Now That’s What I Call Quite Good: Toys

toys indexAdults who are strangely childish was something that Robin Williams clearly found quite fascinating and he played a good few characters who were in various states of arrested development in the seventies, eighties and nineties, but this is an unusual creation even by Williams’ standards. A deeply curious film from Barry Levinson set in a toy company where dying owner Kenneth Zevo surprises everyone by handing over the running of the business to his brother Leland (Michael Gambon) rather than his son Leslie (Williams), it has a quirky sense of humour and though often funny is a little unsubtle when it tackles various themes.

His father’s decision comes as something of a shock to Leslie as Kenneth’s brother is a Lieutenant General in the military and beforehand had very little interest in the company, whereas Leslie adores toys and the business he’s spent his life working for. After taking it over Leland soon has nefarious plans for it as well, using the factory to create a drone warfare programme and training children to control them, though they presume they’re playing a game rather than being responsible for murder.

It’s a movie which takes a couple of intriguing ideas, including the need to mature but still retain a certain level of childlike innocence, the way some in the army are morally corrupt shites, and the nature of love, both platonic and romantic. Yet it’s also a very silly and daft movie and is slightly lacking on the substance front as though it addresses these topics it does so in a lightweight manner. Most of the time it is content to simply follow Leslie around and it has fun with the way he mucks about, which includes a trip to a funeral in a dodgem car, his playing with the various toys the company manufactures, making a pop video, along with some very lightweight romance with fellow employee Robin Wright, and the bizarre reveal that his sister Alsatia (Joan Cusack) is actually a robot.

Michael Gambon hams it up as the military obsessed Lieutenant General but makes for an appealing villain, LL Cool J is great as the brother who realises Leland’s lost his way, and Williams is surprisingly restrained a lot of the time, at least compared to the over the top performances he famously gave in Good Morning Vietnam, Aladdin and Mork and Mindy. The women in the movie sadly have less to do, and though Cusack is pleasingly odd, and Penn is fun too, both aren’t exactly stretching their acting muscles.

Aesthetically it looks beautiful, and is a film which has such an original feel to it that it hasn’t aged badly at all. There’s a couple of very enjoyable set pieces and the ending is a strong one, but for it to be a film deserving of classic status it needed to be funnier, some of Williams’ bits are a little exhausting and the satire is rather blunt. It’s definitely a very amiable movie and one which I’m very fond of, but it’s a “Watch it when it is on tv” kind of affair rather than a “You must rush out and buy this now and I will hunt you down and kill you if you don’t” situation.

★★★1/2

Alex Finch.
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