Studio: Orion Pictures
Director: Lars Klevberg
Writer: Tyler Burton Smith
Producer: David Katzenberg, Seth Grahame-Smith
Stars: Aubrey Plaza, Gabriel Bateman, Brian Tyree Henry, Tim Matheson, Mark Hamill, Ty Consiglio, Beatrice Kitsos
A single mother unknowingly gifts her son with a deadly doll capable of wreaking havoc by connecting to smart home devices.
Horror needs a second “Child’s Play” franchise about as much as it needs two “Puppet Master” timelines and countless “Halloween” continuities. Yet that’s where we’re at in this reboot-obsessed system of factory-made fright films. While franchise father Don Mancini continues doing his thing with Chucky Prime over at Universal, MGM/Orion exercised its option to remake the first film and voila. Now we have a separate “Child’s Play,” almost certain to confuse casual moviegoers who aren’t keen to the contract language that split Chucky into two different dolls.
The hook distancing “Child’s Play 2019” from “Child’s Play 1988” involves the twisted toy’s origin. Gone is the dementedly goofy voodoo curse invoked by a dying serial killer to put his spirit inside a plastic body. In that premise’s place sits a goofier piece of pseudo-cautionary fiction concerning the dangers of artificial intelligence controlling daily life’s details.
Manufacturing dolls with a good/evil switch appears no longer limited to Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror” episodes. Over the ocean in Vietnam, a disgruntled Foxconn surrogate takes a slap from his supervisor and takes revenge in peculiar fashion. After disabling the safety protocols on a Buddi doll, which is basically Amazon’s Alexa made mobile, the factory worker takes a header off a roof. This Buddi then winds its way to single mother Karen. Buddis are intended to interact with other Kaslan Corporation electronics, including Roombas, self-driving cars, and smart phones. They’re also meant to make great playmates, which is what initially transpires when Karen gifts the murderously malfunctioning doll to her lonely son Andy.
Do you have questions? I have questions. Like, what company would willfully produce a doll that requires “violence inhibitors?” What parent would give a child a toy designed to control everything in their house from the television to the thermostat? And what 12-year-old in 2019 would be so infatuated with Han Solo that he would suggest that name for his doll?
Whether we’re talking whatever else the suicidal employee might have been up to or Kaslan’s motives for marketing dolls with the capacity to kill, Tyler Burton Smith’s straightforward script, the portion that makes it to the screen anyway, doesn’t address anything deeply. Should this film birth future installments, some other poor schlub will have to figure out how to make these unexplained bits of background fit together coherently.
“Child’s Play” pretends to be “about” the horrors of interconnected technology. Really, it’s just another routine killer doll movie. Once Chucky goes into full murder mode, he does tap into computer interfaces to torment victims with hacked drones or to threaten blackmail through incriminating video footage. Just as often he uses his hands to strangle a cat, knock one man off a ladder, and get repeatedly stabby with a knife, all of which have nothing to do with exploiting electronic evil. Our world of Ring doorbells, laptop cameras, and compromising cloud data packs potential for all kinds of technological trouble. “Child’s Play” pecks at that surface without truly tearing into those terrors.
Only someone of Mark Hamill’s stature could dare fill Brad Dourif’s shoes as Chucky. It’s a losing proposition from the get go, akin to Jackie Earle Haley having to assume Freddy Krueger’s glove from Robert Englund. Instead of blazing a totally new trail however, Hamill chooses to reign in Chucky so he sounds like Hamill’s Joker subdued by light anesthesia. Every time Chucky speaks in an impossibly saccharin tone I simply see Hamill while wondering, “why would anyone program a doll with this voice?”
In Hamill’s defense, “Child’s Play” awards special consideration for playing everything as safely down the middle as possible. Like me, you might want to know why the movie makes a big deal out of Andy’s partial deafness, giving his hearing aid so much attention in close-ups and conversations that it qualifies as a side character. Supposedly an excised subplot had Chucky using the device to frame Andy for a dog’s death. Reports of multiple reshoots and curiously crediting two editors suggests Andy’s hearing aid is one more casualty of creative intentions dumbed down by a desire to be middlingly mainstream.
Indeed, “Child’s Play” reeks of retooling to trim it to a pleasantly palatable 90 minutes. Fleeting characters such as Andy’s friend Omar, the police detective’s partner, and Tim Matheson’s quick cameo slip in via sudden scenes that smack of missing minutes. Hazarding a guess, one or more people probably wanted a sharper edge to the film’s butter knife blade. But those whose opinions carry more weight won out and compelled “Child’s Play” to make multiplex playability a top priority.
And that’s exactly what MGM/Orion’s efforts enable: a perfectly average killer doll flick that’s unwilling to take any risks, but retains enough self-awareness and self-respect to deliver a decent time at the movies. If “Child’s Play” promotes awareness of Chucky to a new generation of horror film fans, more power to the movie. I just wish it took more inspiration from Don Mancini’s madness to put more pop into its plain personality.
Review Score: 55