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.