here, his mom, played by Aubrey Plaza, is as stock as they come. This is a surprisingly thin role for her – making me wonder why they bothered casting her if they weren’t really going to give her anything to do. The same goes for Brian Tyree Henry as the friendly cop next door. This guy is an amazing actor, but like Plaza, it’s a pretty run-of-the-mill part. Here, it’s really Andy and Chucky that are the show.

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If the movie has any major hurdles to overcome it’s the fact that Brad Dourif was so iconic as Chucky. If you’re gonna replace him with anyone, I gotta say, going with Mark Hamill is pretty genius. Not only is he an icon, but his voice acting has always been amazing (to some he’s the most iconic Joker ever off “Batman: The Animated Series”) and he’s both funny and oddly sympathetic as the new Chucky. Here, the doll isn’t evil – he’s just been badly programmed. He only wants to be Andy’s pal. Don’t be surprised if you wind up feeling a little bad for him by the time the credits roll. My only issue with this new Chucky is that the new doll effects didn’t really work for me. He seemed a lot more life-like in the older movies, which is odd as you’d think with today’s technology he would have looked amazing.

While CHILD’S PLAY is fairly flawed due to some stock characters and a serious waste of some great actors, there are moments when this reboot is truly inspired, especially during the crazy-ass finale. While it’s unlikely to win over diehards, if you can put aside your love for the original films and see it as its own thing, this CHILD’S PLAY is a pretty fun little horror flick.