When it comes to comedy, 1990 will go down in history as the year of the ill-mannered slob. Ed O'Neill won rating points for "Married with Children" by scratching his crotch, Andrew Dice Clay and Roseanne Barr got plenty of media attention for grabbing theirs, and Bart Simpson T-shirts were everywhere. However, PROBLEM CHILD, Hollywood's attempt to re-enact...read more
When it comes to comedy, 1990 will go down in history as the year of the ill-mannered slob. Ed O'Neill won rating points for "Married with Children" by scratching his crotch, Andrew Dice Clay and Roseanne Barr got plenty of media attention for grabbing theirs, and Bart Simpson T-shirts
were everywhere. However, PROBLEM CHILD, Hollywood's attempt to re-enact THE BAD SEED for laughs, proved that no mere standup comic or series TV star--cartoon or human--could hope to match the crassness of a major-studio feature. Michael Oliver stars as Junior, an orphan who, as the movie starts,
is shuttled from doorstep to doorstep, steadily working his way down the social ladder. The reason for the lad's continual relocation becomes apparent when Junior, left at a mansion by his mother, promptly urinates in the face of his wealthy new "foster" mother. The opening sequence ends (though,
sadly, the movie does not) with Junior being dumped in an orphanage run by draconian nuns. There, Junior's "antics" range from throwing his food and swinging a nun by a rope outside the window to striking up a pen-pal correspondence with serial killer Martin Beck (Michael Richards), the "Bow Tie
Killer." Emulating his hero, Junior begins wearing a bow tie, which makes him deceptively appealing to Ben and Flo (John Ritter and Amy Yasbeck), a childless suburban couple. A sad-sack slug, Ben is browbeaten by both his battle-ax wife and his monstrous father, Big Ben (Jack Warden). An
ultrapatriotic sporting-goods retailer, Big Ben has secretly sold out to the Japanese so he can run an "America First" campaign for mayor of his appropriately named hometown, Cold River. Ben takes to Junior immediately, even though the boy continues his rampage--setting fire to his bedroom,
throwing a cat into Big Ben's face, demolishing a neighbor's birthday party, ruining a camping trip by luring a bear into the campsite, and reducing a little-league baseball game to chaos by bludgeoning members of the opposing team with his bat. The plot thickens when the Bow Tie Killer escapes
from prison and finds his way to Junior's new home. Meanwhile, Ben struggles with whether or not to return Junior to the crooked child-welfare agent (Gilbert Gottfried) who engineered the adoption. When the killer kidnaps Junior and Flo, demanding a $100,000 ransom, Ben is initially ecstatic. But,
rifling through Junior's bedroom, Ben finds evidence that Junior loves him as much as he loves Junior. He rushes off to see Big Ben, hoping to raise the ransom money. Ben's appeal is unsuccessful, but he effectively short-circuits his father's mayoral campaign by turning a live TV camera on Big
Ben just as he is dropping his trousers. Ben then hurries to the ransom site, a circus, hoping to bluff the kidnaper. Naturally, this leads to more grotesque "antics." At the fadeout, Flo ends up with a pig's posterior pressed to her face, while Ben and Junior are happily reunited.
To call PROBLEM CHILD a comedy remake of THE BAD SEED does a terrible disservice to Mervyn LeRoy's chilling little film. Indeed, the gardener's monolog in THE BAD SEED, in which he explains that there are little pink and blue electric chairs for bad girls and boys, is far funnier than anything to
be found in this film. There is some evidence that PROBLEM CHILD might have been conceived as a satire of yuppie consumerism and suburban class prejudice. However, there are also indications that the filmmakers may have intended the film to be any one of a half-dozen or so other types of movies.
Whatever the moviemakers' intentions, the result of their labor is a humorless mess. TV veteran Dennis Dugan, directing his first feature film, has managed to completely waste a talented comic cast. Here is a movie so thoroughly inept it's hard to know where to begin. Jokes and sight gags alike
are stale and unfunny; executed without any awareness of the rudiments of staging and pacing, this "humor" exhibits a total disregard for human decency. The film is further marred by choppy editing, indicating what was probably a last-ditch attempt to save the film with the scissors. It's too bad
the editors of PROBLEM CHILD couldn't have saved time and money by just putting the whole film through a shredder. (Profanity, adult situations.)