CHILD’S PLAY [Review]: Playtime Restarted?

Robert “The DCD” Workman

When Orion Pictures announced it was moving forward with a “reimagining” of the Child’s Play series, I kinda groaned at the idea. I mean, really? The original series was doing just fine the way it was, with the last release, Curse of Chucky, doing just fine in its own goofy way. But then it was growing on me, especially after they introduced Mark Hamill as the voice of the doll. I mean, how could you say no at that point? And then my friend said he picked me up a ticket and I was like, “Damn it, now I just need to go.”

And then I watched it and got done with it and I said to myself, “You know…it wasn’t bad.” But then came the real interesting question. “Wouldn’t this have worked better if it wasn’t a Child’s Play movie?” And damn it, I’m right. The idea of a movie about a killer doll isn’t a bad one. But this movie would’ve been far better had it taken its own approach and not tried to reboot what made the 1988 horror classic work so well. Child’s Play really should’ve gone with something completely different, instead of trying to rework the Tom Holland favorite. But, hey, at least it wasn’t a total trainwreck like other horror reboots before it, and that’s a shocker in its own right.

The film focuses on Andy (Gabriel Bateman), a kid who finds himself as a bit of a loner. This bugs his mom Karen (Aubrey Plaza), who decides to get him a Buddi doll for his birthday to cheer him up. Never mind that her methods in doing so are a bit questionable, and never mind the fact that its safety protocols are a bit oft-kilter in the manufacturing facility in Vietnam. As soon as he gets the doll, they become best friends. But soon, things start going off the rails as he threatens the pet cat that accidentally claws at the boy. Not to mention Shane (David “Nick” Lewis), the boyfriend who’s more of a dick than he lets on. Let the murderous rampage begin.

“You see, Moody’s house is right over here..”

And so it goes. As the story continues, detective Mike Norris (Brian Tyree Henry) becomes suspicious of Andy’s behavior. And a group of neighborhood kids join the fun, befriending the young lad as he talks about Chucky’s ongoing behavior. And then there’s Henry Kaslan (Tim Matheson, eating up the fun material in a bit role), the president of the company, swearing nothing’s really wrong with the toy. It’s all a bit goofy, but I think that’s the point director Lars Klevberg is trying to make.

There’s nothing that genuinely goes over the top here, but that’s actually something that works to Child’s Play’s credit. The movie doesn’t try to top what makes the original work so well; in fact, it cleverly goes off in its own direction with its kills, from using a tiller to a table saw and a steam pipe to allowing Chucky to manipulate electronics and fellow dolls to do his bidding in a number of sick and sadistic ways. It’s all pretty neat. But, again, it would’ve been cool to see him do his own thing with his own movie, instead of as, well, Chucky. After all, the Chucky films already do that, and they feel like they do that really, really well. This just feels like a throw-off.

Mom, why do we have this stupid doll in the house?

But at least Child’s Play has a good time with it. The actors have fun with their material. Plaza has a field day as the mom, particularly towards the end when she’s put into a perilous situation. Bateman has a field day as the kid who finds his world turned upside down by Chucky. And Hamill, well, he’s superb as Chucky, but I don’t think Brad Dourif has to worry about his day job.

So, no, Child’s Play isn’t a bad time at the theaters. I expected way worse than this movie gave me. But I think the thing is, the film just feels unnecessary. It’s not a bad reboot, but one that would’ve fared much better had it not been a reboot. It should’ve taken its own direction and maybe been a movie about a different kind of killer doll. Maybe a robot? A Cabbage Patch Kid gone awry? An unloved Barbie from hell? A Buzz Lightyear that hates Woody? We’ll never know. At least it’s a horror reboot that didn’t go fiendishly down the toilet. And, hey, you can never go wrong with Hamill. (Don’t tell Brad Dourif.) 3/5 Psychotic Dolls.

-Robert Workman

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