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Kindergarten Cop (1990)

by on 2013/08/15

Kindergarten Cop (1990)

“You’re not getting mellow on me, are you?”

* * *

I’m beginning to suspect that the films of Ivan Reitman – perhaps I should narrow it down to “also starring Arnold Schwarzenegger” – exist because their high concepts pitched so well.

Think about it:

  • Arnold and Danny DeVito as Twins!
  • Arnold as a kindergarten teacher!
  • Arnold getting pregnant!

See what I mean? All three suggest Reitman’s playing off preconceptions about the star.

In practice, I find such transient notions are harder to sustain, moderately amusing, but rarely diverting, and almost never memorable. The second idea refers to the “comedy” Kindergarten Cop, which is really more of a drama scratching at a rash of thriller elements.

An effete gangster named Crisp (Richard Tyson) and his creepy, manipulative mother (Carroll Baker) have staked a bounty on his runaway wife and child. He is in turn pursued by Detective John Kimball (Schwarzenegger), who’s looking to put the hood away on drug and murder charges.

Kimball and fellow cop Phoebe O’Hara (Pamela Reed) get a tip to head off Crisp in a little town near Portland, Oregon. In order to intercept him, they identify his targets by working at the local school in the kindergarten. However, Kimball gradually “goes native”, becoming protective of the children, and falling in love with a fellow teacher named Joyce (Penelope Ann Miller of The Freshman).

Now, spoiler alert, I’m going to give this lumpy hybrid a pass. That said, I’m also highly critical of it. First, let me say a few nice things.

I appreciate that Kimball and O’Hara are not automatic love interests. I acknowledge there’s a lot of accuracy in the portrayal of children’s behaviour. And I admit I have a soft spot for the principal or, more accurately, Linda Hunt.

But…

Please explain to me for whom this PG13 movie is intended? Kidnappings, murders, drug overdoses . . . don’t tell me today’s six-year olds are quite that advanced. I’m not suggesting replacing the children with some other grittier MacGuffin. I actually think the adult stuff is the weakest of it all, and make sensitive scenes feel comparatively embarassing. There’s a fairly decent “sub-feature” here, dramatic, romantic, and affecting. Unfortunately, the context fits it poorly.

Another criticism, less conceptual than social . . . while I applaud the presence of so many strong women, I condemn the occasional homophobic jokes (sort of an inverse problem to Boondock Saints). Sadly, an oblique derision creeps in every now and again: caricatures of hairdresser behaviour; the suggestion that a man teaching children would be gay; the especial stigma suggested by a man leaving his wife for another man; the fears for a little boy who plays with dolls. It’s unfortunate these perspectives appear in a piece some parents would employ as a babysitter.

The more I mull it over in my mind, the more I think of Witness, but a child as a narrative device in that film did not seriously suggest it was a kid’s movie. In the case of Kindergarten Cop, however, it ostensibly seems appropriate for those younger than thirteen, but contains ideas and scenes I wouldn’t want any teen absorbing.

Yet I also enjoyed it enough to feel a sense of touching fun. Maybe it’s simply an unwisely marketed thriller for young parents.

Or really super-pacifist Arnie fans.

* * *

Rated PG (Canada) / PG13 (United States)

111 minutes

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