On paper, Aubrey Plaza in a reboot of a 1988 horror classic sounds like a match made in that forbidding recess of hell I’d love to visit. Who’s darker? The deadpan goth chick or the murderous doll? I don’t know, but I couldn’t wait to find out…and then I saw the movie. Child’s Play gets a perfunctory update just so the storyline can include things like apps and drones, but at its core, it wishes so hard that it was actually made in the 80s that it ends up feeling redundant. It should have just stayed in the box.
Things start offensively enough when a disgruntled Vietnamese factory worker, furious that he’s just been fired, modifies one of the Buddi dolls, taking away his filters which prevent him from swearing and, oh yeah, murdering people. In the original, a psychopath dies and takes over the soul of an innocent toy, but, hey, it’s 2019 Trump’s America, so why not go the whole xenophobic route and blame the ills of mankind on an Asian person? Still, I’m willing to go with this concept under the guise that the movie aims to be worldly instead of racist…which is a stretch but there’s still 88 minutes left of this dumb film, so I gotta hang my hat on something.
Of course, our Buddi doll ends up in the hands of a consumer who returns her defective present to Karen (Plaza), who works behind the counter at a Target-esque superstore. Karen, the single mother of young Andy (Gabriel Bateman), wants to make her son happy but doesn’t have enough money to buy him much of anything, so she blackmails her terrible boss into letting her take Buddi home. Andy, of course, renames him Chucky, who, through the use of modern computer technology, collects massive amounts of data on anyone or anything around him. Cue a series of red-eyed, knife-wielding, bloody killings…repeat until you can’t take it anymore, and you pretty much know the rest.
Director Lars Klevberg and writer Tyler Burton Smith clearly have an affinity for the 80s aesthetic of the original, so much that they seemingly repeat most of its tropes, including a lighting scheme composed of colorful filters, a sequence in which our hero “locks and loads” his ammo in preparation for battle, a damsel in distress, and an animatronic doll who gets busy with a knife and a limited series of maniacal facial expressions.
Our leads do well enough with their underwritten roles, although maternal instincts don’t quite sit well on the hilariously nihilistic Plaza, creating an emotional void in the story. I think she enjoys the campy aspects, but she tends to make the capable Bateman do most of the heavy lifting while she seemingly silently judges the bad movie in which she stars. Bateman possesses more than a whiff of Henry Thomas’s E.T. energy, but it’s in the service of fairly pedestrian set pieces. Amidst all the slicing and dicing, the filmmakers give the audience one genuinely funny, splatter moment involving a kid, making me wish it had the balls to lean more heavily in that direction. Instead, we get some ho-hum mother/son dynamics and a lazy satire of consumerism gone bad.
Although Mark Hamill has a great time as the voice of Chucky, I didn’t like the look of the new doll. With his too-smooth mullet and glassy-eyed expressions, he didn’t scare me as much as the original did. Gabby Gabby and her ventriloquist dummies from Toy Story 4 still win the chillingly creepy award, leaving all the Chuckys and Annabelles in the dust. Child’s Play doesn’t so much feel like a reboot as much as the same boot. If you love 80s nostalgia, and the success of Stranger Things tells me many do, then go watch the tons of fun things actually made in the 80s. We’re living once again in a “what’s old is new” era, but in this case, what’s new feels old. I’d like to exchange it for the original, please.
GAY SCALE: For each review, I’ll rate the film on my 50 SHADES OF GAY SCALE to let you know how far it tips in our favor. Child’s Play gets a 0 out of 50. One could argue that Aubrey Plaza makes everything feel gay, but her presence alone isn’t enough. Instead of the inciting incident taking place in Vietnam, wouldn’t it have been kind of cool to have a bullied gay kid reprogram the doll? At least it would have taken us out of a decade this film slavishly worships.
By Glenn Gaylord