I generally try and pick films to review that I’m going to like, but sometimes the relentless positivism gets to me and I need to kick the AF out of some unsuspecting project for target practice. Director Barry Levinson and star Robin Williams both made some iconic and significant movies in their time, but 1992’s Toys is not one of them. A sticky, sickly confection aimed at the Christmas market, Toys is a surreal kid-unfriendly fantasy about controlling military interests in toy companies which fails on absolutely every level, making it an ideal hate-watch.
Levinson made his name making loquacious character comedies, but Toys was a project he’d gestated from the early 80’s onwards; the theme is about how old fashioned toys beat today’s new fangled technologies every time, something of a sop to Luddite audiences. The head of the Zevo toy industry, played by veteran Donald O’Connor, dies abruptly in the opening scene, and General Leland Zevo (Michael Gambon) is keen to take charge. The General is keen to harness the video-game skills of children to create a deadly drone army, but standing in his way is Leslie Zevo (Williams), a humble, toy-loving creative who discovers his brother’s nefarious plan and stands up to it…
The late Williams managed to adapt this stand-up routines to cinema with great success in the 80’s and 90’s, with Dead Poets Society, Good Morning Vietnam and Aladdin all demonstrating his improv power well-harnessed to the action. But a few burst of motor-mouthed comedy aren’t enough to save Williams’ man-child stick here, in a film that takes place in a fantasy world and yet lets Williams make ‘topical’ digs at Michael Jackson and others. There’s also an in-the-wrong-film joke where the punch-line is ‘big c**ks’ which was wisely cut from the UK version, but somehow returns in the original cut now on Disney+: “Stories You’d Expect, and Stories You Wouldn’t…’ is the streamer’s current sales pitch, and that certainly applies to stumbling over this kind of wayward smoking room humour. The sanctimonious trumpeting of old toys is quaint by today’s way of thinking and a human-free climax in which vintage wooden toys fight futuristic drones is one of the most underwhelming ever filmed; this movie is a wonky spinning top when you were hoping for a Playstation 5.
A game support cast also hit the buffers confronted with a terrible concept; Joan Cusack turns out to be a humanoid robot, Robin Wright Penn wears a tartan hat and smiles unconvincingly at terrible jokes, and LL Cool J doesn’t knock his mama or indeed us out with some lamentable comedy monologues. There’s some surreal imagery, taking inspiration from famous paintings in the manner of What Dreams May Come, but it somehow only makes it worse that such technical wizardry was used to support such a childish story.
The content about the hypnotic dangers of video games was presumbly added to add modernity to Levinson’s original script, but the sole bright sport is the whole stramash is a song and dance routine that Leslie uses to break into his brothers’ headquarters. A neat pastiche of that new fangled MTV thing, the Mirror song has a sub-Talking Heads vibe, was written by Trevor Horn and performed by Thomas Dolby. It’s not great, but it’s the one and only bit that works in a truly misguided movie that caused considerable damage to the careers of those who made it, and the minds of the precious few who actually saw it.
This was a turkey and no mistake. No idea what point the director was trying to make beyond the obvious.
And I’m generally a fan of Levinson, particularly his Baltimore stuff. But this is a working definition of a trukey.
Diner was superb.
By the way, when is your Film Critics Don’t Die in Glasgow webinar going to air? You said February.
Feb 16th. Are you interest in taking syndication rights for any particular territory?
Just want to get some popcorn. Make sure to drop a link in advance!
All I can say is, it’s gonna be WILD!
“LL Cool J doesn’t knock his mama or indeed us out with some lamentable comedy monologues”
Well done with that line, sir. I think I may have seen this, but I honestly can’t remember, even after watching the clip. That’s probably even more damning than outright hating it.
I wasn’t sure myself, but after sitting through it, I think this was my first time.
I am a visiting Emeritus Professor at the University of LL Cool J cinematic studies.
I had no idea this even existed. You’ll be contacted soon by my lawyers seeking damages for emotional and psychological pain for learning about this.
I’d keep that door firmly locked to avoid it…
The whole building of lawyers read this review in preparation and promptly all died from the shock of knowing this movie existed.
I guess you’re safe for another day….
I will be relieved to keep this wretched film to myself.
…is the correct answer.
HE’s expensive though…..
You have to pay for the best. You want to nickel and dime a bounty hunter?
Especially since he just wants to disintegrate everything all the time….
Is this about me or Boba?
Boba Fett of course!
Would I ever say anything against you?
I wouldn’t say anything against Boba Fett. He’ll come round to your house and have an empathetic chat to you before adopting a pet on the way home.
Always a mistake. Schoolboy error.
So am I.
Is the correct bounty hunter.
Well I’m glad I never sullied my eyes with such nonsense. Nope.
It’s awful. Nope is putting it mildly.
I don’t think this would quite make it into hate-watch territory for me. Comedies that aren’t funny are usually just dull.
I think the lavish scale and creative detail, set against some purile jokes, make this a particularly indigestible mix. What makes a good hate-watch? Surely Michael Gambon as a military man who wants to force kids to play video games must count for something…and LL Cool J AND Donald O’Connor?
Well, it does sound like a colourful trainwreck. I guess hate-watch for me suggests a sense of anger as well.