Monday, March 7, 2016

Small Soldiers (1998) - David Cross #6

When I mentioned this movie to my brother, he described it as "the first PG-13 VHS our grandma bought for us."  I probably haven't seen this since before I was ten.  The plot is that a toy company puts DoD weapons intelligence chips into toys, one a set of bizarre looking, but kind and cowardly aliens (the Gorgonites), and the Commando Elite, a set of soldiers that tell us what GI Joe would look like with R Crumb as artistic director.

Alan Abernathy (Gregory Smith) is a troubled teen whose dad owns an old fashioned toy store in a small town.  Alan's watching the store, and convinces the delivery guy to give him a set of the new action figures, despite his dad's ban on "war toys."  He befriends his neighbor's daughter, Christy (Kirsten Dunst), who wants to buy one of the soldier toys for her little brother.  The toys start fighting each other after the store closes, wrecking the place.  It's up to Alan to save the Gorgonites and stop the Commando Elite, whose methods quickly shift into Child's Play territory. 

There are four credited writers, and it shows.  On the one hand, there's the adventure plot of protecting the good toys from the bad toys, which gets way too dark for a PG kids movie, but doesn't allow itself to get as dark as would make sense.  There's an attempt to be overtly political, not only with the bad guys being caricatures of the military, but at one point, the lead soldier, Chip Hazard, stands in front of an American flag puzzle, and starts reciting the opening speech from Patton, quickly descending into a jingoistic mishmash of patriotic quotes (e.g. "Ask not what your country can do for you, but regret that you only have one life to give.")  At other times it tries to take on a cultural obsession with technology, or the rise of corporations over small businesses, etc.  None of these really pan out as well as they could have if the writers stuck to fully developing one theme rather than trying to tackle as many as possible.

If you watched the clip, you may have recognized Tommy Lee Jones' voice.  This movie has a surprisingly high profile cast.  Besides an early in her career Kirsten Dunst, there's Denis Leary and Phil Hartman, with voice work by not only Jones, but Frank Langella, Ernest Borgnine, Bruce Dern, Harry Shearer, George Kennedy, Cristopher Guest, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Christina Ricci.

Also, David Cross is in it.

Cross has a bigger part in this than many of the previous films,like Men in Black, where he had only one scene.  Wait a second.  Small Soldiers is about a group of elite soldiers bent on fighting an alien population, with the soldiers being led by Tommy Lee Jones, which is kind of like Men in Black.  Now that I think about it, there's a daisy chain from all Cross's movies up to this point.

In Destiny Turns on the Radio, he's an agent to a singer named Lucille.  In The Truth About Cats & Dogs, his only line is as a pet owner concerned about his dog, named Lucille.  He only appears on screen briefly, standing next to Bob Odenkirk.  In The Cable Guy, both Janeane Garofalo and Bob Odenkirk have appearances.  Cross's only line in that movie is "Oklahoma," where he's referring to the musical, not the state.  The next movie is Waiting for Guffman, about the production of a musical about small town Missouri, in which Cross plays "UFO Expert," which directly ties in to Men in Black, which ties into Small Soldiers.  

Let's see how far down the rabbit hole this line of reasoning will take us in future reviews/


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  2. Oh what memories does this movie brings back. I stumbled onto it accidentally one day while watching TV. I was immediately taken to this movie. Watching tiny soldiers waging war was fascinating. Years later when Night at the Museum came out and I saw tiny soldiers fight, I recalled Small Soldiers.