The production woes of RADIO FLYER could themselves form the basis for a movie, what with the firing of writer-director David Mickey Evans, the replacement of Rosanna Arquette with Lorraine Bracco, the rewriting of the screenplay, the twice-delayed opening and the deposing of Columbia
studio head Frank Price after production was completed. The resulting film is like a travesty of a Spielberg paean to childhood innocence--an uplifting fantasy about child abuse and suicide.
Two young boys are arguing over a toy airplane when their father (Tom Hanks) puts a stop to the fight by intoning, "History is all in the mind of the teller. Truth is in the telling." He then relates a tall tale from his childhood, beginning with a cross-country drive as Mary (Lorraine Bracco) and
her two children, Mike (Elijah Wood) and Bobby (Joseph Mazzello), head to northern California to start a new life after being abandoned by the childrens' father. In California, Mary meets and marries a mechanic to whom the children refer as "The King" (Adam Baldwin) and the family moves into a
lower-middle-class suburb. Ostracized by the neighborhood kids, Mike and Bobby take refuge in their own fantasy world.
When the King begins to abuse Bobby physically, the two children conceal the fact from their mother. They begin to fantasize about turning their Radio Flyer wagon into a makeshift aircraft so that Bobby can fly away from his miserable home life. When their dog, Shane, is injured by the King, Bobby
decides to try and escape in the Radio Flyer that night. Mike leaves a note for their mother and the children prepare for Bobby's nocturnal journey. The King sees the note and chases them but the children elude him and, after a tearful farewell, Bobby takes off in his Radio Flyer, apparently
Bobby, we are told, later went on to be a successful pilot who traveled all over the world. As we cut back to the framing narrative, however, we see that the story-teller--Mike as an adult--is in tears, implying that Bobby died the night of his "flight" away from suburbia.
RADIO FLYER attempts to conjure childhood in magical, ethereal terms, but a film that addresses child abuse and suicide requires a sensitive directorial hand--a Robert Mulligan or a Francois Truffaut. Instead, RADIO FLYER is helmed by Richard Donner, director of SUPERMAN and the LETHAL WEAPON
series. Donner's efforts at balancing grim reality with fantasy only succeed in clouding the issues at hand, with tricksy camerawork replacing directorial vision. The King is shot in disjointed close-ups (hand opening a can of beer, feet getting out of a pickup truck, fast cuts of a face) that
make him a cipher rather than a character. When Bobby is beaten, it always happens off-camera, distancing the audience from the horror of what happens and thus making it harder to understand Bobby's motivation. The fantasy element involving the Radio Flyer wagon is handled in an overblown
Spielbergian style of almost religious intensity. But where Spielberg at his best conveys a sense of genuine awe and wonder, Donner gives us a secondhand mysticism ("Bobby could see the true potential of the wagon"). To add insult to injury, the images of RADIO FLYER cannot themselves convey what
is happening, forcing Donner to rely upon Hanks's narration to explain the story. This preempts any possible emotional involvement in the film by baldly describing feelings that are not evident on the screen (after a particularly ludicrous dream sequence involving a giant buffalo, Hanks explains
the scene by saying, "The dream had given me strength, a sudden sense of purpose"). (Profanity, violence.)
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- Released: 1992
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: The production woes of RADIO FLYER could themselves form the basis for a movie, what with the firing of writer-director David Mickey Evans, the replacement of Rosanna Arquette with Lorraine Bracco, the rewriting of the screenplay, the twice-delayed opening… (more)